Undercard experiment: Will you support the supporting bouts?
Robert Guerrero (right) is one of several big names on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz undercard Saturday in Las Vegas. Photo / Chris Cozzone-FightWireImages.com
We’ve been told many times that consumers purchase pay-per-views based solely on the strength of the main event with no regard for the quality of the undercard. In an industry in which one Hall of Famer infamously said he’d lied the day before but was now telling the truth, it’s fitting that this particular rhetoric combines truth with falsehood. The reality is that this pay-per-view philosophy is both true and false; it simply depends on which consumers you’re talking about.
It’s true that casual boxing fans, the type who order a couple of pay-per-views a year and wouldn’t know Devon Alexander from Alexander Povetkin, don’t really care about the undercard. Just look at all the big shots in the background on the PPV who have tickets to the event and roll in with about a round and a half to go in the co-feature; those are the guys to whom the promoters and network execs are referring when they say the undercard doesn’t matter.
But there’s another segment of fight fans out there: the hardcore devotees. Those fans do care about the undercard bouts. Those aren’t the people whom promoters are targeting when trying to figure out how to smash pay-per-view records with a superstar like Manny Pacquiao or Oscar De La Hoya or Mike Tyson. But when you’re dealing with a fight that rates to attract maybe 200,000 or 300,000 buys, where an extra 10,000 buys can make all the difference in terms of overall profitability, those fans matter.
This Saturday, Golden Boy Promotions and HBO Pay-Per-View are offering arguably the best PPV undercard we’ve seen in years. It should be noted that it’s a bit excessive to bust out any “all-time great” hyperbole; back in the ’90s, when PPV was relatively new and fans were still generally resistant to the idea of spending money to watch fights, stacked undercards were the norm. But the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz II undercard is a diamond-encrusted gift from the heavens compared to the offerings of the last several years, when PPV undercards have morphed into a trash dump for fights that the pay-cable networks aren’t interested in broadcasting.
There’s no single fight on the show that could sell by itself, but this is one case in which the whole is undoubtedly greater than the sum of the parts. When you combine Robert Guerrero-Joel Casamayor, Jorge Linares-Rocky Juarez and Daniel Jacobs-Dmitry Pirog into one nonstop block of boxing, you have a formula for avoiding the usual two hours of “when does the main event start?” moaning.
You have, quite honestly, an undercard that the organizers can be proud of.
“When asking fans to spend their time and money, offering a full night of entertainment with quality fights leading up to a can’t-miss main event, it is a win-win for the consumer,” Tammy Ross, general manager of HBO PPV, said in a statement to RingTV.com on behalf of the network.
Debate if you wish the question of whether Marquez-Diaz truly can’t miss, but with an undercard like this, it becomes forgivable if the main event does miss. Between these four fights, at least one or two are certain to hit – and maybe all four will.
The question is, will fans respond? HBO PPV is asking them to “spend their time and money”; will enough of them do that, without a blockbuster main event featuring Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, to recoup Golden Boy’s investment?
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer was quoted a couple of weeks back saying that if the PPV didn’t sell well, fans shouldn’t expect more undercards like this. Some interpreted that as a threat and criticized Schaefer. But Schaefer insists he meant it more as inspiration and encouragement than any sort of threat.
“This undercard is something of an experiment,” Schaefer explained. “I basically have answered the fight fans’ call, ‘Put together great undercards.’ But great undercards cost a lot of money. So I’m making an investment and taking a risk, and I’m saying to fight fans, show me that you’re going to buy the pay-per-view. Our total investment in the card is in excess of $4-million. I’m not going to disclose what our break-even is, but I will say that we hope the buy number is going to break the 200,000-home mark.
“Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we don’t have a money-printing press here. It is a business, and obviously, if you keep losing money on every card, then pretty soon you’re out of business, and that’s in nobody’s best interest. So we’re really taking a risk here, and we do hope that the fight fans embrace the card, and that’s meant in a positive way, not a disrespectful way. Obviously, we are not deliberately trying to put together bad undercards for any of our events. But there are good undercards and there are great undercards, and we went out of our way to make this one a great undercard.”
If there’s a time to put together an especially outstanding undercard, it’s to support a main event like this that isn’t a guaranteed hit. Marquez is a star by current boxing standards, but he needs another name on the marquee to do big business. Put him in with Pacquiao or Mayweather and you have a chance at a million buys. Put him in with anyone else, and a half-million is out of reach.
Marquez-Diaz is a quality fight, a rematch of the 2009 Fight of the Year. But it’s in that borderline range in terms of public demand, the range where it could make a significant difference to combine it with other attractive fights.
Schaefer’s not laying down a cut-and-dried ultimatum. It’s not good buy or goodbye. If the card absolutely tanks, sure, you might not see an undercard like this for a while. But there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what PPV buy rates might encourage continued experimentation on various levels.
And then there’s the upside. What if the PPV shatters expectations? What if hardcore fans prove to Schaefer that putting multiple HBO-quality fights on one pay-per-view is a mutually beneficial arrangement?
Well, he might just be encouraged to take it a step farther and seriously consider the feasibility of pay-per-views with multiple main events.
“My dream is to do a Super Bowl-type card where you have two or three fights where each one is like a mega-fight, and it really captures the entire world’s attention,” Schaefer revealed. “I’m always thinking about different ways to improve the visibility of the sport. I think the concept of putting together a supercard with superfights, maybe from different venues, is worth considering. But again, it has to somehow make economic sense. These fighters have to get paid. They deserve to be paid.”
And when the product is on pay-per-view, that payment comes out of your pocket. Boxing is a sport in which the marketplace has always had a direct effect on the product, and in this case, the marketplace will speak in the form of numbers that get tallied a week or so after the fight.
None of this is meant to encourage readers to buy Saturday’s pay-per-view if they don’t feel it’s worth the money. Rather, Schaefer is looking to see how many fight fans believe it is worth the money.
If the numbers are strong, the boxing community will have made the statement that the undercard does matter. And if nothing else, the hardcore fans will have some ammunition the next time a promoter or TV executive tries to tell them otherwise.
ÔÇó As you know if you read my column last week, I have no problem with a Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight this November, given the lack of other realistic options. But I do have a problem with anyone who is going to call Pacquiao an “eight-division champ” if he wins. Can we all please just agree to ignore whatever bogus vacant title is at stake? (And on a related subject, shame on anyone who continues to question the legitimacy of Pacquiao’s featherweight reign. All he did was beat the man who beat the man who collected all the belts one by one. And yet there are people out there who will call Pacquiao a junior middleweight champ if he beats Margarito but claim he passed through the 126-pound division without winning a title. If that sentence describes you, please do us all a favor and stick the fork back in the electrical outlet.)
ÔÇó And if you need one more reason Pacquiao-Margarito is a good thing, here you go: It might just result in a great fight between Miguel Cotto and Andre Berto happening late in 2010 because neither of them has Pacquiao or Margarito as an option.
ÔÇó Just when you think the heavyweight division can’t get any more pathetic, we discover that the top two contenders to the Klitschko brothers, David Haye and Alexander Povetkin, both don’t want a shot. What happened to the days when top athletes felt compelled to prove themselves to be the best? Perhaps Haye and Alexander should just go team up with Dwyane Wade or something.
ÔÇó In case you haven’t heard last week’s episode of Ring Theory with special guest Steve Farhood, you can still access it here. And if you have heard the episode, listen again. My co-host Bill Dettloff trying to pronounce Vyacheslav Uzelkov is just as funny the second time around.
ÔÇó How ’bout that right hand Danny Green “knocked out” Paul Briggs with? The choreographer of the Sonny Corleone-Carlo Rizzi fight would be proud.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin