Two weeks ago, Mike Tyson returned to the ring to once
again reclaim his title as the king of pay-per-view. When last seen, he was setting
PPV-revenue and buy-rate records en route to a yearlong suspension for biting Evander
After a 16-month absence, Tyson returned to the ring Jan.
16 against Francois Botha, to the delight of fight-starved cable operators.
The fight was expected to serve as the first of possibly
three huge PPV Tyson fights -- operators were hoping for at least 1 million buys -- before
the former "baddest man on the planet" faced his ring demon, Holyfield, for a
third and incredibly lucrative fight later this fall.
But something happened on the way to the bank: Viewer
support for Tyson -- which was unwavering even after his three-year jail stint for rape --
is suddenly in question.
While very few thought that Tyson-Botha would approach the
1.9 million buys of Tyson-Holyfield II, they expected the fight to fall around the 1.3
million-buy level of Tyson's 1994 comeback fight against stiff Peter McNeeley.
While it was still too early to call at press time, initial
reports indicate that the fight fell far short of that mark -- 750,000 buys, at the most.
Clearly, inside and out of the ring, the fight marked one of Tyson's worst performances in
the modern PPV era.
Prior to the bout, many industry observers questioned
whether fair-weather boxing fans would forgive Tyson enough for his latest indiscretions
to pay to see him fight. They also questioned whether Tyson was still attractive enough of
a fighter to attract legions of hard-core boxing fans, after losing badly twice to
Holyfield and then suffering a long layoff.
The early returns would indicate that their concerns were
justified. The PPV numbers were far short of expectations, and Tyson's desperation
knockout of Botha in the fifth round, after being thoroughly beaten by the journeyman,
seems to show that at this point, Tyson is not close to championship material.
The problem may not be the product itself, but its high
cost and lack of value. Viewers may finally be growing tired of paying in excess of $40 to
see mediocre Tyson performances.
It's one thing to charge $50 for a competitive fight like
Tyson-Holyfield, but it's another to charge $45 for such a perceived drop in quality like
Of course, it can be argued that a Tyson comeback fight
against anybody justifies a high price tag, because it's seen as more of an event than a
fight. Apparently, that argument didn't carry much weight this time with many casual
If the shine is finally beginning to come off Tyson, it's
time to reconsider the price for future Tyson tuneup fights.
Reports have Tyson entering the ring again in late April
against either Axel Schulz -- who lost to Botha -- or Vaughn Bean. A Tyson bout against
either fighter fails to conjure up thoughts of Ali-Frazier, or even Tyson-Holyfield. As a
result, the event shouldn't be priced like it's one of the last great bouts of the 20th
Of course, the current economic structure for future Tyson
fights -- Showtime has already committed millions of dollars to Tyson and to the Tyson
image -- will most likely nix any significant drop in suggested-retail PPV fight prices.
Yet without at least a $10 reduction in price, Showtime
would have to do one monumental marketing job to get people to buy Tyson-Schulz/Bean en
masse at $45.
Outside of putting Tyson's next bout on Showtime, a price
tag of $25 to $35 would at least make subscribers feel better about watching a potentially
washed-up -- albeit still engaging -- Tyson.
At $45, however, the event's performance could finally put
Tyson in a once-unthinkable category for operators -- just another ordinary heavyweight