Mike Tyson's Jan. 16 return to the pay-per-view ring
was more a firecracker than an explosion.
The controversial fighter performed nothing like a former
heavyweight champion or the current PPV king during his bout with lightly regarded
Cable-industry sources pegged the number of PPV buys at
650,000 to 700,000 -- the worst number of Tyson's career. It threw doubt on his
future drawing power, worrying operators that have depended on Tyson to help fill their
Tyson showed his ring rust in the bout, winning in a
fifth-round knockout after floundering for four rounds.
Showtime Event Television is already making plans for an
April 24 bout, but cable operators said the projected opponents -- Axel Schulz, Vaughn
Bean, Shannon Briggs or Lou Savarese -- may not be strong enough to propel the event to
past Tyson performance levels.
SET estimated that the fight -- the first for Tyson since
he was suspended for biting Evander Holyfield's ear in June 1997 -- generated about
750,000 buys. Operator reports, however, placed the number roughly 10 percent below that
Either way, the fight was a bust. A June 1988 bout against
Michael Spinks drew 600,000 buys, but that fight was only in front of 5 million homes,
compared with 35 million for this bout. In comparison, Tyson's first comeback bout in
1994, against Peter McNeeley, drew 1.3 million buys.
But Mark Greenberg, executive vice president, corporate
strategy and communications for Showtime, said he wasn't surprised at the
fight's performance, given the hurdles that it had to overcome.
Greenberg said the timing of the fight -- during the
weekend of the National Football League's championship playoff games, as well as the
lifting of the National Basketball Association lockout -- hurt promotion.
The fight's marketing efforts were already hampered by
a short, three-week promotional effort. Greenberg added that Michael Jordan's
retirement the week of the fight sapped some of the national press coverage from the
"On a retail side, no other event in 1998 generated as
much money as the Tyson fight, and if we had more time to market the event, we might have
done much better," he asserted.
That reasoning, however, was of little consolation to some
operators who felt that the fight performed poorly.
"We thought that we would do better," said Rick
Lang, marketing and PPV director for Cable One, adding that the fight performed about 20
percent to 40 percent below expectations. "The expectations for the fight may have
been higher than they should have been."
Michael Klein, senior vice president of programming for
Viewer's Choice, also said he was disappointed, but he added that the event still
generated significant revenue for the industry.
Prime Cable said the fight performed about as expected.
"It was a tough sell, because [Botha] was unknown, but
it was more of a curiosity fight for many people, and we did well," said Pam Burton,
director of marketing for Prime.
While Greenberg admitted that it was not a "vintage
Tyson" performance -- the fighter had a very difficult time landing punches --
he's confident that Tyson will get better as he continues to fight. He added that the
competitiveness of this fight should make his next bout more interesting to the public.
But some industry executives said Tyson's
attractiveness was severely compromised by his recent behavior inside and outside of the
ring. As a result, fights against no-name opponents like Schulz and Bean may have trouble
luring those who bought the Tyson-Botha event.
"If he can fight someone with more name recognition
than Botha, then we could do much better," said Eric Lardy, marketing assistant for
Cable One of Fargo, N.D.
"We won't see the big buy-rates until he fights
one of the top contenders in the division," one West Coast operator said.
"Certainly some of the shine has gone."
Industry observers feel that Showtime may have to
reconsider its high suggested retail price for Tyson, which ranges from $45 to $50.
"From here on out, the industry will probably have to
sell a fight, and not Tyson, and that may mean that buy-rates and prices have to be
redefined," said Steve Farhood, contributing editor for Fight Game.
"I don't know if they can get away with putting
another [no-name] opponent in there and just claiming that Tyson was rusty against
Botha," Farhood added.
But Shelly Finkel, Tyson's manger, believes that with
a new date and more promotion, the fans will pay top dollar again to watch Tyson fight.
"Once the fans watch the fight and see the knockout,
they'll see the real Tyson and come back," Finkel said.