When is a boxing match not just a boxing match? According to HBO, when the event transcends the squared ring and becomes more like a Hollywood movie premiere. At least that's how the premium network is positioning its May 5 Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather junior middleweight championship fight.
HBO Sports senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet believes the fight's revenue take — including closed circuit and actual gate — could gross $90 million, which would place it on par with the top 10 theatrical opening weekends.
So why is this fight poised to be one of the biggest attractions in PPV history? HBO says the bout has everything that makes a hit movie special.
It has a leading man with matinee idol-esque Oscar De La Hoya in what is being billed as his last fight. In the antagonist's corner is undefeated “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is considered pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world.
It also has intrigue: De La Hoya's former trainer, who happens to be Mayweather's father, left him to train his son.
And fueling all the drama is bad blood between the two fighters. The brash Mayweather has taunted De La Hoya throughout the fight's promotional tour, and several times the fighters nearly came to blows outside the ring.
“De La Hoya-Mayweather is a bona fide megafight that features boxing's biggest star and PPV in a matchup that captures the imagination of even the most casual sports fans,” Taffet said.
HBO and fight promoter Golden Boy Promotions are in the midst of what HBO calls the most extensive marketing campaign ever for a PPV boxing match. The campaign, which executives close to HBO and Golden Boy estimate to be valued at close to $100 million, will reach across many platforms, including the Web, TV, radio and even phone cards.
To top the biggest single-day box office gross of $55.8 million set last year by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the fight would have to generate more than 1 million PPV buys at a suggested retail price of $55.
The problem: The 1999 De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight is the only non-heavyweight fight that has ever broken the 1 million buy barrier.
In fact, only one PPV fight has achieved 1 million buys in the new millennium: The 2002 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight championship fight drew 1.97 million buys and more than $100 million in PPV revenue.
But Taffet remains confident. “We believe that we have an event that's the Super Bowl of boxing and a Hollywood movie premiere all in one,” he said.
There is no denying De La Hoya's appeal. Only two other pugilists — Tyson and Evander Holyfield — have generated more PPV revenue than the Golden Boy. Taffet believes that De La Hoya's $492 million PPV take will actually surpass Tyson's $545 million and Holyfield's $543 million PPV earnings once all of the fight's receipts are counted.
Still, De La Hoya has only surpassed 1 million buys once. And Mayweather is a relative unknown in pay-per-view circles.
HBO PPV vice president and general manager Tammy Ross said for this fight to succeed the network has to reach beyond traditional boxing fans and the small group of pay-per-view users. Despite the industry's maturation and PPV's penetration of more than 50 million homes, Ross said the majority of events are still bought by less than 20% of the current PPV base.
HBO is providing the fight maximum exposure by running a first-ever PPV boxing reality show, De La Hoya-Mayweather 24/7. The four-part series, which debuted April 16 after HBO's popular Entourage series, takes a behind-the-scenes look at both fighters.
The premium network has also created a fight-specific Web site, as well as a site for 24/7, that can be accessed through HBO.com.
“HBO.com is what we're calling the home site for De La Hoya-Mayweather,” Ross said.
HBO has also teamed with Yahoo to provide fight-related video to the Web company's visitors during the week of the fight.
ESPN.com and ESPNDeportes. com will feature weekly chats with the fighters, the promoters and boxing experts.
AOL and BET.com are also on board to promote the fight. AOL.com and AOLLatino.com will feature one-on-one exclusive interviews and live coverage of press conferences.
Starting this week, BET.com will run a banner ad for two weeks to promote the event.
Ross said the fight has also attracted several new sponsors to the PPV boxing business. Phone card company Epana will sell up to 2 million special collectible fight-based, Spanish-language phone cards.
Available in 30,000 grocery stores around the country, the phone cards will feature a voice prompt from De La Hoya promoting the fight each time a consumer makes a call.
The cards also feature a “scratch, call and win” chance to land a trip to the fight.
Hotel chain Starwood Properties is taking its maiden voyage into the PPV ring with an e-mail sweepstakes available to its 4.4 million members. The winner gets tickets to the fight, along with airline and hotel accommodations.
Finally, Bally Fitness Centers will produce and display fight-specific posters in all of its 385 locations leading into the event.
Among traditional fight sponsors, liquor company Cazadores is running a three-week radio promotion in 24 major markets giving away a $10 rebate for the fight to consumers purchasing products within select stores.
Mexican brewery Tecate is going one step further, offering a $25 PPV mail in rebate for consumers purchasing select products in Hispanic grocery stores. In addition, HBO is running a month-long TV, radio and billboard campaign for a 24-oz. commemorative beer can available in 14,000 7-Eleven locations.
Ross expects 90% of cable operators carrying the fight to take the network's marketing aggressive rate card, giving the event the most affiliate support of any in PPV history. In order to receive a 45% split of fight revenues, operators will have to run 575 cross-channel spots, and participate in five other marketing tactics like sending out billstuffers or direct-mail pieces.
Operators who want to gain an equal revenue split will have to garner a 4.25% buy-rate for the event.
Operators that don't agree to the marketing levels will only get 30% of the take.
The current marketing blitz, combined with the 11-city promotional tour that launched in February and several fight week airings of a 30-minute preview show by 20 syndicated television stations — not to mention De La Hoya's scheduled April 30 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno — should generate significant buzz.
The only question is will consumers step up to the PPV box office.