On March 13th, the mega-bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will take place. This promotion will be one of the biggest of all-time and harkens back to days gone by when boxing wasn’t just covered by the daily papers on a regular basis, but was front page news. As I’m typing this up on Wednesday afternoon from my office in Montebello, California, I was informed that Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, had canceled his trip to Dallas to meet with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about putting this fight at his new billion-dollar football palace, which I’m told came as a great surprise to his counterpart, Bob Arum and HBO Sports president, Ross Greenburg, who were both prepared to make the trek to Texas.
I’ll say it right now, that’s where this fight belonged. And if it didn’t end up there, it should end up at the Superdome in New Orleans or the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Where it shouldn’t end up is anywhere near Las Vegas.
Yeah, I said it. Sorry, we’ve been there and done that.
If this fight is really about promoting the sport of boxing overall and really having a transcendent appeal, why in the world you would take it back to the same setting that helped make boxing a niche sport to begin with a couple of decades ago? When boxing was truly thriving, events like Pacquiao-Mayweather didn’t take place in casinos out in the desert oasis. They took place in major cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, where over-flow crowds, in excess of 50,000, regularly packed stadiums to watch championship fights. When the large majority of boxing’s biggest bouts started taking place almost exclusively in casino resorts, it was a major factor in boxing decline in general popularity.
Does a bout the caliber of Pacquiao-Mayweather, which has already garnered unprecedented interest from fans and media alike, really belong in an arena that holds less than 20,000 patrons? Let’s make this very clear, the only ones who really benefit from this fight being in Las Vegas are the ticket scalpers…uhhh, I mean, brokers, who in one of the business’ dirty little secrets, are in cahoots with the promoters themselves to make sure the average fans cannot purchase a large majority of the tickets to big fights at face value. Do you know why you poor schmucks can’t buy even the cheapest ticket for a lot of these promotions, even though you spend all morning on the phone trying to get through on the first day tickets go up for sale?
It’s simple. A very, very small number of tickets are actually made available to the public to begin with. The rest? Well, they go to corporate sponsors, the casinos themselves (who give them out to their big players) and then the brokers, who create a secondary market right off the bat. I’ve already read that if the fight is in Vegas, the seats will be priced between $2,500 (which none of you really have a shot at anyway, under any circumstance) and $500 (which will be immediately jacked up to three or times more than face value after the few seats that are actually made available to the public are quickly gobbled up.).
Put this in a much larger venue and you give fans a real opportunity to actually enjoy a big fight atmosphere, which is key in creating and cultivating a new fan base. I mean, that is an important facet of this promotion, isn’t it? Boxing, unfortunately, at the highest levels, has catered exclusively to the elite. Joe Public, was priced out and left out long ago. Seriously, what other professional sports industry would even entertain the thought of putting such a seminal event in such a small venue? It made me chuckle that Las Vegas was talking about building a makeshift arena that will seat 30,000 for this fight. Could you imagine telling a Roger Goodell or David Stern, “Hey, you guys are putting on perhaps the most important event in your sports recent history, how about us putting up a bunch of bleacher seats in a vacant lot, near the strip in Las Vegas and taking it there?”
And yeah, I know, events like the Super Bowl and Final Four have long ago become nothing more than one big corporate cocktail party where the velvet rope is only opened for the rich and famous. But there’s a huge difference. These events aren’t on pay-per-view. They are already shown on the biggest platform possible. Boxing, long ago, went away from this as the sports decision makers decided it would be wiser to take the welfare checks that are provided by the premium cable networks in the form of licensing fees.
Boxing had a golden opportunity to be put on the same stage as the Super Bowl and NBA All-Star Game, which the new Dallas Cowboys stadium will be playing host to in the near future. That would have spoken volumes to the magnitude and importance of this event.
There’s a train of thought that, for all this city has done for this business, boxing had an obligation to bring this fight there. Hogwash and poppycock, I say (yeah, hogwash and poppycock). First of all, boxing, and the big events it staged, helped put Las Vegas on the map. And many others will tell you that it was instrumental in branding properties like Caesar’s Palace in the 70s and 80s. Also, it’s not like these casinos never got any financial benefit from hosting these fights. Yes, Vegas has been great for boxing but boxing has also been vital to Vegas, too.
And Las Vegas is struggling, huh? Boo-hoo, cry me a river. Listen, it’s not like I don’t have empathy for any region that’s hurting economically, but guess what? There are about 500 other cities that are grappling with the downturn in financial fortunes. Why not have this fight in Detroit, then? Let’s be honest, this city is staggering because of its own greed and mismanagement. It overbuilt and overleveraged itself. In an ironic twist, it gambled and lost. It shouldn’t be boxing’s job to provide it with a stimulus package. And have you been to Vegas recently? I don’t find it to be all that affordable or cheap, to be honest with you.
Feeling sorry for this city is like feeling sympathetic to the guy who scammed you out of your paycheck on Three-Card Monty.
Last I checked, Vegas’ biggest weekend of the year is the Super Bowl. When was the last time this game was in “Sin City”? Pacquiao-Mayweather represents one weekend. That doesn’t rebuild any economy. By putting this fight here, all you’re doing is giving these people an opportunity to jack up hotel rooms and everything else for this particular weekend and, trust me, that is what they do. It’s legalized gouging. And for all this talk of just how boxing is propped up by this city, ask promoters how many “four-wall” deals they have had to do in recent years in Las Vegas.
But enough about them for now. Why did I want this fight in Dallas?
