The pay-per-view industry is now two-for-two with boxing
events in the first quarter.
On the heels of a $30 million Mike Tyson-Francois Botha
payday, the industry grossed another $27 million from the surprising Feb. 13 Oscar De La
Hoya-Ike Quartey welterweight-championship fight.
Revenues from the two fights combined already surpassed
last year's dismal $40 million PPV-boxing take, setting the stage for a major bonanza from
next month's Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight-unification bout.
Operators, however, had better enjoy boxing's short-lived
renaissance: The status of the genre after March is uncertain. With Tyson out of the
picture until the latter part of the year at the earliest, and with no other major PPV
events scheduled, it's unclear where operators' next big PPV-boxing payday will come from.
The De La Hoya-Quartey bout generated about 600,000 buys
-- above both operator and industry expectations. The fight -- an exciting,
split-decision win for De La Hoya -- will most likely end up as the
second-most-lucrative nonheavyweight PPV-boxing event, following the more than $35 million
earned by the 1997 De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker fight.
"This fight was billed as the greatest welterweight
fight since [Sugar Ray] Leonard- [Thomas "Hit Man"] Hearns, and it met all of
the expectations inside the ring and exceeded expectations outside of the ring," said
Mark Taffet, senior vice president, distribution marketing and operations for TVKO.
Operators also said the event performed better than they
expected, and several said it drew more buys than Tyson-Botha.
"I think people were less gun-shy about buying a De La
Hoya fight than the Tyson event," said Michael Woods, vice president of marketing for
Prime Cable of Chicago, which pulled more than 2,200 buys for the event.
Marty Youngman, senior product manager for Cox
Communications Inc.'s Cox Cable of San Diego, said his system drew close to 7,000 orders,
for a 2.8 percent buy-rate -- more than 1,000 buys above Tyson-Botha.
"It did a little more than we expected," he
While the fight performed extremely well in Hispanic
markets, Taffet asserted that De La Hoya's appeal is starting to cross over more to the
mainstream public. While 50 percent of previous De La Hoya buys were non-Hispanics, that
group represented nearly two-thirds of De La Hoya-Quartey buys, Taffet said.
"We know that we have a strong base in the Hispanic
markets, but a fight like this increases De La Hoya's draw in non-Hispanic markets, as
well," Taffet said.
Dan York, vice president and general manager for TVKO, said
operators recognized De La Hoya's drawing potential and stepped up to heavily promote the
"The retailers' support for the event clearly produced
results," he said. "We are pleased with the event's performance, which should
bode well for our next event, Holyfield-Lewis, March 13."
Operators believe that the momentum generated from both
Tyson-Botha and De La Hoya-Quartey should carry over to Holyfield-Lewis, which many
predicted could match or surpass the revenue generated for both fights.
"Already, the first quarter is on a roll, and we've
beaten last year's numbers," Woods said, "We're looking forward to
But after Holyfield-Lewis, there isn't much for operators
to get excited about.
The industry was expected to have at least two Tyson
fights, but the former heavyweight champion's future is uncertain after he was jailed
earlier this month on a "road-rage" assault charge.
Tyson pleaded no contest to the November 1997 incident, but
a Maryland court sentenced him to one year in prison. Tyson could also face another three
years in Indiana on a parole violation stemming from his rape conviction in 1991.
De La Hoya's future is not carved in stone, either. The
"Golden Boy" is scheduled to fight on Home Box Office sometime this spring, with
a potential PPV event in September. Possible opponents could be the winner of the Feb. 20
Felix Trinidad-Whitaker fight or a rematch with Quartey.
"No one has actually sat down and planned the rest of
the year with De La Hoya," Taffet said. "After Trinidad-Whitaker, we will sit
down and plan the balance of the year."
Beyond the major events, Showtime Event Television is still
planning an April 24 PPV bout -- the date when Tyson was expected to fight.
Meanwhile, TVKO is working on several other fights for
1999, including a number of small, Hispanic-targeted cards. "You'll see us with a
string of important fights in the next six months," Taffet said.