Last weekend, a record-setting number of people — an estimated four million — spent a record-setting amount of money on pay-per-view in order to watch a fight that may have ended up pissing off a record-setting number of boxing fans.
When Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in a bout that was five years in the making, many fans felt the action they were given didn’t quite live up to the $99 price tag. After the bout was billed as “The Fight of the Century,” casual and hardcore fight fans alike were disappointed when it proved to be more hype than actual action, and criticism toward the bout came loud and plentiful as soon as the scorecards were announced.
While financially it would be ridiculous to call Mayweather vs. Pacquiao anything other than a major success, the underwhelming nature of the fight, along with the record-setting price tag, definitely did some damage as far as the future of both boxing and pay-per-view are concerned. Four million people reportedly bought the fight last weekend, and it’s safe to say that many of them ended up regretting their purchase once the final bell had been rung. Convincing those fans to spend money on another fight with a near triple-digit price tag is going to be close to impossible no matter how good the next “Fight of the Century” looks. And convincing those fans to open their wallets for combat sports at all may end up being difficult.
Most of the people that frequent this site are diehard combat-sports fans and, as a result, last weekend’s lackluster main event likely didn’t affect them the way it did casual fans. After sitting through terrible main events like UFC 112’s Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia headliner or complete debacles like UFC 149, they could chalk up the lack of action in Mayweather-Pacquiao (which many boxing fans probably should have seen coming anyway) as a case of just another fight that didn’t quite live up to the hype. But for those casual fight fans that aren’t buying a pay-per-view event without a name like Mayweather or Brock Lesnar in the headliner, the loss of roughly $100 on a fight is going to be much harder to swallow.
Boxing, in particular, is likely going to have some trouble getting fans to open their wallets for another so-called “superfight” over the next few years, but the UFC is probably going to feel some backlash following this fight as well. If this fight did anything to pay-per-view consumers, it reminded them that not only do most fights struggle to live up to the hype, but even the most highly anticipated match-ups can and often will leave you unsatisfied. With the UFC sticking around as the lone wolf in the monthly pay-per-view game at the moment (and upping the price of its own offerings), this lack of confidence in events delivering on the hype may end up hurting the MMA promotion the most. With a heavy summer lineup on the horizon that includes title fights for two of the UFC’s biggest stars, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, this is awful timing for the UFC if fight fans start to put their wallets away following last weekend.
While selling roughly four million pay-per-views at $100 a pop seems to signal that the pay-per-view industry is alive and well, a record-breaking fight like this is going to be an outlier of epic proportions when compared to the other combat-sports events over the last few years.
The WWE already jumped ship from the pay-per-view model last year, effectively cutting out cable companies entirely by releasing every major event via its WWE Network after over two decades of promoting pay-per-view events.
Boxing has seen its number of major pay-per-view events drop from a half dozen to just one or two a year over the last few years, and it’s a safe bet that a large factor is boxing’s hesitation to ask its fan base to part with a chunk of cash every other month.
The UFC, meanwhile, is still grinding out pay-per-views on a monthly basis. However, a lack of top stars has hurt its buyrates over the last few years. The promotion has suffered through some terrible numbers over the last couple of years as injuries have wrecked some of its lesser pay-per-view events.
It’s obvious the pay-per-view business isn’t as prosperous as it once was, and the blowback from forcing fans to pay high dollars for a less-than-enjoyable fight last week isn’t going to help matters going forward.
It’s not like Mayweather and Pacquiao killed pay-per-view last weekend, but they did do damage to a system that’s already been struggling over the last few years. With streaming services like the WWE network becoming the norm, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see the pay-per-view industry in major trouble in the coming years, and when major events like last weekend’s fight underperform, it becomes easier and easier to see that happening. As successful as Mayweather vs. Pacquiao was in terms of financial gain and publicity, it may have been just as detrimental to both combat sports and pay-per-view in the long run if the underwhelming fight causes casual fans to decide not to spend their money on live events anymore.