Hampered by a rare Friday-night start-and an even rarer all-New York World Series-Showtime Event Television's Oct. 20 Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota failed to live up to pay-per-view expectations, operators said.
Even more disconcerting was the bad taste that the fight's conclusion left in consumers' mouths. Golota's decision to quit after two rounds angered some buyers, who called operators to demand at least a partial refund of the fight's $49.95 retail price.
Some industry observers fear the consumer reaction to the event could have a negative residual effect on TVKO's Nov. 11 Lennox Lewis-David Tua event.
SET said the fight generated around 450,000 to 500,000 buys, although operators placed the actual count at around 400,000.
Either figure falls well short of Tyson's worst PPV performance-the January 1999 bout with Francois Botha that drew 700,000 buys. Prior to the Botha fight, Tyson had never drawn fewer than 900,000 PPV buys. Seven of the 10 top-performing PPV events of all time are Tyson bouts.
Showtime Sports and Event Programming executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg said the fight's performance was adversely affected by its unusual Friday night date and by heavy media coverage of the inter-city World Series between the New York Yankees and New York Mets.
Despite the obstacles, Greenberg said SET was satisfied with the results. Tyson's in-ring performance was strong and free from controversy, he added, which bodes well for future events.
"If we are on a Saturday night in November, the fight would have performed much better," Greenberg said. "But we've seen that the Tyson franchise can still deliver."
A mid-size system operator in the New York DMA said that Tyson-Golota fight buys were well below expectations, considering that Tyson is from Brooklyn. She pinned the drop-off in buys on Tyson's declining appeal among casual boxing fans, rather than World Series coverage.
An Oct. 22 World Wrestling Federation event generated higher buys than Tyson-Golota, despite going head-to-head with game two of the Yankees-Mets series. "Tyson's appeal has been lost on the casual boxing fans," said the operator.
While AT&T spokeswoman Tracy Baumgartner would not say how well Tyson-Golota performed, she did say that the MSO received only a few phone calls from consumers requesting refunds.
One operator that was didn't receive any consumer complaints was Cablevision Systems Corp. Cablevision subscribers only had to pay $19.90 for the fight under the company's $9.95-per-round offer.
Cablevision vice president of PPV and enhanced video Sherry Brennan would not say whether the MSO lost money with the marketing ploy, but heralded the offer as a positive consumer-relations tactic.
"The customers had a potential issue with the fight, and I thought it was a total home run for Cablevision, because our customers received a tremendous value for their PPV experience," she said.
Some operators, however, said they were concerned that disgusted consumers would register their displeasure by staying away from TVKO's Nov. 11 Lewis-Tua PPV event. While it seemed that Golota quit unexpectedly after two rounds, days later it was revealed he had suffered multiple injuries during the fight, including a broken cheekbone and a herniated disk in his neck.
HBO Sports senior vice president of marketing and operations Mark Taffet said he doesn't think the Tyson-Golota finish will hurt the Lewis-Tua buy-rate.
"We would rather have had consumers have a more fulfilling experience, but we believe the that the best response is to present fights like Lewis-Tua and [Dec. 2 Fernando Vargas-Felix Trinidad] and have the best fighters fight each other in compelling matchups," he said.
It's unclear when Tyson's next fight will occur, if at all. Prior to the bout, Tyson said he would retire after he faced Golota. Though Tyson promoter Shelly Finkel said the fighter was still leaning that way as late as last week, he believes the former heavyweight champion will eventually return to the ring.
Greenberg said Tyson's next bout might depend on the results of TVKO's Nov. 11 Lennox Lewis-David Tua bout. If Tua wins, SET-which has a contract with Tua-might pit him against Tyson. SET could also develop a third Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight, which could open the way for a mega Tyson-Lewis bout should Tyson be victorious.
"I think people would be willing to pay to see Tyson-Holyfield III, and then probably Tyson-Lewis which would be a big fight," Greenberg said.