Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Miguel Cotto’s middleweight championship victory over Sergio Martinez was historic, and it sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden, but it was something of a dud at the pay-per-view box office.
The fight, which was broadcast by HBO PPV, pulled in somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 buys, per Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, a number that fell well short of projections.
So, how did this happen? How did a historic night featuring one of boxing’s biggest icons and the reigning middleweight champion of the world fail to draw the public’s attention?
The promoters will—and have—tell you that the fight ran up against a wicked storm of higher-profile free events in the days and even hours leading up to the PPV. It’s true that the Belmont Stakes, contested just about 18 miles to the east, sucked up a lot of the sports world’s free publicity given California Chrome’s pursuit of the Triple Crown. But is that all of it?
The biggest problem, and the one that likely torpedoed Cotto vs. Martinez, is that PPV was designed for the biggest and best fights in the sport. Cotto has been a draw throughout his career, but Martinez—for all his talent—has never shown the ability to draw much at all.
In today’s boxing climate, it’s not easy to draw on PPV unless your last name is Mayweather or Pacquiao. And even the two biggest stars in the sport have seen their numbers come back to earth a bit in their most recent fights.
Pacquiao’s April rematch with Timothy Bradley failed to top the PPV buys of the first bout, and Mayweather has failed to eclipse a million in two of his last three fights.
The boxing PPV market has been oversaturated for some time now, and fans have begun to respond by refusing to shell out additional cash for bouts that belong on regular pay cable.
It could also be a repudiation of logic, most notably espoused by Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, that undercards don’t matter. The Cotto vs. Martinez undercard was especially weak on paper, and while a couple of the bouts far exceeded expectations, nobody was swayed to part with money by the prospect of seeing Andy Lee or Javier Maciel.
Could the recent spate of poor PPV showings change the business model under which boxing operates? That might be overly optimistic, but fans can sure hope.
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report and an auxiliary member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). You can follow him on Twitter at @McRaeBoxing.