Friday, November 4, 2016

Which Event Will You Order?

After a period of time that was referred to affectionately by some, including this observer as “Darktober” for the sport due to the significant absence of Boxing on television in the United States in the month of October; a period of time that was highlighted by the Chicago Cubs emerging victorious in the 2016 World Series, Boxing now prepares to return to center stage in November highlighted by two significant marquee pay-per-view  cards. The first of the two events will take place on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV as WBO Welterweight world champion Jessie Vargas makes the first defense of his championship against future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao, who retired in April of this year after his second victory in his trilogy with former two-division world champion Timothy Bradley, now prepares to return to the ring following his victory in the political arena in becoming a senator in his native Philippines in May. Pacquiao will attempt to become a three-time Welterweight world champion when he faces the newly crowned WBO world champion Jessie Vargas. Vargas, who won the vacant WBO world championship in March of this year with an eighth round knockout over previously undefeated contender Sadam Ali has only lost one of twenty-eight career bouts with the lone loss coming against Timothy Bradley in June of last year.

What appears to be an interesting fight on paper has in some ways been overshadowed by an element regarding the business of the sport as this will be the first time in several years that a pay-per-view Boxing card headlined by Manny Pacquiao will not have the involvement of two of Boxing’s major networks in the United States HBO and Showtime. Instead, promoter Bob Arum and his promotional company Top Rank Boxing will independently produce and distribute the pay-per-view broadcast.

This is an interesting move as Manny Pacquiao has been a mainstay on HBO and it’s pay-per-view brand HBO Pay-Per-View for several years. The move comes as HBO declined produce and distribute the broadcast on pay-per-view due to the Vargas-Pacquiao card being too close to the scheduled November 19th pay-per-view card headlined by the World Light-Heavyweight championship fight between undefeated unified world champion Sergey Kovalev and undefeated Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward, a pay-per-view event that will be broadcast by HBO Pay-Per-View.

Although it is understandable how one might want to discuss the circumstances and reasoning behind Top Rank’s decision to produce an independent pay-per-view, it is important to remember that it is a move that is not unprecedented. Some may remember a time where the concept of promoters producing and distributing pay-per-view events, known as “Independent” productions due to the non-involvement of a television network was once commonplace in the sport. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, promoters like Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing and Don King’s Don King Productions to name a few did produce and distribute their own pay-per-view events from time to time.

 There have been occasions where separate pay-per-view Boxing cards have taken place on the same day and even one occasion where two cards went head to head on pay-per-view. Some readers might remember the night of June 10, 2006 where Bob Arum’s Top Rank produced and distributed a pay-per-view card headlined by then Jr. Welterweight world champion Miguel Cotto’s title defense against Paul Malignaggi at New York’s Madison Square Garden while at the same time a separate pay-per-view card took place headlined by Antonio Tarver’s  IBO World Light-Heavyweight championship defense against Bernard Hopkins at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ that was produced and distributed by HBO Pay-Per-View.

Although the night of June 10, 2006 remains the only time to this observer’s knowledge that two separate events went head to head on cable/satellite pay-per-view, the decision to go the independent route for Vargas-Pacquiao should not be viewed as a surprising one by Top Rank. What is interesting however, with regard to two pay-per-view cards taking place within the same calendar month is whether or not the steady rise in the pricing for pay-per-view events in recent years will have a negative impact on either Top Rank’s Vargas-Pacquiao card or the HBO produced and distributed Kovaelv-Ward card.

It is a fair question to ask and wonder given that both events are likely to be priced at around $70 each. Of course, both events will more than just the main event bouts, but it is important to remember that in addition to what could be viewed by some as expensive pay-per-view prices, both events will have to contend  with an issue that could impact the overall pay-per-view numbers. The issue of the growing trend of consumers that have “Cut The Cord” and done away with the cable/satellite medium to consume their television choices in favor of Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution options and thus will not have access to the cable/satellite medium to order the broadcast of either card.

Some readers may recall the column this observer published here on the website in December of last year titled “Is It Time For “Big Time” Boxing  To Go Over The Top?” that discussed the general decline of Boxing pay-per-view buys in recent years and the rise of OTT digital distribution as a form of television consumption. This observer stated that it was and remains my opinion nearly a year later that consumers who have “Cut The Cord” by canceling their cable/satellite pay-TV services in favor of OTT television would welcome the opportunity to see a marquee Boxing event that would otherwise only be offered via cable/satellite pay-per-view if offered on an OTT basis.  I closed that column by stating that even though seeing Boxing’s next “Big” or “Super” fight offered on an OTT basis may appear to be wishful thinking in the eyes of some, as the trend of “Cord-Cutting” continues to grow one can only imagine the potential audience that Boxing’s next marquee event could be missing out on.

Although neither Vargas-Pacquiao or Kovalev-Ward will be offered on an OTT basis, this observer believes it would have been interesting to see either Top Rank or HBO test the waters of OTT digital distribution as a way to potentially gain more viewers than would normally be the case by offering the events strictly via the cable/satellite pay-per-view medium.  It will nevertheless be interesting to see how the two upcoming pay-per-view cards compare with each other in regard to overall pay-per-view buys.

Both cards have appeal, both have interesting main events, and the fighters involved do have dedicated fan followings. Although it is not out of the realm of possibility that some may choose to order both events, one may wonder if the ultimate authority, the Boxing fan will be forced to choose one event over the other or may ultimately decide not to order either event. Which Boxing event will you the reader choose to buy? In this observer’s eyes the question of who will win the two main event bouts that will headline these events is as interesting as the question of which event will generate more pay-per-view revenue.  If nothing else, the answer to the second question just might determine whether dueling marquee pay-per-view Boxing events taking place within the same month will be a one-off or something that could become a new trend in the sport.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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