LAS VEGAS -- When it comes to pay-per-view undercards, Top Rank's Bob Arum has a philosophy: People aren’t hitting the buy button because of it, so there’s no need to spend a lot of money on it. That position is evident in the undercard fights of Manny Pacquiao’s rematch against Tim Bradley (9 p.m., HBO PPV) on Saturday: None of the three early fights (Jose Felix vs. Bryan Vazquez; Jessie Vargas vs. Khabib Allakhverdiev; Arash Usmanee vs. Ray Beltran) feature a household name.
“Most people who buy a pay per view buy it only to watch the main event,” Arum said. “As for the undercard, the people who want to see other boxing are entitled to see good competitive matches between really good outstanding pros. That’s what we try to give them. This undercard has good quality fighters in equal fights.”
Mark Taffet, HBO’s Vice President of Sports Operations and PPV, agrees.
“Having been involve in over 180 pay per view events, we have seldom seen an undercard materially drive pay per view buys,” he said. “While we haven’t done extensive research on this, my instinct is that if the undercards are competitive and entertaining, that may provide tremendous value. I don’t necessarily believe it needs to be big name fighters, particularly in fights where the outcome is not in doubt.”
That thinking is not uniform in boxing. Recently, Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions -- direct rivals to HBO and Top Rank, respectively -- have put more of an emphasis on high profile undercards. Last September, Danny Garcia fought Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather’s fight with Saul Alvarez. Next month, Amir Khan will face Luis Collazo on the undercard of Mayweather-Marcos Maidana. Both Garcia-Matthysse and Khan-Collazo are fights that could headline their own HBO or Showtime card.
Arum acknowledges the value fights like Garcia-Matthysse and Khan-Collazo add to a card. But he points out that some of the other fights on these cards are less competitive. Arum cites Adrien Broner’s upcoming fight against Carlos Molina, which will appear on the Mayweather-Maidana undercard. Broner is an enormous favorite.
“Broner-Molina is dreadful,” Arum said. “Putting that fight on, you’re trying to delude morons.”
Arum and Taffet are likely right: Fans do buy the top of the ticket. But there are other, less quantifiable ways that putting high profile fights on an undercard brings. Media exposure, for starters. Garcia-Matthysse was one of the most anticipated fights of 2013. The fight had its own press tour and generated significant press interest, which added another layer to the promotion. Similarly, Khan-Collazo is a crossroads fight between two welterweight contenders. The winner will take a big step forward, possibly into a fight against Mayweather in the fall.
There is also exposure. Pacquiao and Mayweather draw in the largest mainstream audience of pay per view buyers in boxing. That audience may not be as familiar with HBO's or Showtime’s other fighters. Take Sergey Kovalev. He is one of boxing’s fastest rising stars. He is well known by boxing’s base. But Kovalev is still largely unknown to the casual fan. Put Kovalev on the undercard of a major pay per view and he would be exposed to a fan base that may not tune in to see him otherwise.
Constructing undercards is complicated, and there are no easy, calculable answers. But as boxing desperately attempts to connect more with the average fan, it’s important to find them.
-- Chris Mannix