Will Mayweather Promotions live up to Mayweather the fighter?
LAS VEGAS -- Floyd Mayweather stepped to a podium on Wednesday and coolly gazed out at a media corps so large that the usual pre-fight press conference at the MGM Grand had to be moved out of the Hollywood Theatre and into the more expansive KA Theatre down the hall. He needled his opponent, Canelo Alvarez, whom Mayweather will face on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m.), telling the unbeaten Mexican star that "if you fought 42 Floyd Mayweather's, you would be 0-42." He thanked his sponsors, his management and finished by holding court with dozens of reporters jockeying for a position in front of him.
Say what you want about Mayweather, but the man can promote a fight. His antics on HBO's 24/7-- and now on Showtime's All Access -- have created the villainous Money Mayweather persona, and his unabashed arrogance has drawn in fans and haters like a magnet. He is a salesman in a sweatsuit, a marketing genius who has a unique connection with a public that is consistently willing to plunk down $60 or more every time he fights.
Over the next few years, though, that connection will be tested. When Mayweather's six-fight contract with Showtime concludes, when he has hung up his gloves forever, he will move on to his next career, as a full-time promoter. Mayweather Promotions is, at least in name, the lead promoter for Mayweather-Alvarez. And as superior as Mayweather is at promoting his own fights, whether Mayweather Promotions can succeed in regularly promoting others remains an open question.
Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe says that the goal of Mayweather Promotions is to build a company with "many world champions," one on a par with his co-promoter, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, which stands as one of the top two promotional outfits in boxing. Golden Boy has a deep and talented stable loaded with popular fighters, two of whom -- Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse -- will face off on the undercard of Mayweather's showdown with Alvarez.
But building a Golden Boy Promotions is a tall task. Since founding Golden Boy in 2002, De La Hoya and his CEO, Richard Schaefer, have proven to be savvy businessmen. Using his popularity as a fighter as leverage, De La Hoya slowly built a promotional empire. In the early 2000's, De La Hoya persuaded HBO to give Golden Boy a boxing series -- Oscar De La Hoya Presents Boxeo de Oro -- on the fledgling HBO Latino, giving Golden Boy a carrot to dangle in front of young fighters seeking television exposure. His fame brought such sponsors as Tecate into the sport. And in 2008, with Schaefer, a former Swiss banker, negotiating, Golden Boy cut a three-year output deal with HBO that guaranteed the company's fighters unprecedented exposure.
"While other fighters might grab as much money they can get, Oscar said 'No, I need dates to build up my fighters,'" Schaefer said. "You want Oscar to fight, we need 4, 5, 6 TV dates. You want to sponsor a De La Hoya fight, you are going to sponsor five other fights as well. You want to use Oscar at your events, you are going to tag the Golden Boy logo as well. These were key factors."
Said Ross Greenburg, the President of HBO Sports from 2000 to 2011, "In negotiations, they had the hammer. They could say 'You better treat us well, or Oscar may be fighting elsewhere.'"
Perhaps the most brilliant decision was to bring in other fighters as equity partners. The idea was hatched after Schaefer and De La Hoya read an article about United Artists, a film studio founded in 1919 by Hollywood heavyweights Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and others with the intent of giving actors control over their own interests. That model, Schaefer reasoned, could be duplicated in boxing. And so one by one, Marco Antonio Barrera, Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley, each in the prime of their careers, each enormously popular, accepted a five-percent stake in Golden Boy and signed with the company. The signings added gravitas to GBP and, Schaefer said, "sent a message that we weren't going anywhere."
"That legitimized the entire enterprise," Greenburg said. "I jumped at the chance to do business with them. When you have those stars, it's important to get the product."
Today, long after De La Hoya's retirement, Golden Boy is a powerhouse. Its value well exceeds $100 million, according to Schaefer. Showtime, a premium network with 23 million subscribers, essentially does business only with Golden Boy. GBP also has a deal with Fox Sports 1 to put two shows a month on the young network and an exclusive deal with the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. De La Hoya and Schaefer can mix and match fighters in multiple weight classes while rarely needing the assistance of other promoters to do it.
By comparison, Mayweather Promotions is a startup. It was founded in 2007, and the company website lists 11 fighters on the roster and only two (Mayweather and junior middleweight Ishe Smith) are world champions. Two others (Mickey Bey, J'Leon Love) have been caught using banned substances. The company isn't licensed to promote fights in Nevada. A proposal for a new company, TMT Promotions, by hip hop mogul 50 Cent fell apart shortly after Mayweather was released from prison last year and led to a public falling out between Mayweather and the rapper he called his best friend.
Mayweather Promotions CEO Ellerbe has been instrumental in building the Mayweather brand, from the fast selling TMT gear to the unprecedented control Mayweather has over all fight revenue streams to the eye-popping purses ($41.5 million for the Alvarez fight) Mayweather is guaranteed. But when it comes to promoting Mayweather's shows, Schaefer and his staff do most of the heavy lifting.
And there is some question as to how sustainable the relationship between Golden Boy and Mayweather Promotions will be after Mayweather retires. The relationship between Mayweather and De La Hoya is a frosty one. De La Hoya understands what Mayweather the fighter means to his company. But it's likely he will have little use for Mayweather the promoter.
Moreover, if Mayweather and Ellerbe are intent on building up Mayweather Promotions at some point there will be a fight for talent. And while Schaefer and Mayweather are staunch allies -- Mayweather consistently thanks Schaefer for his hard work; Schaefer calls Mayweather the "the smartest marketing guy I have ever met" -- Schaefer, who recently signed a five-year extension with Golden Boy, isn't going to just let his top fighters get away.
Then there is the presence of Al Haymon, the shadowy advisor who has guided Mayweather's career since he left Top Rank. For years, Haymon cashed in on his influence with Mayweather by getting HBO to pony up millions for inferior fights (see: Berto, Andre). But most of Haymon's fighters are under Golden Boy's umbrella and there are no indications that will change anytime soon.
"You are only as good as the stable of fighters you promote," Greenburg said. "[Mayweather] has to build on that. He and Leonard have to work as hard as Oscar and Richard did."
When asked about the future of Golden Boy and Mayweather, Schaefer was diplomatic.
"If I am going to go after his fighters and he is going to go after my fighters, then it's exactly like it is with Top Rank," Schaefer said, referring to the sport's other promotional heavyweight, headed by Bob Arum. "You will have animosity build up. But as long as people treat each other with respect, there is no reason this can't work. Friends can work together. And of all the fighters I have ever met, the most loyal one is Floyd Mayweather."
Indeed, hard work and dedication are two terms Mayweather the fighter lives by. He will need more of both to succeed as a promoter.