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Al Haymon’s PBC boxing experiment only works if he cashes in on PPV

By Zach Arnold | March 7, 2015

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After watching the debut of Al Haymon’s PBC promotion on NBC with Robert Guerrero vs. Keith Thurman, my impression of what Haymon is attempting to accomplish in his business venture remained unchanged. This business venture will only work if Haymon can convince his television partners long-term to do barter deals instead of massive pay-for-play contracts. The only value for being on network television at this point is if the TV network is all-in promoting the shows (which was not the case with NBC for Saturday’s event) or if Haymon can build up his fighters to cash in on PPV. It’s no different than all the money marks who have tried to compete with UFC over the years. The difference is that Haymon is reportedly bankrolled by a couple of hundred million dollars.

In many ways, I’m not sure what historical context fits best here. We know Haymon would love to create a UFC-style model. By paying television networks money to air shows, it turns those very networks against paying out a lot of money to other promoters for shows. We’ve heard the rumblings, via Steve Kim, that ESPN is growing tired of paying money for Friday Night Fight events. In that respect, Haymon’s ploy feels a bit like Vince McMahon raiding the territories in the 80s and pushing them off the television landscape. The difference is that Top Rank still has HBO in their corner.

With the way Haymon is reportedly using money mark cash, it reminds me a bit of the SWS experiment gone wrong in Japan in the early 90s. In April of 1990, All Japan worked with Vince McMahon for the Wrestling Summit event at the Tokyo Dome and New Japan participated as well. McMahon had his various odd requests for certain things on the show. Anyhow, the match that would forever change history there was Gen’ichiro Tenryu vs. Randy Savage. After the spectacle drew big heat, Tenryu and associates bolted All Japan and created SWS the next year. They poached the WWE alliance and thought it would work. It failed. SWS had visions of getting on network TV ala Haymon’s PBC but couldn’t do it. The major difference is that PPV has never been a factor in Japan whereas it is the financial lynchpin for combat sports in North America. The other difference is that Tenryu escaped his SWS failure by turning out to be one of the most brilliant self-promoters ever by working with all the other major promoters. Haymon’s not a star to any casual boxing fan and I’m not sure how many promoters will work with him if PBC fails.

So, I’m not sure the SWS analogy totally fits with what Haymon is trying to pull off. What about an analogy to PRIDE? PRIDE lost big cash under Hiromichi Momose and ended up under the auspices of Fuji TV. Fuji TV pumped in significant cash. A couple hundred million bucks. It proved to draw huge ratings. Sometimes nearly 20 million viewers. The difference is that Fuji TV had the major ad agencies on their side and easily racked up the inventory. With Antonio Inoki’s vision, Fuji TV turned New Year’s Eve into the mega-holiday in all of combat sports. Of course, PRIDE allegedly turned out to be nothing more than a vehicle for different business factions to pass money through with various dummy companies supposedly attached to the operation. I don’t see Haymon’s PBC turning out to be like PRIDE. If UFC hasn’t been able to turn their numbers on Fox into PRIDE-style broadcast TV ratings with Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos, I seriously doubt Haymon’s going to do the same with Broner or Thurman.

PRIDE worked because Fuji TV had skin in the game. The US networks have no skin in the game with Al Haymon. UFC worked because The Ultimate Fighter clicked and Spike TV went all-in, which in turn helped PPV grow with Tito Ortiz & Ken Shamrock. In order for Haymon to get any return on investment to his financial backers, he will have to get them money on the back-end from PPV or else get money through network television advertising. I could perhaps see the former but definitely not the latter.

While I was happy to watch the NBC show, I’m still uncertain on what the long game is here and why NBC will look at PBC any differently than they look at a standard NHL game they put on Saturday night to fill television time.