Simple. It was the best place to maximize this fight, as well as the sport’s appeal, and this was the perfect venue for it. Dallas, is among the nation’s biggest markets, with just under 7,000,000 inhabitants. It’s a centralized location in the United States that’s very accessible. Also, it can handle an event of this magnitude. Dallas Cowboys games regularly have crowds of over 90,000. If you’re doing Super Bowls and the like, (they just recently had over 75,000 fans for the Big XII championship game between Texas and Nebraska) they could’ve handled this fight. There are plenty of hotel rooms in the “Lone Star” state, I’ve been assured. As for some of the “stuff” that goes on in Las Vegas? As one boxing insider who has great knowledge of the region and these negotiations told me yesterday, "Hey, Steve, trust me, they have hookers in Texas, too." Hey, what happened in Dallas, would have stayed in Dallas.
Texas is vastly underrated as a boxing market. Yes, they do more than watch high school football, college football, spring football and the NFL out there. Just look at their history. Back in 1993 when Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker fought to their highly disputed draw at the Alamodome in San Antonio, they drew over 63,000 fans. 15 years later, as Oscar De La Hoya easily dispatched Patrick Charpentier at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, over 48,000 Texans showed up. You bring these folks significant fights, they show up in droves. They like everything big in this state.
Then there was the head Cowboy himself, Jones, who I was told by someone who had been actively involved in this process from the very beginning, "will be putting on a full-court press to get this fight. He’s not playing around." Jones would have put up his own money, this source tells me, and, unlike other suitors, he has other revenue streams like his suite holders, season ticket buyers, corporate sponsorships, food and beverage and parking, that he could rely on. He may not have blackjack tables or slot machines, but this man can compete financially. He is an audacious man. You don’t just buy the Cowboys and have the nerve to fire a legendary figure like Tom Landry and then, five years later, have the stones to jettison the great Jimmy Johnson (after he brought you two Vince Lombardi trophies) and replace him with former Oklahoma Sooner coach Barry Switzer unless you’re a bit of a risk-taker.
Jones is also a marketing genius. There is a reason why his franchise is, according to some data, the second-most valuable in the world behind Manchester United. Just my opinion, but the media savvy Jones and the attention he would have attracted from the mainstream media had the potential to add value to this event.
Yet, he was told thanks, but no thanks. Just blown off like that. "You don’t treat a guy like Jerry Jones, a legitimate guy, who moved around his schedule and canceled other appointments and do it [the opposite] way," said someone directly involved in the promotion. The Cowboys had been preparing an elaborate presentation to show Arum, Schaefer and Greenburg that Jones and his organization had long been interested in having a marquee fight card in their yard. They were just looking for the right one. This, to them, was the perfect storm. "Jerry was ready to make the biggest offer in boxing history" said a source.
Then there was Dallas Cowboy Stadium, which is quite the attraction in itself. To call it “state-of-the-art” is a massive understatement. It’s what every professional arena will strive to be for the next half century (and unlike other outdoor venues, weather would not have been a factor as it has a retractable roof). The venue has done significant numbers for every large event it has hosted and I’m told that they have already sold over 80,000 tickets for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game that takes place on February 14th. Cowboy officials believe that Pacquiao-Mayweather could’ve done upwards of 90,000.
Just think about that for a second: 90,000 fans to a fight in the year 2010. That’s staggering in many regards. In the past decade, Europe has had similar events that drew well over 30,000 that featured the likes of the Klitschkos, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe. One of the reasons why is very simple. They build local attractions and they don’t have casino fights. Lo’ and behold, boxing is still a big deal over there. They haven’t turned it into Wayne Newton with boxing gloves, just another act to fill up a room on a weekend.
Boxing has had a bit of a renaissance in 2009. Two of the major factors in this resurgence is that major pay-per-view shows have been curbed (just three of them this past year). But also, the fact is there haven’t been that many marquee shows in Las Vegas; almost none at all if you take away fights involving Pacquiao and Mayweather this past year.
Coincidence? I think not.
HBO’s Greenburg and I don’t agree on much, but we were eye-to-eye in believing that boxing had a unique opportunity with Pacquiao-Mayweather to really bring this sport to the forefront of the mainstream.
But here are the facts: Arum is a resident of Las Vegas so there had to be some political pressure on him to keep this fight in his adopted hometown. But he was at least receptive to going down and meeting Jones to see what he had to offer. Say what you want about him, but the man does have a keen historical perspective. As for Golden Boy, well, they have a very close, cozy relationship with MGM-Mirage and for them to take have played a part in taking this event elsewhere would most likely damage that union. If the Pacquiao-Mayweather fights landed outside of the 702 area code, then fights like Shane Mosley-Andre Berto (which happens on January 30th at the Mandalay Bay) might have a difficult time finding a home in the future.
Or maybe, just maybe, Mayweather and his representatives simply wanted this fight in Las Vegas. As they thought about the possibility of performing in Texas, they didn’t want to risk getting “Paulie Malignaggi’d.”
Pacquiao-Mayweather is a fight that needs to happen.
It also has to happen in the right setting.
Too bad, it won’t.
Just how much interest is there in this fight? Even Land Shark Stadium (which in the past was known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Stadium and Dolphin Stadium) recently sent out this email to Dolphin season ticket holders:
“YOUR OPINION MATTERS TO US
We are dedicated to making the Land Shark Stadium experience the best in all of sports by seeking out your opinion as a valued Season Ticket Holder. Periodically, we will be asking you to weigh in on a variety of matters in an effort to enhance the service and value that we provide to you.
Today, we ask if you would like to see the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match take place at Land Shark Stadium.
Please click here now to let us know your opinion. Your feedback is very important to us.
Thank you for being a part of the team.”
HUMP DAY FLURRIES
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