SVG Biz Report: HBO, Showtime, InDemand Prep for Historic Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight

By Mike Reynolds, Contributing Editor

Boxers often succeed by landing combinations. With the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout drawing nigh, promotional flurrying behind the megafight is about to go rapid-fire.

MayweatherKeyArt from iNDAlthough awareness for the long-awaited May 2 meeting at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is enormous, co-promoters Showtime and HBO are teaming on a PPV event for just the second time — they worked together on the 2002 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight clash — and distributors are taking unprecedented steps to make sure the card rings in pay-TV homes and translates into pay-per-view buys.

Early buys of the card, carrying a record suggested retail price of $89.95, with some distributors charging $10 more for HD, have been encouraging. That augurs well for the promotion, which could generate more than $400 million when all revenue streams are tallied: box office, foreign telecast rights, sponsorships, commercial establishments, merchandising, plus the lion’s share from residential pay-per-view.

Distributors began running commercials on local systems in earnest within high-profile cable sports and entertainment programming last weekend and will ramp up again in the days ahead.

National TV ads will join the media mix in various dayparts next week. The radio schedule will be at a record level. Social-media promos, including an array of video clips, and digital messaging will also crescendo in the days leading up to the fight.

An Eye on the Record
All the efforts are aimed at stoking residential response. Given the price point, most are predicting  that “MayPac” will easily eclipse the all-time PPV-revenue record of $152 million for Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez in September 2013. The bigger question is whether the cost will KO the fight’s bid to topple the record 2.5 million buys for Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.

“There’s certainly great awareness for the fight, but there’s an awareness level versus a call to action,” says HBO Sports VP/GM Tammy Ross. “If you make that mistake, you’re going to have to find another job.

HBO, which has the “Pac Man” in its corner; Showtime, which is in the fifth of a six-fight contract with “Money” Mayweather; and cable, satellite, and telco partners certainly aren’t erring on the side of quiet.

With most fights, distributors choose from different levels of marketing support to secure their split of the PPV proceedings. This time, HBO and Showtime pushed operators to choose their own marketing plans as a means to determine their rate card, which is reportedly in the 30%-40% range, versus 40%-50% for most boxing cards. The higher retail price should compensate for their lower percentage of the take.

“These are customized plans,” says Ross. They are anchored in large part by distributors running spots in high-profile sports programming and supplementing them with units in other programming to meet frequency requirements.

Ads in a Wide Variety of Programming
According to Mark Boccardi, SVP, programming and business development, InDemand, which negotiates PPV licensing and marketing deals for most cable distributors, the marketing efforts started last weekend and will ramp up again this weekend. A final push will come Wednesday-Saturday April 29-May 2.

He says local systems have been running ads in NBA and NHL Playoffs, and they will also appear in the NFL Draft, running April 30-May 2. The Kentucky Derby on May 2 will also offer a promotional run for MayPac early that evening. And distributors have inserted spots within top cable fare, such as AMC’s Mad Men and Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.

“Operators committed to the plan in a huge way,” says Boccardi. “They could have used [the local avails] to promote other products or services, or sold the inventory.”

National media  — Showtime and HBO are sharing the budget, with the plan executed by agency PHD — will roll next week, according to Ross, with units airing in NBC’s top drama, The Black List, and ABC’s Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There are positions across late night, including Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Late Show With David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“There has never been a schedule in such high-profile, expensive programming for a PPV event,” she explains.

A pair of spots, co-created by Showtime and HBO, are in play: one is boxing-category–specific; the other has a more social feel, featuring such celebrities as Michael Strahan, Mark Wahlberg, and Jamie Foxx.

The campaign is targeted in large part at men 18-49, adults 18-49, and consumers, not necessarily heavy sports fans, who gravitate to big events. “This is a second Super Bowl,” says Ross. “It’s for the person who tunes in Game 7 of the World Series or Stanley Cup Final but may not have watched a baseball or hockey game all year.”

Lots of Extra Content
InDemand is also doing its part to help its affiliates convey the message that Mayweather-Pacquiao is the place their subscribers and friends should spend the first Saturday night in May. In addition to customizing marketing materials for its partners, InDemand is offering some 60 content assets, including interviews with Mayweather’s and Pacquiao’s trainers and former opponents; predictions by fighters and celebrities; memorable career moments; workouts, press conferences, and arrivals; and the weigh-in, which is being co-produced by the networks.

Check out InDemand’s content here:
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao Spot
Floyd Mayweather Exclusive Interview
Manny Pacquiao Exclusive Interview

Showtime’s Inside Mayweather vs. Pacquiao and HBO’s Mayweather-Pacquiao At Last are also in the camp. Seven full-length encores of the combatants in action can be accessed: Mayweather-Alvarez and Money’s two bouts vs. Marcos Maidana; Pacquiao-De La Hoya; Pac Man’s rematch vs. Timothy Bradley; and his respective 2009 and 2011 encounters with Miguel Cotto and “Sugar” Shane Mosely.

“We interviewed the fighters and have footage,” says Boccardi, pointing out that some of these other assets are appearing via set-top boxes and on InDemand’s Website, MPVDs’ broadband services, and the Website, which facilitates orders for affiliate partners. “At this point,” he adds, “everybody wants as much content as possible.”

Although InDemand has not received reports from all affiliate precincts, he says, “we’re hearing anecdotally that early buys are at unprecedented levels. We’re optimistic.”

Ross is also sanguine — though cautious. “We’re very happy with the orders to date. Whether fans are time-shifting ahead or new ones will come in the days before or day of the fight, we won’t know until after May 3,” she says. “For now, we’re happy to see time-shifted buys.”

The Technology for Buying
Both networks credit operators’ commitment to locking in early buys through improved technology that accommodates purchase via the remote or orders from I-Guides, not to mention deploying human resources to handle early orders the old-fashioned way: through customer-service reps.

Distributors are working with traditional PPV homes to make sure their credit limits are in good stead, or they are raising household limits for the month in light of the May 2 boxing card’s price, as well as UFC187 on May 23 headed by Jon Jones and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, which could cost $65.

Although distributors quickly moved past the “sticker shock” — MayPac is $25 higher than top previous boxing cards — consumers will ultimately be the judge.

“We have not heard negative reactions to the cost on social media,” says Boccardi. “That being said, the price point remains a wild card. It’s hard to predict. Are there going to be 15 people watching in a home, instead of 10?”

Conversely, the absence of domestic-theater availability for MayPac and higher cover charges sought by bars/restaurants could serve to keep more people at home and the buys inside the residential PPV ring.

That’s certainly what the PPV community is rooting for. Boccardi “expects the fight to challenge the number of buys and smash the revenue record.”

Ross believes in the stage and its support, which she says is the most ever for a PPV fight.

“This is more than a Super Bowl, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she says. “When Lewis fought Tyson in 2002, it wasn’t the No. 1 vs. the No. 2 fighter. We’re not looking at this as just a great event but to be part of the highest-grossing TV event of all time.”

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