Megafight is expected to break all records
George Foreman was fighting Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight title, and anyone wanting to watch it in April 1991 had to plan ahead.
It was the night boxing pay-per-view was born. But to get the fight, customers had to go to their local cable TV offices and put a deposit down for a box that would allow them to get the bout.
"I remember the Friday before the fight we were getting calls from cable operators saying there were lines wrapped around the building a number of times and not enough boxes to meet the demand," said Mark Taffet, who oversees pay-per-view for HBO. "We were shocked when we saw the number of buys."
The fight cost $35.95, and 1.4 million people bought it for their homes. They got their money's worth when Holyfield took some big punches from the 42-year-old Foreman, but fired back with more of his own to win a unanimous decision.
A lot has changed in a quarter-century. Now it takes just a few clicks of the remote to buy a fight. The potential audience, meanwhile, has grown from 16.5 million addressable homes to nearly 100 million.
And, of course, the pay-per-view price has gone up. It will cost Americans $99.95 to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night, while Sky is offering the fight to Irish fans for €25.
Cost aside, more than three million people are expected to buy the megafight for their homes, helping make it the richest fight ever. The bout is set to break records for both number of buys (the current mark is 2.48 million for Mayweather's 2007 fight with Oscar De La Hoya) and total pay-per-view revenue ($150 million, set by Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez in 2013).
"We expect we will break the pay-per-view record," said Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza, whose network is producing the telecast and is partners with HBO in delivering it. "We're not sure exactly where the ceiling is but we are already seeing unprecedented traffic and unprecedented viewership."
Longtime rivals in the boxing business, Showtime and HBO had to agree to do the fight together in order to get it made. Mayweather fights under contract with Showtime, while Pacquiao fights on HBO.
The networks are counting on an unprecedented promotional campaign the week of the fight by the different cable and satellite distributors to push sales.
"We're targeting people who are not generally engaged in sports conversation as well as people who aren't big sports fans but are event fans," Espinoza said. "They may not follow sports much but they like the big events and this is a big event."
If more than three million people buy the telecast it would mean huge payouts for the two fighters. Promoters get an average of between $55 and $60 for each pay-per-view after splitting with the networks and distributors, meaning revenue to the camps of the two fighters could near $200 million.
Yes, it's a lot pricier than the $35.95 charged to watch Holyfield beat Foreman. Then again, no one will have to get up early Monday morning to return a box to their cable operator.