LOS ANGELES – A whirlwind 10-city tour to promote the Sept. 14 fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez had just concluded and organizers are both excited and content.
An estimated 100,000-plus fans – including more than 30,000 in Mexico City – flocked to open-air, open-to-the-public press conferences to see the fighters along the way. That included the L.A. LIVE complex on a balmy Tuesday evening, when fans hoping to get as close to the dais as possible waited in lines more than a block long to get in. About 10,000 showed up, more than the 7,856 who watched the Sparks play a WNBA game across the street at Staples Center.
The cost of the tour? It could reach $2 million when all expenditures are tabulated, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said. That figure includes hotel accommodations and transportation for the estimated 30 people it took to pull it off, fees to use open areas ($350,000 for an afternoon in Times Square alone), private jets for the VIPs and much more.
Was it worth it? Schaefer and Stephen Espinoza, head of Showtime Sports and Golden Boy’s former attorney, believe so.
“I spent a lot of time with Mike Tyson at his events and quite a few of Oscar’s [De La Hoya] events and I’ve never been involved in an event – Oscar, Mike or anyone else – that has generated the kind of heat this one already has,” Espinoza said.
The theory is that heat, whether organic or manufactured, generates money. And that process has begun. Schaefer said 95 percent of MGM Grand tickets were sold within an hour of going on sale and the rest were gone within 24. He said closed circuit seats in Las Vegas – which could total 6,000 at $100 each – are selling fast. And he expects roughly 400 theaters that will show the fight live nationwide to attract tens of thousands more fans.
Then there is the most important figure: pay per view. Organizers acknowledge the record of 2.4 million established by Mayweather and De La Hoya in 2007 is a gargantuan number but they believe anything is possible.
Of course, it is the job of Schaefer and Espinoza to describe the promotion in hyperbolic terms to stoke the flames that Espinoza mentioned. They must convince prospective customers – particularly casual or non-fans – that if they’re going to buy one pay-per-view fight in their lives, this is it.
The heat is obvious, though. The hundreds of journalists who attended the press conference in L.A. also had to wait in a painfully long line for their credentials, an indication of the media’s interest. Numbers on websites and social media – visits, comments, Facebook likes, etc. – have spiked dramatically during the tour.
A more visceral indication was the energy in Los Angeles. Loud chants of “CANELO! CANELO! CANELO!” at more than one junction were more reminiscent of a European soccer game than a press conference, which normally would draw a few hundred people.
The question is why?
The obvious answer is Mayweather, the No. 1 star in the sport and one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. Love him or hate him, he generates big numbers. It’s clear that Alvarez, with movie-star looks and a humble demeanor, has captured the hearts of his Mexican countrymen (and women) and has intrigued others. And, perhaps most important, the fight is perceived to be competitive.
Another gathering storm perhaps.
“I knew Canelo was big after we sold almost 40,000 seats at the Alamodome (for his fight against Austin Trout),” Schaefer said. “I still have to admit I was a bit surprised by how big Canelomania (was) every place we went to. It was absolutely amazing. And it’s not just Mexicans. I think all Latinos and Hispanics are putting all their hope in Canelo being the one who can defeat Floyd Mayweather.
“… I think Mexico has been waiting for its next great star,” Schaefer continued. “When Canelo beat Trout, it took Canelo to a totally different level. People couldn’t say any more that he was a paper champion. He’s a real champion.”
Espinoza also pointed to Alvarez as the element that makes this promotion radically different from Mayweather’s last fight, a one-sided victory over Robert Guerrero on May 4 that drew disappointing numbers.
Few observers perceived Guerrero as a serious threat to Mayweather and, Espinoza said, he didn’t resonate with Hispanic fans in spite of his Mexican heritage. Alvarez is about a 3-1 underdog but is given a chance of winning because of his size advantage, improving skills and Mayweather’s age (36). And Alvarez certainly has the attention of Hispanics, who represent up to 30 percent of those who buy big pay-per-view events, Espinoza said.
And we’re not talking only about hardcore boxing fans. De La Hoya was unusual in that he attracted female fans and admirers everywhere he went. Alvarez is beginning to do the same thing. As a matter of fact, Espinoza said, “Young women were almost running over Oscar to get to Canelo in Mexico City. That’s never happened before.”
“Sometimes it’s about the fight,” Espinoza said. “It’s a really good fight, a really competitive fight. That’s part of it. I also think that the sport has been looking for a fresh face for a while. This is giving that to them. I don’t think there has been a Mexican fighter with Canelo’s particular set of characteristics. The closest thing was Oscar but he wasn’t a Mexican fighter.
“There have been other good Mexican fighters but none with movie-star looks and charisma and the rabid following Canelo has. So, in a sense, he’s the first Mexican crossover star.”
But 2.4 million pay-per-view buys?
Espinoza called De La Hoya-Mayweather “the perfect storm.” De La Hoya was at the height of his popularity and Mayweather was on the cusp of breaking through to mainstream stardom. Plus, HBO’s 24/7 – a reality series about the boxers leading up to the fight – was launched for that promotion. That powerful promotional tool undoubtedly contributed to the big numbers.
Mayweather-Alvarez has similar qualities: an established boxing icon and a young rival on the verge of superstardom. And you can be sure that CBS (Showtime’s parent company) and Showtime will pull out all stops to reach as many people as possible in terms of promotion.
Someone suggested to Espinoza that 1.5 million – which, at $64.95 standard or $74.95 HD, would generate $100 million or more in domestic pay per view alone — might be a more realistic pay-per-view figure and he understood the logic.
Boxing is a hard sell. Consider that 1 million buys is generally considered a great success even though the number of homes capable of purchasing an event is around 100 million.
“If anyone has a remote interest in boxing, they’re going to buy this fight,” Espinoza said. “It’s the people who don’t know they’re interested that we need to get in front of and tell the story. It’s all about them.”
Among the optimists is Alvarez himself. He was asked during an interview session in a meeting room at the JW Marriott adjacent to Staples Center why he believes the fight seems to be creating a significant buzz.
His simple response cut to the essence of the promotion.
“This,” he said, “is the fight people want to see.”
Photos: Bob Levey-Gettyimages; Alfredo Estrella-AFP/Gettyimages; Esther Lin-Showtime