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Canelo vs Khan: Oscar predicting 1 million PPV buys, but what's the real expectation?

Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan will meet on May 7 on HBO pay-per-view in what will be marketed as a big fight, but how big is it?

Denis Poroy/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

With the shock of the Canelo Alvarez-Amir Khan announcement still fresh, there are angles upon angles being looked at, a billion things to consider, not the least of which is the fight itself. But what about this fight from a business standpoint? Amir Khan was no doubt chosen because he was a bigger name than anyone else Canelo could have fought on May 7 (maybe not Golovkin, but that wasn't happening), but how big of a name is he, and how well will this fight sell on pay-per-view?

Oscar De La Hoya, promoting the fight under the Golden Boy banner, has his usual extremely optimistic sales pitch, saying the fight should exceed one million buys, saying he expects the fight to do better than Alvarez's win over Miguel Cotto in November, which clocked in around 900,000 buys.

That may be wishful thinking, which is a De La Hoya speciality. This is a man who said, as a promoter, that he felt the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight in 2011 would break records. It broke no records, of course, and didn't even come close, nor was there any actual reason to suspect that it would.

Can this fight do a million buys? Maybe worldwide, if the fight is a Sky Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom as well as an HBO pay-per-view in the United States. That's no guarantee, and it's no guarantee that even combined it would do a million. But can it do one million buys domestically?

There is some hope, even if that is unlikely. The Cinco De Mayo weekend date is a traditional fight weekend where people have become used to buying the big boxing pay-per-view, whatever it is. Here are the numbers for the recent pay-per-view fights on that Saturday:

  • 5/5/07, De La Hoya vs Mayweather: 2.4 million
  • 5/2/09, Pacquiao vs Hatton: 850,000
  • 5/1/10, Mayweather vs Mosley: 1.4 million
  • 5/7/11, Pacquiao vs Mosley: 1.3 million
  • 5/5/12, Mayweather vs Cotto: 1.5 million
  • 5/4/13, Mayweather vs Guerrero: 900,000*
  • 5/3/14, Mayweather vs Maidana: 900,000
  • 5/3/15, Mayweather vs Pacquiao: 4.4 million

* Even more than normal, this is a disputed number, with estimates between 850K and 1 million. Being boxing, and with exaggeration often being the name of the game, I've chosen to split the difference, or close to it. (Also note there was no PPV on Cinco De Mayo weekend in 2008. Oscar De La Hoya fought Steve Forbes on HBO that Saturday.)

What all of these fights have in common is an exceptionally strong A-side fighter, and the two that really stand out from the pack had exceptionally strong B-side fighters, too. This fight will not approach the Mayweather-Pacquiao or De La Hoya-Mayweather numbers, obviously. It is extremely unlikely that they'll come close to the numbers for the 2010-12 fights, either. So the low end here is 850-900,000 or so, which is still a very strong pay-per-view, and is equal to what Canelo did with Cotto in November. But that fight, too, had a good A-side and a good B-side, close to a 50-50 split, perhaps, than most fights of that nature.

The question now is, can Canelo shoulder an even bigger load and carry a pay-per-view to that sort of performance? Maybe. He has been groomed for this spot for five years. He and Cotto delivered good numbers. But Cotto had a pay-per-view track record of his own. Not on the level of Mayweather or Pacquiao or De La Hoya, but a track record. Amir Khan does not. It is debatable how big of a star Amir Khan really is to the general American public, despite his claims that he cannot go out on the streets in the States without being mobbed by an adoring public.

The date works in the fight's favor, as does Canelo's star power coming off of the win over Miguel Cotto. But if Khan does not bring much to the table for the U.S. audience (and he may not), and if too many people see this as a mismatch, with plenty of spin already out there going that way, what's the real upside of this fight?

A million buys is probably dreaming. It would confirm Canelo as a massive pay-per-view star and perhaps confirm Khan as a bigger star than he's been able to prove to date. But if the fight does, say, 750,000 buys, is that really a disappointment? I don't think so. That would show Canelo can carry a pay-per-view and then some, and that he can potentially be marketed to a point where he does eventually become a consistent million seller.

What do you expect the buys to be for this fight? What's your low end and high end?

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