On Wednesday, Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs kicked off a multi-city press tour (they’re in Mexico City today, Los Angeles on 3.4) to promote their May 4th bout – a high-profile fight that will air exclusively on DAZN. Promoters Eddie Hearn and Oscar De La Hoya insist that the Cinco de Mayo bout will mark an inflection point where consumers accustomed to paying $85+ for super fights realize that the subscription streaming model is capable of offering blockbuster showdowns without “the pay-per-view price tag”, but Ringstar Sports’ Richard Schaefer disputes the notion that this is the beginning of the end for the PPV model. In fact, Schaefer told ESPN that PPV is “going to be bigger than ever” and projected that existing PPV “records will fall.” The former CEO of De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions won’t have to wait long to find out – Fox (Spence-Garcia) and ESPN (Crawford-Khan) will both host PPV cards over the next 45 days.
Howie Long-Short: Eddie Hearn’s proclamation that the PPV model is dead may be a “ridiculous message” (Schaefer’s words not mine), but there’s no denying the value boxing fans receive with DAZN’s monthly subscription package ($9.99). The Alvarez/Jacobs fight will be Canelo’s 2nd on the platform in 6 months and Anthony Joshua’s June bout against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller will mark his 2nd appearance on the OTT service over the last 9 months. Those 4 fights as PPV events would have cost fans north of $300, but DAZN subscribers got them for less than $100 and had access to dozens of other live boxing and MMA cards over that time.
HBO is no longer in the fight game, but former executive Mark Taffet believes that the OTT subscription model will “redefine pay-per-view and probably make pay-per-view a better business.” That’s because to keep subscribers, OTT services – which offer the ability to cancel at any time – need to constantly put forth content that viewers value; if promoters start putting their most attractive matchups on PPV, subscribers won’t stick around. Mark sees a day when only “super fights” with “Super Bowl-type” demand can command a significant investment from fans, though they’ll be able to charge more.
Schaefer’s optimism stems from the fact that Fox and ESPN can promote fights in 80+ million homes – an audience 4-5x greater than Showtime (or HBO) has. He pointed out that, “it’s unheard of to have a press conference on free over-the-air network television” and predicted that the ability to broadcast shoulder programming around fights to an audience that size, is “going to change pay-per-view.” He’s not alone in that thinking. Bob Arum said, “I really believe that whatever number [the Crawford-Khan fight] would have done – under the old plan with HBO as the distributor – we’ll double it in the new era with ESPN distributing and with the ESPN megaphone pumping it.”
Fan Marino: Placing non-mega fights on PPV – where viewership is smaller – is bad for the sport, but it’s a necessary evil if the goal is to book the best matchups. With promotions (and fighters) tied to networks, PPV often serves as a distribution partner middle ground in negotiations; of course, PPV also provides fighters with the greatest monetary upside as the networks simply can’t guarantee comparable purses if the event sells well (see: 500K+ buys).
Boxing fans have historically been willing to spend on live content, but it’s unrealistic to ask anyone to spend +/- $250 in the first 6 months of a calendar year on 3 PPV events (includes Pacquiao/Broner) in addition to their DAZN, ESPN+ and Showtime subscriptions. The issue is simply the price point. PPV shows in the U.K. sell for $25. They sell for 3x as much here. As Eddie Hearn said, “Fury/Wilder was a good fight and a good event (several other champions fought on card), but only 300K people watched it on TV; had it been priced at $25 or $30, it might have done 1 million buys.”
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