The May 2 Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather boxing match broke all Pay-Per-View sports records, but it certainly wasn’t the only sports event iN DEMAND has offered that captures the interest and dollars of sports fans.
Throughout its 30-year history, iN DEMAND has served as a middleman, negotiating deals and creating marketing and promotion packages for some of the biggest and most historic sports events, from such ring sports as boxing and mixed martial arts to live, out-of-market game packages involving the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.
The company will continue to operate on the live sports field as viewers continue to demand access to live sports content.
“I think the pay-per-view business is alive and it’s thriving,” iN DEMAND Senior Vice President of Programming and Business Development Mark Boccardi said.
CHAMPION OF THE RING
And nowhere has it thrived more than in the ring-sports arena. After establishing itself as the dominant PPV category in the 1990s and then struggling in the early 2000s, boxing has rediscovered its golden touch with successful and lucrative PPV boxing events over the past decade.
Four of the boxing category’s biggest Pay-Per-View events have occurred within the last five years, culminating with May’s Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, which generated more than 4 million buys — nearly doubling the 2.4 million buys generated by the previous record-holder, the 2007 fight pitting Mayweather against Oscar De La Hoya.
The category’s good fortune should continue with a tentative September Mayweather fight — the last of Showtime’s six-fight PPV deal with the undefeated, pound-for-pound boxing champion. Also expected to fill distributors’ coffers is a potential HBO-distributed PPV fight between veteran champion Miguel Cotto and up-and-coming PPV draw Canelo Alvarez.
As more PPV boxing events come down the pike and the industry continues to move into the digital world with more services for consumers, iN DEMAND’s expertise and operator relationships should prove even more valuable, HBO Sports Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Integrations Tammy Ross said.
“As MVPDs continue to dip their toes into all types of new business strategies, iN DEMAND’s efforts in the core business of PPV are more important than ever,” said Ross. The company’s deal-negotiating prowess and ability to provide resources to distributors were instrumental in making Mayweather-Pacquiao work, she said.
“The success the sport has had in PPV is a testament to [iN DEMAND’s] influence and value to the content provider. They understand and assess the work that sometimes accompanies the distribution of PPV boxing at an elite level,” she added.
Boccardi also hopes the sport will experience an immediate carryover from the success of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. “The good news is, despite some chatter on social media the night of the event about some people having issues with ordering, for the most part the vast majority of buys were clean,” he said. “That’s really what we want to get out of the night, because when people order and they have a good experience, they’re more likely to come back.”
iN DEMAND’s expertise has also proven valuable for the PPV growth and success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s mixed martial arts franchise.
The UFC, which effectively launched on PPV in the early 2000s, built its business through monthly PPV events — nearly all of them carried by iN DEMAND — before the promotion added a major multi-year, multi-network television deal with Fox Sports in 2011.
Boccardi said he’s optimistic about UFC’s prospects this year, even though it suffered through a tough 2014 in which fighter injuries compromised many PPV cards. About half of its 2014 events were changed just before airing due to injuries to main-event fighters, and one card had to be completely cancelled.
UFC President Dana White has said he expects to match or surpass last year’s PPV revenue by mid-year, given that the company is off to a strong start with its early 2015 events.
That confidence was cemented in January with a new multi-year distribution deal between UFC and iN DEMAND. Along with access to all UFC events, iN DEMAND’s new deal allows affiliates to offer UFC PPV events to commercial establishments, as well as offer “UFC Fight Pass,” the company’s subscription over-the-top service, on a fully authenticated basis.
“It is great to continue our rewarding and long-lasting relationship with iN DEMAND,” UFC Chief Content Officer Marshall Zelaznik said in announcing the deal. “The ability of iN DEMAND to deliver our best and most meaningful fights and events to so many fans in the years to come is great news for our sport, our brand and our partners.”
Boccardi said he believes the UFC has a bright future as the organization, like boxing, begins to groom a new crop of potential superstars, including Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Cain Velazquez, who will serve as huge PPV draws in the future.
“They had their initial big crop of PPV stars like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Brock Lesnar retire a few years ago,” he said. “Now they are grooming that next crop of superstars.”
PLAYING THE FIELD
iN DEMAND also plays in major-league team sports with a trio of live, out-of-market games packages — NBA League Pass, NHL Center Ice and MLB Extra Innings. To give fans a fuller experience for their money, it has recently given TV Everywhere access to subscribers. Other enhancements are more games and more feeds.
“We now carry home and away feeds of almost every game — traditionally we’d only carry the one feed that was sent to us,” he said. “We have also increased the number of HD games that we’re offering for the last few years and feature 18 HD channels [for sports] as well.” We are up to about 10,000 feeds a year in the sports packages.”
iN DEMAND is also offering more niche events to draw diverse audiences to the PPV category.
From events the like Professional Bull Riders, which aired earlier this month, to the Rugby World Cup later this year, Boccardi said iN DEMAND continues to look for events that have appeal across the sports landscape.