Big TV rights fees don't make a big star

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
8:43
PM ET
I think it stands to reason that for a fighter to be a star, people have to want to pay to see him fight. Oscar De La Hoya was a star because people gobbled up tickets to his fights and bought pay-per-view by the millions. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather do the same thing now.

When fights aren't on pay-per-view and a network buys a card, I've always felt that what the network pays in a rights fee should have at least some remote correlation to how popular the headline fighter is as a gate attraction. In other words, when HBO would pay a couple of million bucks or so to televise a card headlined by, for example, Miguel Cotto or Jermain Taylor, those fighters also routinely generated seven figures in ticket sales when they fought. So the license fees didn't seem out of whack.

I am well-versed in the boxing business and understand that television money rules, and that the gate will never be its equal, at least in most cases. I don't expect it to be, but sometimes the disparity is simply shocking and really makes you question the spending habits of the networks.

Take, for example, last Saturday's fine HBO doubleheader, which featured Florida's own Andre Berto defending his welterweight title in the main event against Carlos Quintana with Celestino Caballero facing Daud Yordan in an interesting featherweight co-feature at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Here's the problem: Berto, as terrific a young man and fighter as he is, has not yet established himself as a gate attraction and the amount of money generated in ticket sales was less than 5 percent of what HBO paid for the card.

Let me repeat that: less than 5 freakin' percent.

That blew me away.

HBO paid $2.15 million for the doubleheader, according to the official (and public) report from the Florida State Boxing Commission. The figure is on the report because the promoter must disclose the license fee in order to pay the state television tax.

Also on the report is a detailed breakdown of the ticket sales. Despite a lot of hard work from promoter Lou DiBella and his staff, the card sold a mere 972 tickets. You read that right -- 972 tickets to a fight with reasonably priced tickets (as low as $35) in an NHL arena that probably seats around 18,000. That translated into a gate of just $105,759.52 (with an additional 2,536 tickets given away, according to the report).

That tells me that HBO radically overpaid for the card. If not even 1,000 people will buy a ticket to the show, why should the network blow millions to air it, especially when the television ratings are nothing extraordinary.

Believe me, I am not picking on Berto. He has what it takes to be a star eventually, especially with his power and friendly and outgoing personality. This card is just the latest example, glaring as it is, of a fighter who is paid big bucks thanks to a network -- Berto made more than $1 million -- but hasn't yet developed into a draw.

There have been similar situations with numerous others, including some of today's top pound-for-pound fighters, such as Chad Dawson and Paul Williams. They've gotten big HBO money before developing big fan followings.

HBO threw untold millions at Mayweather for years. He eventually did develop into a draw. Maybe Berto and the others will also eventually become draws. But building stars takes time, no matter how much money a network throws at them.

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