Pay-Per-View Numbers – Last weekend’s Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley III HBO pay-per-view was the first major PPV boxing event to hit the American market this year. The preliminary numbers for buys shows the purchases to be in the 450,000 range, which is considerably less than the 700,000 promoter Bob Arum was hoping for.. Afterwards, a more grim faced than usual Arum described the fight as a “hard sell”.
An easier sell is probably the May 7th HBO offering pitting Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against British hired gun Amir Khan. Alvarez is seen by many as the future of the sport and as it’s potential top draw, especially with Pacquiao’s era coming to an end. But the fight is not perfect by any means, and it leaves open very real questions about what the expected pay-per-view sales will be like.
Both men are considered to have a wide ethnic following that is the main part of their appeal. Last November, “Canelo” was paired with Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, who is also considered to be a fighter who is an international box-office attraction, and the fight cleared 900,000 pay-per-view buys. So let’s set that as the over/under for this coming bout between “Canelo” and Khan.
The first simple question here is whether Khan is as big a draw as Miguel Cotto, especially in the American market.
Cotto has spent years establishing himself, and with the backing of the island of Puerto Rico and strong ties that allow him to be a main event attraction at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he is a proven commodity in the game of boxing. He has participated in major fights against the likes of Alvarez and Mayweather where he plays second fiddle, but he has carried his own weight as the “A” draw in bouts as well.
Khan is 31-3 overall in his career, and he has been a star his whole professional life, having won a 2004 Olympic Silver Medal for the U.K. He is of Pakistani descent and he counts on backing from other Muslims on top of his British following. He has fought nine times in the United States, going 7-2 in those bouts, all of which aired on HBO, Showtime or Spike TV. It should also be noted that Khan is probably the most active boxing presence in the world of Twitter and social media. This loyal following has Khan constantly being quoted in media outlets and they seem to follow his every move. It may have the effect of inflating the appearance of his following.
More concrete numbers are not as kind to Khan. His last two outings in the States have failed to clear 1 million viewers, and that is on channels that are not pay-per-view. Khan vs Chris Algieri drew just over 810k viewers on US cable network Spike TV in May of 2015. His match with Devon Alexander averaged 762k viewers on Showtime back in December of 2014.
In the United Kingdom, the fight is going to air on BOXNATION via the internet. The SKY Network and SKY Box Office apparently have an exclusive deal with promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing, and any promotion he is not a part of are not considered by SKY.
The British market is roughly 1/6 the size of the U.S. market. The recent Heavyweight clash between Anthony Joshua and Charles Martin at the O2 Arena netted over 400k purchases on Sky Box Office, the U.K. pay-per-view equivalent. A similar number would likely have been a nice supplement to the stateside pay-per view buys, but Khan did not bring that type of reach in his market to the table despite his own rhetoric.
Now if you ask Golden Boy promoter and “Canelo” mentor Oscar De La Hoya, the numbers for this pay-per-view will be in the millions. A March 3rd article on CNN.com’s website has De La Hoya stating “we’re going to have millions of Muslims, millions of Mexicans, buying pay-per-view”. De La Hoya may prove to be even more of an optimist than Arum, as his view is overly simplistic, especially when it comes to establishing what type of Muslim audience Khan really attracts in the United States. Reviewing the fights that Khan and Alvarez have fought in the last year that did not include Floyd Mayweather Jr, and the pair struggles to clear the 1 million viewer mark on pay-per-view or free television.
There is an exception. In May of 2015, “Canelo” fought James Kirkland to an average audience numbering 2.2 million viewers, but that fight aired on free HBO. That is the highest number of the bunch, and the fight yielded a “KO of the Year” ending, but it is still not realistic to say that “Canelo” has grown to Mayweather type of heights in terms of popularity since then. What has he done since then to bolster his popularity?
Though the Cotto fight was not on par with Mayweather vs Pacquiao in terms of dissappointment, it is hard to think the fight saw Alvarez make new fans because of his performance. At $70 a pop, some may have been dissappointed.
Then there is the fact that Golden Boy, HBO and Amir Khan are all ignoring the criticism the match has received. Many people expected Alvarez to take on a challenge in his weight class and not to take a fight against a man completely unproven at 155 lbs, but that question seems to have been overwhelmed by the flood of “Khan is adding muscle”, “Khan will be too fast”, “Khan has the style to affect Alvarez” rhetoric that is being issued. It is easy to forget that most people’s first reaction to the announcement was “terrible match”.
Khan is commonly viewed as putting the paycheck first in choosing the match, and his mode the last few years has been to shamelessly solicit Pacquiao or Mayweather looking to cash in. Both Pac-man and “Money” shrewdly avoided Khan, not because they are afraid of him in the ring, but because a lot of the time the only people who are telling you Khan is a superstar draw are Khan’s people. Now Khan has a chance to prove he is the draw he says he is.
De La Hoya and Golden Boy too have simply not paid attention to the criticism “Canelo” has received for avoiding the bigger fights that await him and for insisting on catchweight bouts as a 160 lb champion. The fact is that those moves may have damaged Alvarez’ standing even with his Mexican audience, as fights with Gennady Golovkin or even Daniel Jacobs were more appealing for Alvarez. As for Khan, he blew off a major fight against Kell Brook for British bragging rights at 147 lbs, his proper weight class, to grab the payday.
The fact is that the record set by Mayweather vs Pacquiao is safe, as are the numbers “Canelo” did with Mayweather and all the other fights in boxing’s top ten. The winner of Alvarez and Khan may emerge as the new “man” in boxing for now, but once again it is clear that in the department of ticket sales and cross-over appeal, boxing in general is in for a down time.
So if you took the under on the 700k buys for Pacquiao vs Bradley III you were right. For Alvarez vs Khan, the number is set at 900k. Where will the pay-per-view buys come in for this fight? We will know shortly after May 7th. Tickets are still available for the live event, with the fight three weeka away.