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In the middle of Saturday’s unlikely (and hotly anticipated) match-up between world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and colorful UFC superstar Conor McGregor is Showtime — a network that, for a long time, seemed to come in at No. 2 behind HBO in the competitive world of pay-per-view fights.
That changed in 2013. Mayweather’s jaw-dropping six-fight deal with parent company CBS Corp. made Showtime the home of the world’s biggest PPV draw, gave the boxer a reported $200 million (minimum) and left HBO in the cold after its own wildly successful nine-fight deal with Mayweather. His fights have been breaking records ever since. First, in 2013, his fight with Canelo Alvarez hit $150 million in PPV. Then, in 2015, Mayweather’s rematch against Manny Pacquiao raised the bar to an unprecedented $410 million (the event was a partnership between Showtime and HBO).
It seemed like that should have been the crescendo, but Mayweather v. McGregor is shaping up to be even bigger. Early numbers reported ahead of their rendezvous in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena project more than $500 million in domestic PPV revenue. And it’s a figure that mostly benefits dealmaker Mayweather.
“When you see a gigantic number, the vast majority is going directly to the fighters,” Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins told The Hollywood Reporter the day before he headed to Las Vegas for the fight. “It’s the one sport where the bulk of the take goes to the actual participants.”
Mayweather, in one of his many public comments since the pre-fight battle of personalities began in earnest, has gone as far to say that he’ll make at least $350 million off of the fight. McGregor, meanwhile, is expected to earn at least $100 million. (Both men signed non-disclosure agreements, barring them from publicly speaking about financial details, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped either of them.)
As for Showtime, the network was able to capitalize on the aggressive international press tour. Four July meetings between the fighters in three different countries generated 33 million views online. The network is also using what opportunities it can on Saturday to raise awareness for its cable stations, streaming operation and upcoming originals — one in particular. Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah’s upcoming comedy vehicle White Famous (out Oct. 15) will get a plug.
“With pay-per-view, there’s not a lot of room for promotion,” Nevins added. “But you’re going to see a spotlight on White Famous in and around the flight. That’s the marketing priority right now. It’s a show that has a lot of potential, and I think it will work well with the audience.”
Nevins demurred on how the rest of the fight revenue will be broken up, but he did not seem displeased. “This fight was not in our forecast,” he said, “so we’re going to make some money that we weren’t counting on making.”
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