The surprising pay-per-view success of TVKO's Dec. 2 Fernando Vargas-Felix Trinidad fight ended an otherwise lackluster 2000 PPV boxing campaign on a positive note and has industry executives cautiously optimistic about the genre's potential for next year.
The spectacular fight, in which Trinidad knocked out Vargas in the 12th round, drew more than 520,000 buys, well above the industry's projection of 300,000 to 400,000.
The match's performance makes it the second-most-successful PPV boxing event in 2000, behind the 700,000 buys generated by last April's Oscar De La Hoya-Shane Mosley fight.
The bout's performance was particularly impressive given the heavyweight division's disappointing recent PPV track record. Showtime Event Television's Oct. 20 Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota fight and the Nov. 11 Lennox Lewis-David Tua bout both failed to live up to expectations inside the ring and in terms of PPV buys.
Overall, the boxing category generated a disappointing $116 million in 2000-well below the $219 million generated last year-according to Showtime Event Television.
"The fight restored a lot of the confidence in the sport and the business, and sets up a whole string of fights for 2001," Home Box Office senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet said. HBO is TVKO's corporate parent within Time Warner Entertainment.
"Trinidad-Vargas turned everything around for boxing and for PPV," he added.
Taffet said the fight drew a higher number of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic viewers than anyone expected. While the fight was billed as one of the most competitive this year, some industry observers were concerned that neither Trinidad nor Vargas had enough crossover appeal to draw in enough casual boxing fans for a significant amount of national buys.
"We expected buys from Hispanic viewers would outperform non-Hispanic fight fans, but the numbers actually equaled out," Taffet said. "That says the public recognized that this was a great fight featuring two great fighters."
Given the newfound attractiveness of both fighters, Taffet believes a number of solid PPV fights could be developed in 2001. Along with Trinidad and Vargas, HBO/TVKO also has contracts with some of the most attractive fighters in the game today, including current welterweight champion Shane Mosley and former welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya.
The network also is negotiating with current undisputed light-heavyweight champion-and arguably, the pound-for-pound boxing champion-Roy Jones Jr.
Although Taffet said nothing is set in stone, TVKO couldoffer such fights in 2001 as Trinidad-Jones, a De La Hoya-Mosley rematch or a Trinidad-Vargas rematch.
"We have not had this much to work with in a long time," Taffet said.
"The business outside the heavyweight division for years has been dominated by Oscar De La Hoya. While De La Hoya is still a major attraction, he is no longer alone in terms of attractiveness."
But not everyone is bullish about PPV boxing. Tony Paige, a sports-talk host at New York's WFAN radio, said the success of the category goes only as far as the quality of matchups presented to the public-particularly at the current $45 to $50 price associated with big PPV boxing matches.
"Most of the public still doesn't know who a lot of these boxers are, and if they do, a lot of times the public doesn't know who their opponents are," Paige said. "With the high price of [PPV] fights, these fighters will have to fight each other frequently, otherwise the public won't be as willing to pay for it."