A warning: Don't bulk up on PPV


Boxing has always had a hard-core base of fans that could be counted on to support the sport. But in recent years, as boxing has increasingly gone to pay-per-view, it has seen many casual fans leave.

HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg hopes that with Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather on Saturday, the average fan will "watch the fight and realize that they've been missing the drama of boxing in their lives, and they'll come back in force."

Still, execs at HBO, which also has a thriving boxing franchise on its subscription channel, wish there was less of a reliance on PPV among the boxing community. A run-of-the-mill PPV match can easily clear the 200,000-buy mark, netting promoters upward of $5 million. But Greenburg thinks that's short-term thinking since putting fights on an outlet like HBO could put emerging boxers in front of millions of viewers and built interest in a sport that's sagging.

Boxing "is a very cutthroat world, and a lot of promoters and managers are going for the quick money," Greenburg says. "In many ways, the 250,000- to 300,000-buy fight has been a cast on the leg of the sport. It gets in the way of building superstar fights."

De La Hoya and Mayweather fought on HBO telecasts. So did Mike Tyson, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. HBO has scaled back the number of its PPV shows in an attempt to get promoters to put more matches on HBO, even going so far as to turn down events that it didn't feel warranted pay-per-view.

"A pay-per-view event should feel special," Greenburg says.

Showtime hasn't done a boxing PPV show since October 2005. A spokesman for Showtime said the network's "first priority" continues to be delivering boxing to its paid subscribers and not through PPV.

As an experiment last year, HBO Sports convinced two PPV-level fighters, Jermain Taylor and Winky Wright, to battle on HBO. With lots of marketing muscle behind it, Greenburg says the fight was a financial success and did much to raise the profile of both fighters.

Greenburg thinks the same concept should apply to World Wrestling Entertainment and Ultimate Fighting Championship cards. He points out that the WWE in particular keeps its hand in free TV with a broadcast and cable deal. (And a UFC reality series runs on Spike TV.)

"They have to be careful of their business model as well and not just sit in pay-per-view for fear of narrowing their focus over a long period of time," Greenburg says. "That can hurt the mass public appeal of your sport. So you need outlets like we have at HBO, to put it in front of potentially millions of eyeballs instead of hundreds of thousands."

Paul J. Gough and Georg Szalai