Between a once-in-a-lifetime boxing match, an annual equine favorite, the NBA finals and a Yankees-Red Sox faceoff, Saturday might have been the most-hyped day in the history of American sports. But whether or not it was the most successful depends on how you measure success.
First, the obvious: Short of breathing fire and shooting laser beams out of their eyes, there are few boxing maneuvers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao could have employed Saturday that would have actually lived up to the hype of their boxing match at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Fans of the sport had waited nearly six years to see a matchup between the two aging titans, so it’s no surprise that the end result -- in which Mayweather defeated Pacquiao by unanimous points decision -- left many viewers feeling underwhelmed, including boxing legends Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson, both of whom tweeted their disappointment.
But what the so-called Fight of the Century lacked in ringside drama, it will make up for in cold hard cash. The event, a joint production between HBO and Showtime, is likely to be the most-watched pay-per-view event in history. A spokesperson for HBO said official figures are not available yet, but HBO and Showtime’s projections put the number at more than 3 million individual pay-per-view buys, which would shatter the previous record of 2.48 million, set by the 2007 fight between Mayweather and De La Hoya. At $90 and $100 a pop, that would mean $300 million in pay-per-view revenue, as Forbes reported.
Add to that another $130 million in ticket sales and foreign broadcast rights, and the fight could end up generating more revenue than the Super Bowl, according to TheStreet.com. Jim Lampley, an HBO sportscaster, said during the broadcast that the event could generate more than $400 million, which would be historic no matter how you slice it. But Lampley’s claim that the fight would generate more revenue than “the annual GDP of 29 different countries” was quickly called out as false by researchers at PunditFact.com.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about Saturday’s fight is that it might not even have been the most-watched sports event of the day. NBC’s coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby was a huge ratings win for the network. According to Nielsen overnight data, the race portion of the telecast drew a 15.6 rating and a 30 share, making it the largest Kentucky Derby audience since 1992. The race marked the fourth straight victory for American Pharoah, the 3-year-old colt, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza. The event drew a record 170,000 spectators, and the telecast likely topped 15 million. Final ratings data is expected later on Monday.
Sandwiched between those two events was Game 7 in the NBA playoffs series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which aired on TNT. Playoff games have been averaging 3 million to 4 million viewers.
The ratings success of all these events speaks to Americans’ insatiable appetite for sports, but on Saturday they came at the expense of entertainment choices elsewhere. At the box office, Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” took in $187.7 million. As Variety reported, that’s the second-biggest debut in box-office history, but it's still short of the $200 million some execs had expected.
Brad Adgate, researcher director at Horizon Media, said the perfect storm of sports events may have put a dent in the blockbuster’s opening weekend, but he doesn’t think it will affect the film’s ultimate bottom line.
“I think some arguments could be made that some people stayed home and watched the derby or the fight or the NBA playoffs,” he said. “But you can watch this movie at your own schedule any time over the next few weeks. You may see a pretty strong second or third week like you did with ‘Furious 7,’ and I would suspect that, similar to ‘Furious 7,’ this will do a billion dollars-plus globally in box office.”