Mayweather vs Canelo: Showtime's Stephen Espinoza talks PPV tracking, fight schedules, Oscar, and more

Luke Thomas of SB Nation spoke with Showtime Sports EVP Stephen Espinoza about a variety of topics yesterday at the final Mayweather-Canelo press conference, including the science behind trying to predict pay-per-view buyrates.

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Luke Thomas with SB Nation here in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the Mayweather vs Canelo press conference on Wednesday afternoon, next to the man of the hour, the Executive Vice President of Showtime Sports, Stephen Espinoza. Stephen, we were just at the Mayweather scrum, literally his bodyguards had to protect him from being trampled because of the volume of media. Have you ever -- in all your years, including the Oscar De La Hoya fight with Mayweather, have you ever seen anything like this?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"No, and I've been to a lot of Oscar events. I've been to a lot of Mike Tyson events. There's nothing that compares quite honestly to this. We're surprised. I can compare this to Lewis vs Tyson, or De La Hoya vs Mayweather. There's been something that has captured the enthusiasm, the energy, the interest of the market more than anything I can remember."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Also of note, I'm hearing a lot of Spanish, which is not atypical obviously for a boxing event, particularly one of this magnitude. But you're hearing Argentinean Spanish, you're hearing Colombian Spanish, you're hearing Honduran Spanish. Have you seen this kind of Pan-Latin, South America, Central American media response in your lifetime?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"No, you haven't, and what people have to understand here is we're just getting into the process of being familiar with (Canelo) here in the U.S., but he's sort of the combination of The Beatles and Tom Brady in all of Latin America. He stars on soap operas, he's in entertainment media. He's the closest thing to -- Tom Brady is really the closest. Dates supermodels, is on TV, great athletic performer. What you're seeing is really the culmination of six or seven years of superstardom in Latin America and now it's just now starting to ignite here in the U.S."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Now obviously some of the South American media including the Argentine media, they're hear to see the co-main event with Lucas Matthysse. But there's been some criticism of this card -- not that the card is bad, the cart is incontestably great. But there's been some concern among fans that you've put so much into this card that you've cannibalized the rest of the calendar season. How do you respond to some of those criticisms?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"I can see why, because you usually don't see a stacked card like this. The reality -- and this is something I would have been happy to discuss earlier in the year -- fourth quarter, for me personally, is something I'm not a big fan of programming a lot of fighting during. I don't think boxing does particularly well in the fourth quarter. Because if we look now at the television landscape, college football is in primetime on Saturday night, usually with two or three network games. We now have FOX, NBC, and ABC with primetime Saturday night games in college, which was not the case last year. So you're splitting media time head-to-head with college football. You're splitting media generally with pro football and eventually basketball as well. It was always our plan to sort of go light toward the end of the year, because quite honestly boxing is not at a point where we can go head-to-head with Alabama-LSU, which is on CBS in primetime in November. That's not smart to counter program again something that's gonna draw probably 20, 22 million people."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"If I'm not mistaken, was the Austin Trout-Erislandy Lara fight close to being signed for this card?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"It's been discussed a lot. It has been discussed a lot, but it's one of those where you can have too much of a good thing."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"How close was it to being signed?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"It was discussed. I wouldn't -- it wasn't negotiations. It wasn't that close. It was certainly a possibility. I think Austin is somebody we'll see back in a meaningful fight probably the first part of 2014. There were a lot of rumors, some substantiated, some not, about it being on this card. Everybody wanted a piece of this card, and for good reason."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Maybe you can tell me, it's hard to say, but it seems like the best year for Showtime Sports perhaps in the organization's history. It's not just this card, you've had a run of great events. Obviously some of that is luck, but it's not just that. Obviously the Trout-Canelo fight previously set records in San Antonio. How would you characterize how this year has been for Showtime?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"It has been one of the strongest on record, if not the strongest. We'd have to go back to the days of Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez to find fights that have been as big as these. I think we're all really happy where we've gotten this year, not just in boxing, but a show like '60 Minutes Sports.' We wanted to get into that type of sports news business a little bit more. Going with '60 Minutes,' which is obviously owned by our parent company, was a natural fit. There are a huge amount of sports fans there on staff. I think it's a culmination of elevating the entire platform, but something like Mayweather-Canelo, it even stands out once we've elevated everything else."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Richard Schaefer said, and he's a boxing promoter, but he did say and there's reason to believe that all the leading indicators were that the pay-per-view, there's nothing to compare it to, those are his words, and that it's going to shatter all records. Tell me, what are those leading indicators, to help me understand why he's so confident about that."

