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Volume 20 No. 42
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Top Rank to go it alone promoting, distributing Pacquiao bout

Changing horses or, on occasion, abandoning the horse entirely is nothing new for boxing promoter Top Rank.

Twenty years ago, its founder Bob Arum took what figured to be a big-selling fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez off pay-per-view and back to theater-based closed circuit when he couldn’t get the distribution terms he wanted. When the premium networks showed little interest in fighters in the lighter weight classes — Manny Pacquiao among them — Arum distributed those pay-per-views independently. Later, he did the same with Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Top Rank’s Todd DuBoef (above) will see if the math can work without network support.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
But in none of those cases was there an expectation, or even a realistic hope, that it might make better economic sense to go it alone rather than to work with HBO or Showtime on a pay-per-view, a theory that Top Rank will test in November when it produces and distributes Pacquiao’s fight against Jessie Vargas.

As a result, Top Rank will be without the exposure the network typically provides for its pay-per-views, including shoulder programming that HBO creates and airs. The promoter also could lose out

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
on rights fees from the rebroadcast of the fight, which ranged from $350,000 to $800,000 in recent years. HBO has distributed 19 of Pacquiao’s 22 PPVs, which together generated about 18 million domestic buys.

But, Top Rank also won’t have to share its profits with the network, which generally takes 3 percent to 4 percent of gross revenue from PPVs that it produces and distributes. For a fight that generates 300,000 buys and $20 million — a conservative estimate for Pacquiao, even in decline — HBO would collect about $600,000.

“When you start working out the math, maybe you find that doing it this way makes some sense,” said Todd DuBoef, president of Top Rank. “The dynamic of the promotional platforms that we use has changed so drastically, I think the value of the real estate that we get on the networks to drive awareness can be easily supplemented with other platforms.

“We’ve been working with the same mechanism, putting classic fights on and doing countdown shows, and it’s been fine. Now, the question is, do you really need it? Whether it’s NBC or HBO or Showtime doesn’t matter. It’s do you need them? Is there a purpose for them in this type of event? When you figure out the math, it’s not necessarily clear. We don’t know.”

HBO Sports general manager Peter Nelson declined comment on the matter, other than to confirm that the network freed Top Rank to pursue other distributors when it couldn’t find a suitable date.

The original plan was for Pacquiao to fight in October, but that fell apart because of scheduling conflicts brought on when he won a seat in the Philippine Senate. When Top Rank informed HBO that Pacquiao instead wanted to fight on Nov. 5, the network balked, saying it wanted to focus on Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev, which would air on PPV two weeks later. The two volleyed November and December dates, but when Top Rank couldn’t find a suitable venue on any of them, HBO bowed out.

For many promoters, the infrastructure provided by the network is essential. But Top Rank employs an in-house production staff, which creates promotional materials and, in the case of a pay-per-view, also produces a feed for distribution internationally and on its website. DuBoef said he is looking forward to putting those resources to work in a more prominent role.

This will be the first time Top Rank has distributed a pay-per-view since 2009, when it put on a split-site show featuring Cotto from Madison Square Garden and Kelly Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio, after HBO declined to air either fight. Two years later, Top Rank moved Pacquiao’s fight against Shane Mosley from HBO to rival Showtime, a one-off move that reminded DuBoef of how the TV landscape has changed of late.

“When we took Pacquiao-Mosley to Showtime, the currency wasn’t money — we were exchanging eyeballs,” DuBoef said. “CBS offered the bigger promotional net. HBO came back and offered Time Warner, which was even bigger. Three or four years later, it’s not about any of that.

“Who would have ever thought an NFL game would be on Yahoo, let alone Twitter? In only 18 months, look at how quickly we’ve changed. The value of that pipeline to get into people’s homes may not be what we once thought it was.”