Operators anxiously awaiting the next big pay-per-view boxing payday will get to distribute at least four events during the fourth quarter. While the fights will generate much-needed revenue for the industry, PPV executives are unsure how well each PPV event will perform.
What most operators will agree on is that this month's Roy Jones Jr.-Eric Harding bout, October's Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota fight, November's Lennox Lewis-David Tua event and December's Fernando
Vargas-Felix Trinidad fight will not set PPV-boxing records. They won't pull the genre even with last year's $219 million PPV-revenue performance, either.
At a time when PPV is gaining momentum thanks to digital cable and near-video-on-demand movies, the PPV-event category seems to be stuck in neutral. And boxing, which powered the event category throughout the 1990s, has been the biggest disappointment so far in the new millennium.
While the wrestling category continues to post strong PPV performances, the boxing genre has thus far hit operators with a paralyzing one-two punch of few fights and lower-than-expected buy-rate performances for events that are scheduled.
As a result, the category had generated only $54 million through June, down 54 percent from $120 million during the first half of 1999.
Ironically, the PPV slump comes during somewhat of a television renaissance for boxing. Home Box Office, ESPN, Showtime and Fox Sports Net are devoting more hours to boxing events in 2000 than in previous years. Even CBS televised several Showtime-produced fights this summer.
And those shows are often generating very exciting and action-packed fights, mostly in the lower weight classes.
But the sport is having a hard time making the transition from basic and pay cable to PPV. Many of the fighters showcased aren't well known to nonfans of boxing, making it cost-ineffective for networks such as TVKO and Showtime Event Television to shoulder the financial risks of distributing the events via PPV.
So the only fights that make it to PPV are those that feature tried-and-true draws such as Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Oscar De La Hoya, or those that offer compelling matchups, such as Vargas-Trinidad or Lewis-Tua.
Unfortunately, as operators know all too well, those events are few and far between, often leaving many months without a marquee PPV-boxing event.
In the not-too-distant future, many of those fighters may be lost to PPV forever. Both Tyson and Holyfield are in the twilight of their careers, and De La Hoya's once-golden appeal has been tarnished by a couple of ring losses and uncertainty about his future.
As it has in the past, the PPV-boxing genre may eventually bounce back and once again establish itself as the champion of PPV-event revenues.
But like a fighter who has been knocked down several times, boxing is finding out that it's getting harder to pick itself up off the canvas.