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"Well, the indicators that we look at are pre-buys. It's a pretty fascinating business. A little nerve-wracking and somewhat terrifying in terms of the risk, because you have 98% of your buys coming in in the last hour before the event starts. So the amount of information you have in terms of tracking is relatively small, unlike for example a movie premiere, where you can be tracking the awareness, you can do test screenings, you have literally weeks of data nationwide. Here we have very small numbers. You know, a distributor did several hundred. Another distributor as of Friday maybe has two or three thousand. One of the bigger distributors may have 10,000 buys on Friday. You can try to extrapolate from that. It's difficult, though. And when you're talking about several hundred might have been the benchmark on Friday for a prior event, and now we're at eight times as much, does that mean that we're gonna do eight times the previous high? Well, clearly not, it's just that we're in uncharted territory, because we haven't seen the number of pre-buys like this before. It's unprecedented."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"In the lead-up to the Robert Guerrero fight, there was some concern, not that it did poorly -- by any objective standard it did well, but by Mayweather standards, I think there was a palpable sense that it wasn't quite up to speed. Certainly the All Access episodes, they're not doing what these are doing, there's not nearly the same kind of buzz. Is this fight -- knowing what it could do, the fight is credible in sporting terms, but was it booked for any number of reasons, not least of which is as a response for some of the ho-hum attitude that the Guerrero fight generated?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"Not really. I understand where that conclusion might have been drawn, but the reality is this was the right fight at the right time. You look around, there really wasn't another opponent that was close. The last fight, for Floyd to come back from the incarceration and the time off, to go against a guy as big and strong as Canelo, it wasn't going to happen. He needed a guy who was at least in terms of physical size, closer to who he was. We thought that Guerrero would provide a good story, and would be a little bit more engaging. Fans quite honestly didn't fully respond to him in the pay-per-view setting. He put up a good fight and he's a quality guy and we'll see him again, but fans were not convinced he was going to put up the kind of fight to make it a credible risk. Sometimes it is just about the fight."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"Two more questions and I promise we'll let you go. Lucas Matthysse, there was an interview he did with the L.A. Times, almost salivating at the mouth of the prospect of fighting Mayweather. He's 140, but Mayweather says he walks around 146. Is he the most obvious choice if Mayweather gets past Canelo and Matthysse gets past Garcia? Is a Matthysse-Mayweather fight, is that intriguing to Showtime, is that intriguing to Mayweather?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"Absolutely. Absolutely. The one thing we have to be careful with Matthysse is that we as sort of the hardcore boxing fans don't get ahead of ourselves. Because one reason this fight is so big is because the mainstream, the casual fan is responding. Whatever they're responding to, whether it's having a fresh face, or credible risk, or whatever it is, they're responding. Matthysse is a phenomenon within the boxing hardcore, but he doesn't have the awareness necessarily to think that he could support a pay-per-view. Now part of the strategy of putting him on this pay-per-view is in fact to help him get that. And whoever comes out of this fight, whether it's Garcia or Matthysse, automatically jumps to if not the top of the list, the top two or three. It's an audition in some senses. If either one of those guys looks impressive, there's gonna be immediately calls for them to be the next opponent."

Luke Thomas, SB Nation

"I hate to do it, because it's such a regrettable situation, but obviously this past week, news came out that Oscar De La Hoya would not be here. He has checked himself into rehab for his addictions, which is a long-running problem I believe he's been dealing with. We all wish him well at SB Nation and I'm sure at Showtime, too. I don't ask this to pry too much, but I wonder, like, I don't know him. We saw him in D.C., he looked to be in fantastic form as a guy who was a public speaker and doing his job as a promoter. Were there signs to your knowledge that he was still grappling with some of these issues?"

Stephen Espinoza, EVP of Showtime Sports

"Not really, no. But the thing that I have to give Oscar credit for, and this has been both of the times that he's gone into treatment, there really wasn't the wake up in the gutter moment. There wasn't a car accident, there wasn't an O.D. He, for whatever his challenges are, he recognizes when trouble is coming. That's what makes me happy about the whole situation, is that it wasn't a situation where he wrecked his car, or he got arrested or any of those things. He recognized trouble coming, I think that's really what it is. I give him credit. Obviously I'm disappointed for him. I'm disappointed that he's gotta go through this again. But in a sense I'm also happy he made this decision. I'm happy that he had the strength, the courage, to admit himself in without that moment that had to wake him up. Whatever it was, he was fairly private about it. I'm glad and I really respect that he had the courage to take that step himself."

--

Transcribed by Scott Christ.

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