It wasn't must-see TV, but at least the Nov. 13
Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis fight didn't end in controversy.
That's the sentiment from operators about the
heavyweight-championship rematch, which failed to come close to the pay-per-view
performance numbers of the first event. But at least it didn't add another stain to
boxing's already soiled reputation going into the next century.
The bout generated between 750,000 and 850,000 buys,
operators reported, although TVKO executives believe the numbers could actually increase
once all of the figures are in.
While operators said the numbers were adequate, many were
disappointed that PPV buys and revenues fell well short of those from the first
Lewis-Holyfield fight in March, which generated more than 1.2 million buys and over $61
million in PPV revenue.
The March bout, however, ended in a controversial draw,
which touched off a flurry of federal and local investigations over potential fight fixing
and influencing of fight judges by boxing promoters.
This time, Lewis won a unanimous decision over Holyfield in
a generally lackluster performance.
One top 10 MSO executive who wished to remain anonymous
said that while the fight performed well, it fell below company projections. The executive
added that the event suffered from negative press coverage resulting from the lingering
results of the controversial first meeting, which left a bad taste in consumers'
"There really wasn't any buzz to the fight,"
the executive said.
But Cox Communications Inc. of Northern Virginia PPV manger
Ted Hodgins said the bout was a bonus for the industry, and it further padded PPV-event
revenue for the year. "If it weren't for the controversy, the fight probably
wouldn't have happened, so this is found money for us," Hodgins said.
TVKO said it felt that the event was very successful from
both financial and public-relations standpoints.
"We were very pleased with the performance of the
fight not only from a PPV perspective, but from a boxing perspective," TVKO senior
vice president Mark Taffet said. "The fight closes out the year in record-breaking
fashion and sets the stage for another outstanding year in 2000."
Indeed, the event put the 1999 PPV-boxing revenue take at
around $227 million, falling just short of the all-time revenue record of $232 million set
in 1997. The match did close out the most lucrative PPV-boxing year for TVKO, which
generated more than $195 million from four major fights.
Just as important, Taffet said, the fight went a long way
toward restoring consumer faith in PPV-boxing events. High-ticket events like
Holyfield-Lewis I and September's Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad welterweight bout
lacked consistent action and ended in controversial decisions, leading to some
dissatisfaction among consumers.
"The fight needed to restore confidence in consumers
about boxing and restore vitality to the boxing and PPV-event category, and it did just
that," Taffet said.
It's uncertain, however, what the future holds for PPV
and Lewis, the new undisputed heavyweight champion.
Taffet said the heavyweight division is replete with young
challengers for Lewis, including up-and-coming boxer Michael Grant. But industry observers
believe it will be difficult to offer the low-key Lewis against any of the mostly unknown
contenders on a PPV basis, although Taffet argued that Lewis had come of age in boxing
"Lewis' last two PPV fights have generated over 2
million PPV buys, and he beat a legend in Holyfield," Taffet said. "Based on
those fight performances, he has tremendous awareness and, if he is placed in an event
where the outcome is in doubt, people will be interested."
Nevertheless, Taffet said, Lewis could fight sometime in
March or April on Home Box Office before venturing into a PPV bout later in the year.
Plus, there's always a potential Lewis-Mike Tyson bout
that could be scheduled toward the end of the year. Tyson, who hasn't fought on PPV
since this past January, is scheduled to fight in January 2000 on Showtime.
"Tyson is one of the fighters from Lewis' era,
and [Lewis] has said that he would like to fight Tyson," Taffet said.