Mike Tyson is once again free to fight on pay-per-view,
although his first bout will most likely be too late to salvage operators' 1998 PPV
The Nevada Athletic Commission voted last Monday to
reinstate Tyson's boxing license after banning the fighter for the past 15 months for
biting Evander Holyfield's ear during their June 1997 bout. The move set the stage for
Tyson the most lucrative draw in PPV history to resume his boxing career.
But to the chagrin of operators hoping to salvage their
1998 PPV budgets, it's unlikely that Tyson will fight before January. Sources close to the
situation said a proposed Dec. 5 Tyson bout has now been moved back to at least Jan. 16.
Mark Greenberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications for
Showtime Networks Inc. which would distribute any Tyson PPV event said
there's a "good shot" that Tyson could fight before the end of the year.
However, Greenberg admitted that Showtime has yet to set a date, nor has it negotiated
with Tyson's management team for a potential date.
Shelly Finkel, boxing promoter and part of Tyson's
management team, would only say that nothing's been decided for Tyson's first bout.
"We would like to do a deal before the end of the
year. I think that the industry could use an event," Greenberg said.
Even Tyson himself didn't seem too anxious to enter the
ring. After his meeting with the NAC, Tyson reportedly said he wanted to spend more time
with his family before resuming his boxing career. Sources close to the situation,
however, said the fighter has been training for several months in anticipation of an
But with a little more than two months left in the year, a
Dec. 5 Tyson fight seems more unlikely with each passing day.
And that didn't sit too well with many cable operators, as
their 1998 budget projections were decimated by the lack of marquee PPV-boxing events this
year. While many operators budgeted for several major heavyweight PPV events in 1998, none
actually made it to PPV.
No [December] Tyson fight means that I won't make budget in
1998," one top 10 system PPV executive said. "We budgeted for at least one Tyson
fight, and there's nothing else out there that will make up the difference."
But Gregg Graff, senior vice president and general manager
of Insight Communications' Columbus, Ohio, system, said Tyson's return would net operators
significant cash, regardless of its timing.
"Whether he fights in December or January, we'll start
making money on boxing events again," Graff said.
Indeed, Tyson is the industry's golden goose. The
controversial fighter has been involved in the four highest-grossing PPV events of all
time, and in seven of the top 11. Tyson's last PPV fight, against Holyfield in 1997, drew
a record-setting 1.9 million buys and $100 million in PPV revenue.
Given Tyson's track record, Greenberg said, it's in the
industry's interest to put the best possible event together for his next fight even
if that means waiting an extra month.
"I would rather do it a month later than do it this
year just because," he said. "I want to make sure that we have an appropriate
venue and a compelling night of boxing."
When Tyson eventually does fight, some operators wondered
whether they would experience some subscriber backlash toward the boxer.
"I think that it will be interesting to see how our
subscribers react to Tyson," said Amy Bobchek, director of sales and affiliate
marketing for Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Cablevision of Loudoun, Va. "Tyson is the
first fighter to bring this much emotional [freight] to the table."
The commission voted 4-to-1 to reinstate Tyson's license
after hearing from several Tyson supporters, including former basketball star and
potential Tyson promoter Earvin "Magic" Johnson and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
The NAC also heard from several commission-approved
psychiatrists, who proclaimed Tyson psychologically fit to fight after conducting
extensive tests on him. MCN