Topics: Boxing, Media, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

13 Responses to “Al Haymon’s PBC boxing experiment only works if he cashes in on PPV”

  1. TRUTHspitter says:

    Sooooooooooo stupid to compare a one off, couple of seconds long heavyweight title fight with Pride cards……………………….. LMFAOOOO

    • Zach Arnold says:

      The first four PRIDE shows combined lost money. Takada/Coleman in Nagoya under Dream Stage Entertainment is what changed fortunes around with Fuji TV support. Sakakibara, of course, came from Fuji TV Nagoya affiliate Tokai TV.

      Not much different to compare for Haymon’s start on network television throwing around tons of cash on time buys and figuring out what will stick or not.

      • TRUTHspitter says:

        what??? Im speaking of your silly Pride ratings comparison with Cain vs Junior

  2. Alan Conceicao says:

    The whole problem is that there isn’t an analog in pro wrestling or MMA. Haymon guides the career of the biggest star in boxing and roughly 3/4s of the other stars that matter in the sport. The obvious purpose of putting guys on network TV is to create the biggest stars possible by giving them greater potential exposure. This isn’t the UFC where Al’s plan includes taking guys on the cusp of title challenges and throwing them on Bounce/internet streams. He’s creating a clear tiered system in which bigger, more established names appear on Showtime, CBS, or NBC, and lesser names will show up on the myriad of other networks he has deals with. Keith Thurman is not a PPV draw now, but he’s won a fight over a top ten welterweight in what I’m told (I’m not around to watch) was an engaging bout.

    Yes, HBO has Top Rank and a bunch of Russians it has managed to build into minor stars. But if Manny Pacquiao loses to Mayweather (a real possibility), who is there to make them lots of money? Miguel Cotto and Andre Ward are effectively free agents now with the RocNation deals and the fights they’re chasing…not that Ward was drawing flies to start with.

    What you’re seeing is the result of a long, long term plan put together by Al Haymon and Richard Schafer. It may indeed not work, but I’m willing to risk this kind of initiative since the potential benefit is so high.

  3. Chris says:

    Good article Zach. When Al Haymon poached most of the “Big Name” fighters Golden Boy never really had under contract, thanks to Richard Schafer. The fact that Saul Alvarez was a Golden Boy fighter was huge, because he is a legitimate PPV draw they can continue to build around.

    All of the fighters signed to Haymon are talented and people will watch, but none have that “IT” factor that’s going to make people part with their money on Pay Per View outside of maybe Keith Thurman or Deontay Wilder. So Haymon/Schafer have some work to do.

    How funny would it be for Golden Boy to actually get the last laugh in the long run?

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      Alvarez, and he’s a good fighter FWIW, barely got by Trout and Lara. I think the obvious fight is to go with Cotto, but aside from that, I don’t see any clear winnable contests that would excite the public north of the border. Kirkland is an act of convenience which could fall apart in horrifying fashion. He came very close to ending up fighting Joshua Clottey last November, and Cotto is apparently fighting K9 Bundrage next once they can get a TV outlet together. Almost anyone else who matters is under Haymon’s umbrella unless he wants to get his face rearranged by Golovkin.

      • edub says:

        Alvarez drew over 300k for Angulo. He can keep fighting also-rans and make money (for him and GB). He’s a legitimate draw.

  4. 45 Huddle says:

    3 Million viewers on NBC. Nothing to write home about.

  5. jim allcorn says:

    If Haymon & company want to make a big splash in the ratings they need to put Wilder & his ‘bc belt on NBC prime time asap. Even though it’s not the true championship, the public will still tune in to see the first heavyweight boxing title on network television in three decades. Especially when it features a young, flashy American with an unbeaten record with all but one win via KO.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      It was noticed that Keith Thurman’s strap was kept off screen. Will Haymon be creating his own belts?

      • Chris says:

        Makes sense. Since it’s obvious that Haymon’s business model does not seem to include making fights where both fighters are not under his control.

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        All the discussions between the sanctioning bodies and what I’ve heard about Haymon’s relationship with the IBF (who has largely abstained from those meetings) leads me to believe that will not be the case. If he’s going with a “house title” he’s following the Don King rule book and tying in with an independent sanctioning body to not run himself afoul of federal law.