Cable operators hoping to gain a big lift from pay-per-view
boxing this year were dealt a major blow last week, when PPV-revenue champ Mike Tyson was
once again sentenced to serve jail time.
Tyson's most recent clash with the law -- he will
serve a one-year jail term on a "road-rage" assault charge -- all but eliminates
three proposed 1999 Tyson fights and puts a cloud over the fighter's boxing future.
Operators that were budgeting for at least two Tyson fights
this year will once again face the difficult prospect of finding alternative ways to
generate PPV revenue in the former heavyweight champion's absence.
After generating 650,000 to 750,000 buys for his Jan. 16
fight with Francois Botha, Tyson was expected to fight again April 24, against a
But in a surprise decision, a Maryland District Court
sentenced Tyson to a pair of two-year jail terms to be served concurrently, which ends up
as a two-year sentence, according to Showtime Event Television officials.
The court suspended one of those years, which means that
Tyson will have to serve one year in prison. He pleaded no contest to the assault charges
The court case will leave the industry without its biggest
draw for the majority of the year. While many considered the Tyson-Botha PPV performance
disappointing, it still grossed more money than any other fight in 1998. Another three
Tyson fights arguably would have done even better.
"It was a tough sentence. We were surprised at the
severity of the punishment," said Mark Greenberg, executive vice president, corporate
strategy and communications for Showtime Networks Inc.
Operators that budgeted aggressively in 1999 after a dismal
1998 were once again concerned about how to fill their new shortfalls.
"I don't think that we're much different
from those MSOs that budgeted for three to four Tyson fights, as was announced," said
Patti McCaskill, vice president of programming and PPV for Charter Communications.
"We are going to need to find some creative and cost-effective ways to make up the
"We had budgeted for two Tyson fights, and the first
one didn't perform as well as we expected," said Ted Hodgins, director of PPV
for Media General Cable. "We are now focusing our efforts toward Oscar De La Hoya and
the [Evander] Holyfield-[Lennox Lewis] fight. Some things are taken away, and some things
are put in its place, but whatever fills the void has to make up $1 million."
Some operators, burned by the unpredictability of the
boxing business, did not budget very optimistically for Tyson fights.
We learned that we don't aggressively budget PPV
boxing because we can't count on it," said Jerry McKenna, vice president of
strategic marketing for Cable One. "I'm hoping that some of the other
heavyweight fighters have good years."
There is still a possibility that Tyson could fight again
this year. Within two months of his sentence, Tyson could be transferred to a Maryland
work-release center, where he could conceivably begin training during the day and return
during the evening, according to sources close to the situation.
After six months, the fighter could be released from prison
if he behaves himself in jail. But that may not be the end for Tyson's legal woes.
The state of Indiana could send Tyson back to jail for
another three years if it decides that his problems in Maryland are a violation of his
parole. Tyson was paroled in 1995 after serving three years on a rape conviction. His
parole would have expired next month.
Tyson can still appeal the decision, which could free him
earlier. But if he is tried and convicted of the crime, he could face three to seven years
in jail, and he would almost assuredly serve his remaining time in Indiana.
"There are risks, as well as opportunities, within the
judicial system," Greenberg said. "At this point, we're not certain what
actions [Tyson's attorneys] will take."
SET will certainly be watching the developments very
closely. Tyson is arguably the network's biggest drawing card, and it will be
difficult for the company to fill his shoes. The network still has an exclusive
distribution deal with Don King, but the flamboyant promoter has recently taken his two
marquee fighters -- Holyfield and welterweight champion Felix Trinidad -- over to Showtime
competitor Home Box Office for major bouts.
Nevertheless, Greenberg said, SET will continue to develop
cost-effective boxing and nonboxing events to distribute to operators.
"In the last nine years, there have been five [during
which] Tyson was not available to us, but SET still performed well," Greenberg added.
Showtime is expected to go ahead with an April 24 PPV card,
although it's unclear who will headline the event.