The Evolution and Decline of PPV

    Floyd Mayweather - Saul Canelo Alvarez
    Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)
    Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)

    Boxing has been a sport of constant flux since its inception. Stars rise and fall, promoters explode than implode, while the sanctioning bodies or mafias pull strings in the back. It was once a top three-sport in America while now it’s on a smaller platform than most other sports on television.

    Boxing fans traditionally have enjoyed boxing on free or subscription-based television channels such as ABC, ESPN, CBS, HBO, and Showtime. Over the past 30 years, boxing has used pay-per-view to make extreme profits off of mega-stars such as Tyson, De La Hoya, Pacquiao, and Mayweather. Now that boxing only has one star left in Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, has the boxing world changed its perception of PPV?

    A multi-layer question deserves a multi-layer answer. Overall yes, the perception of PPV has changed with the ‘retirements’ of stars, but that perception of change is quite different for the three main groups of the sport: the fans, the boxers, and the promoters.

    For the promoters, this seemingly rapid decline in PPV earnings may actually be a godsend for them. In the eternal struggle between the interests of promoters and boxers, a lack of PPV draws means there is a lack of boxers with true leverage over their promoters. The Mayweather era was defined as being an era where the boxer had such control over his career; the promoter could not leverage those certain fights fans wanted into happening. So, therefore, in today’s age, a promoter actually benefits from a decline in PPV, because no boxer active today can create the revenue that will make the promoter follow their boxers commands.

    Case in point; Terence Crawford is an undefeated P4P level boxer whom completely flopped on his first PPV, rumored to only do around 50k-70k buys. Now he has less control over Bob Arum than a Mayweather who generated 350k buys in his debut PPV. In the long run, this may be more beneficial to the promoter than the fighter. While the promoters now can’t rely on major PPV’s to create massive revenue, control may be a higher commodity than money in today’s climate of the sport.

    For the fighters, the decline of PPV is an extreme issue. PPV has in the last 30 years turned many high-level boxers into millionaires beyond belief. Roy Jones Jr., who is known as never being a true PPV star, still averaged 353,111 PPV buys for his nine PPV bouts. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the king of PPV, averaged 1,310,000 PPV buys, while his rival Manny Pacquiao averaged 836,363. Compare that to today’s boxers attempting to be a PPV star, only Canelo Alvarez competes with an average of 875,000 PPV buys. Now, of course, Canelo’s numbers are skewed since his first PPV was against Mayweather, but his numbers have never dipped below making a return in profits. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Manny Pacquiao have all had PPV bouts do significantly worse than any of Canelo’s.

    However, when a young undefeated boxer debuted on PPV in the past, they usually sold well. Mayweather, Pacquiao, Tyson, De La Hoya, etc. all performed well in their inaugural PPV, unlike today’s boxers. Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux, two middleweight champions unifying half the division, did only 150,000 buys. Since GGG failed at his first PPV, he has no leverage to get other high-level boxers to fight him. Mayweather had three PPV’s before he bought out his Top Rank contract and then leveraged his stardom into an Oscar De La Hoya fight; those three PPV’s averaged 354,667 buys. If boxers today can’t average around that number at least then they have no true leverage in the sport.

    For the fans, the decline of PPV has been both good and bad. Yes, fewer fights are on PPV then they used to be with the decline of stars in boxing, but with the decline of stars means the PPV’s fans are receiving now are subpar. In the past year we’ve seen PPV worthy fights such as Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter, Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton, Wladimir Klitschko vs. Tyson Fury, and etc. all happen either on premium or basic cable.

    In the past year, however, we’ve seen two P4P quality boxers in Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford, both undefeated, fail at their PPV debuts in unheard of fashion. Crawford, who receives comparisons to a young Mayweather, did roughly 250,000 fewer buys than Mayweather’s debut in PPV. However since the top fighters are guaranteed a high amount due to the overall control boxers have now, networks are struggling to maintain a budget to put on these “great” fights. Manny Pacquiao’s “comeback” fight, for example, is not being picked up by HBO PPV, but he averages 836,363 PPV buys throughout his career, while GGG vs. Kell Brook will be on regular HBO.

    With the seemingly decline in PPV and TV network backing for PPV, the overall landscape of boxing is changing in front of us. When boxing went from ABC’s World Wide of Sports to HBO, Showtime, and PPV the sport’s dynamics changed as well. Boxers generally gained more leverage than promoters for the first time in the sports history, but now we may be seeing the balancing of boxing’s power struggle played out in television executive meetings. Boxing 30 years ago was drastically different, and with a new era of boxers, comes another drastic change for the sport.