Time will tell whether or not boxing champion Floyd Mayweather will go down as the greatest pugilist in the history of the sport.
In terms of champion sports brands, though, the 38-year-old Mayweather — who won 12 world titles in five different weight classes before announcing his retirement in September — is currently the undisputed, pound-for-pound titleholder.
Earlier this year, Forbes named Mayweather as the world’s highest-paid celebrity in 2015. The boxer generated a record $300 million this year, obliterating the previous high of $115 million earned by professional golfer Tiger Woods in 2008.
Much of what Mayweather earned this year was generated by his much-hyped May 2 fight against Manny Pacquiao, which set pay-per-view industry records for buys (4.4 million) and revenue ($400 million), destroying the previous record of 2.47 million buys generated by the 2007 Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight and the $150 million in revenue earned by the 2013 Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight.
Mayweather’s Sept. 12 fight against Andre Berto completed his unprecedented six-fight deal with Showtime, which generated about 10 million buys and $800 million in PPV revenue over its three-year span.
“There are entire sports leagues and corporations with hundreds of employees who would love to have the economic impact that Floyd has had over the past few years,” Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, said.
Mayweather, who earns the inaugural Multichannel News male Athlete of the Year Award, has been in the top echelon of boxing since he won the super featherweight title in 1998. Mayweather would go on to amass a record of 49-0 over his 19-year pro boxing career, winning championships in five different divisions against such formidable opponents as the now-retired De La Hoya, Pacquiao and current middleweight champion Alvarez.
“He’s faced everybody and he’s beaten the best in the game,” said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, the fighter’s boxing and entertainment promotion company. “He’s beaten these guys in their prime and makes very good fighters look ordinary. Name me one athlete in any sport who is the best at what they do at the age of 38.”
Mayweather’s 2007 fight with De La Hoya, his 2013 bout with Alvarez and this year’s fight with Pacquiao serve as the only PPV events ever to break the 2 million buy mark.
Mayweather’s brand extends beyond the ring. He took full advantage of the emergence of social media to further perpetuate his personality and persona. Mayweather has more than 12 million Facebook fans and 6.5 million Twitter followers. Observers say Mayweather has used social media effectively to talk directly to his fans and sell his fights as has no other professional athlete.
Over the years, he has also appeared in numerous high-profile media events, from WWE’s WrestleMania to ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, building more awareness for himself, the sport and the brand.
“No one has exploited social media like Floyd Mayweather,” HBO Sports senior vice president Mark Taffet said. HBO distributed several Mayweather PPV events in the 2000s and co-promoted the record-breaking Mayweather-Pacquiao fight with Showtime.
“Floyd has worked very, very hard to achieve the PPV figures that he achieved,” Taffet added. “It was no accident.”
Of course, Mayweather is not without his detractors. They criticize the fighter’s somewhat action-deficient defensive boxing style, as well as his often abrasive personality. But In Demand senior vice president of programming and business development Mark Boccardi said that criticism has worked to Mayweather’s advantage with regards to his PPV fight performances.
“Whether he was ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ Mayweather or ‘Money’ Mayweather, he created a legion of fans that wanted to both see him win and lose, and there’s a large segment of PPV buyers who bought his fights to see if someone could really beat this guy,” Boccardi said. “What he really did was create both those camps — the pro-Mayweather and pro-Mayweather-opponent camps — and that’s why he was able to generate the PPV buys that he did.”
Added Showtime’s Espinoza: “There are a lot of different opinions on his personality and the image that he portrays publicly. Regardless of those opinions, everyone in the sport has benefited. The sport would not have received the level of mainstream exposure, awareness and worldwide media attention without him.”
As for the future, Mayweather said he will remain retired, and Ellerbe added that the fighter is content to leave the sport behind after a phenomenal career. “He’s done everything he can in the sport of boxing, and he’s ready for the next stage of his life.”
Others however are not convinced, and hope to once again see Mayweather in the ring.
“There are a large number of people who secretly, and not so secretly hope he comes back including TV-distribution companies and Las Vegas touring companies,” Espinoza said. “We’re patiently waiting to see what develops.”