The Sept. 12 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Andre Berto fight could be bittersweet for pay-per-view distributors, as Mayweather, the category’s biggest draw, is expected to retire after the event.
While the bout for the WBC and WBA welterweight titles could draw as many as 1 million buys, according to fight distributor Showtime, the 38-yearold Mayweather last Wednesday (Sept. 2) reiterated to reporters his plans to retire after the fight during a conference call to promote the event. This week, promoters Showtime and CBS opened up a pay streaming option to add another option for potential buyers -- an unusual move for a big PPV fight.
If Mayweather does walk away from the ring after battling the 31-year-old Berto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he would do so as the most lucrative draw in the history of the PPV category.
Mayweather led all athletes and entertainers in generating more than $870 million in PPV revenues, according to Forbes. That was before his record-setting May 2 fight against Manny Pacquiao, which generated more than $400 million in PPV revenue.
“While I will leave it up to others to debate Floyd’s position among the all-time greatest boxers, I can say he is undoubtedly the all-time PPV king,” Mark Boccardi, In Demand’s senior vice president of programming and business development, said.
PPV LEGACY ASSURED
Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza has said that Saturday’s Mayweather-Berto event — which will retail for a suggested $64.95 — could draw in excess of 1 million buys, despite the relatively unknown status of former welterweight champion Berto. Espinoza said he doesn’t expect the fight to come anywhere close to the more than record 4.4 million buys generated by Mayweather-Pacquiao, though.
What Espinoza said he doesn’t have to predict is Mayweather’s legacy in the sport and the PPV category. “I don’t think that there is any question that Floyd Mayweather is the greatest PPV draw ever,” Espinoza said.
“He’s surpassed 2 million PPV buys three times,” the Showtime executive added, referring to Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez in 2013 and Mayweather-Pacquiao this year. “No other fighter has done it more than once,” Espinoza said. “He’s really separated himself from any other attraction.”
Mayweather’s appeal as a PPV draw extended beyond his in-ring exploits, Boccardi said. The fighter’s social-media appeal — Mayweather has millions of Twitter followers — as well as his appearances in entertainment-based vehicles from Dancing With the Stars to the WWE’s Wrestlemania have helped Mayweather create a brand that has transcended boxing.
“Not only is he incredibly gifted in the ring, but he’s also the sport of boxing’s first superstar in the Internet/reality-TV generation — he’s created another aura outside the ring because of the generation that we live in,” Boccardi said. “He’s a boxer that to some people is more famous for being a character on TV than a fighter, but he backs it up by being so talented in the ring.”
While Mayweather has set the template for being a successful PPV event draw, Boccardi said it won’t be easy for other up-and-coming fighters to replicate Mayweather’s success both in and out of the ring.
“The way he did it worked well with his personality, but it’s not going to work for everyone,” Boccardi said. “The old saying [that] you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole holds true here — you can’t take a guy that might be gifted in the ring but is shy and not confrontational and try to create another Mayweather.”
COULD HE ‘UNRETIRE?’
Of course, there is the potential that the industry will see Mayweather in the ring again after the Berto fight. Mayweather has retired and unretired in the past, and with a chance to build a 2016 mega PPV event around breaking legendary heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 mark in his next fight — assuming he gets by Berto — industry observers say it’s a good bet we’ll see Mayweather back in the ring.
Even Espinoza said Showtime would likely look to coax the undefeated champion back for one more go-round. Saturday’s Mayweather-Berto fight is the last bout in a six-fight PPV deal between Mayweather and Showtime.
“There’s a good amount of disbelief about Mayweather’s plans to retire, largely because he’s still operating at such a high level,” Espinoza said. “But he’s 19 years in, and that’s a long time to be a fighter, so I understand the disbelief, but I also hear in Floyd’s voice that he’s ready to call it a career.
“Having said all of that, we’re going to try, but for the time being he has said to us, don’t call me, I’ll call you for the foreseeable future.”