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Does Mayweather-Pacquiao Bout Signal The End Of Pay-Per-View Boxing?

May 15, 2015

In the days surrounding a massive fight, like the May 2 bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, much of the conversation from professional "hot-take artists," like myself, surrounds the hypothetical death of boxing. Even the loudest of loudmouth analysts recognizes that such prognostication is meant merely as symbolism. It isn't that they truly believe the entire sport will die, just that the sport's golden age is finished. 

There is, of course, nothing wrong with the idea that a sport cannot sustain its most significant amount of success for eternity. Even the NFL, current king of the sporting world, may not always reign supreme over the entire landscape. 

I don't want to be the loudmouth sports personality who predicts the permanent end of the pugilistic arts. I know better than that. Instead, I'd like to be the loudmouth sports personality who makes a similarly bombastic prediction. 

The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will go down as the last great moment in pay-per-view sports history. Of course, I'm a bit more cowardly than your typical loudmouth, so I'll add in the caveat that if this wasn't the last great moment in pay-per-view sports history, it should have been. 

I watched the one-sided affair May 2, but I certainly didn't -- and never would -- pay the $99.99 fee for the event. In fact, I only ended up watching because PressBox publisher Stan "The Fan" Charles invited me to view it with him last minute.  

The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will go down as the most purchased pay-per-view event in history. There is a lingering possibility the two will again end up tangling, but the lackluster effort will likely prevent a rematch from surpassing the buy rate of the original. 

Pay-per-view is fighting a losing battle. There are far too many options for both the legal and illegal consumption of events. The recent rise of live streaming applications, like Meerkat and Periscope, has further clouded the ability to prevent the public from receiving content without purchase. 

Sports bars have largely been a benefactor of the pay-per-view model, packing in throngs of fans who are unwilling to pay the full cost. Imagine, however, if the biggest boxing matches and UFC fights were instead shown on broadcast TV (as the UFC has done occasionally on Fox and Premier Boxing Championships is attempting to do via NBC, CBS and Spike TV). Ratings for the bigger of those events have averaged between three and four million viewers, significantly larger than the buy rates for any pay-per-view event besides the Mayweather- Pacquiao fight. 

It would do wonders for the development of the athletes in combat sports to put them in front of more eyeballs. With Mayweather and Pacquiao nearing the end of their respective careers, there is no bankable commodity ready to step in and help sell pay-per-view events. With once UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones suspended, that promotion lacks true star power outside of crossover phenom Ronda Rousey.

But if the events were available for free: would combat sports fans still choose to visit their local establishment the way many still do for Ravens games or the FIFA World Cup? Would the bars still be able to make money for the biggest events while avoiding the large sums of money they have to pay for the rights to show the fights? 

Jimmy's Famous Seafood owner John Minadakis, who shows all the significant pay-per-view events at his Dundalk, Md., restaurant, shared his thoughts.  

"People want to be around others who share the same interests as them and, of course, eat better food than they can get at home," Minadakis said. "At the end of the day, the Super Bowl is free, and we create a spectacle." 

Not all of my research would conclude the demise of pay-per-view events is imminent. In fact, after reaching out to the UFC, I have no reason to believe the company will be going away from putting on pay-per-view events anytime soon. 

Boxing obviously hasn't died. The sport that Mack Lewis used for decades to rescue youth in Baltimore and provide them purpose and direction doesn't die. The sport that got Allen "The Hampden Hammer" Burris away from selling drugs on the streets of Baltimore couldn't die. The sport that Charm City native Hasim Rahman says he'd be dead without -- but was instead awarded a key to the city because of it -- simply cannot die.

But there's always been something romantic about a group of friends fighting about whose turn it is to buy the fight, who supplies the food and who has merely been taking advantage of the others' benevolence. 

If this is the end of pay-per-view era, I'll miss being the latter.

Issue 209: May 2015