Update: Later on Wednesday evening, Golden Boy told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com that the buys were "just under 600,000." -- Scott
Canelo Alvarez is supposed to be boxing's new pay-per-view star. You may have heard his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, and the people at HBO Sports describe him as such leading up to his May 7 fight with Amir Khan. The question, though, was whether or not Alvarez could draw a big pay-per-view audience without an opponent anyone wanted him to fight.
The answer appears to be no.
Veteran boxing writer Steve Kim said on Twitter that HBO won't be releasing the number, as they've apparently decided to let the promoters do that -- you know, if they want.
So HBO tells me that they will not be releasing PPV numbers for Canelo-Khan.... #boxing— Steve Kim (@steveucnlive) May 11, 2016
The explanation I got from HBO Sports is that they will put the announcing of PPV figures on the promoter in 2016... #boxing— Steve Kim (@steveucnlive) May 11, 2016
First of all, Amir Khan (31-4, 19 KO) is not a draw in the United States. He never has been. Khan tells stories of being mobbed in the streets, but a lot of people in boxing tell a lot of stories. And even if he is mobbed in the streets due to his celebrity, it has never translated to drawing ability here. He does fine TV numbers -- about the average that most guys at his level do. Boxing's audience is what it is, most fights of a certain level are within the same general bubble for how many people are going to watch.
Khan's ability to draw in the United Kingdom, for that matter, has also been overstated, as I have always been able to gather myself, and as has been corroborated by several people I know who are actually in the UK, including BLH staffers Kyle McLachlan and Paul Johnson. The Canelo fight was aired there on BoxNation, a subscription platform, not on Sky Sports pay-per-view or anything like that. As has been explained to me, there's a huge difference in perception between the two. Fights with Sky backing reach the general sports fan. Fights on BoxNation are seen by hardcore boxing fans.
Rick Glaser, a longtime matchmaker and boxing personality, said on Facebook that Canelo-Khan sold 332,000 pay-per-views:
Now, you don't have to trust this, but (1) he's really got no reason to lie, and (2) no one's going to prove him wrong, either. This is, for now, the number we're working with. ESPN.com or someone else will also float numbers they've heard this week, from sources in the cable and satellite industries, and HBO and Golden Boy will either be silent or will deny the claims, without providing a number back. We've seen it happen before, such as Showtime Sports balking at claims that Mayweather-Guerrero did around 800-850,000 buys in 2013, without releasing anything official. They also didn't confirm the low buys for Mayweather-Berto in 2015, or the sub-one million buys for the two Mayweather-Maidana fights in 2014.
But let's go deeper than just blaming Amir Khan's lack of star power or questioning sources and numbers that are out there. HBO saying they won't release the number, passing the buck to Golden Boy, who are unlikely to release the number, is enough of a sign that this pay-per-view was a dud. Whether that means 332,000 or 400,000 or 450,000 is not really important.
What is important is that Canelo Alvarez alone cannot sell a pay-per-view, at least if you're putting it on him to go above 300,000 without a good matchup. There is more than one reason that his fight with Miguel Cotto sold 900,000 last November, and has been easily the most successful boxing pay-per-view in this decaying post-Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing world, but the biggest one is very simple: people wanted to see that specific fight. People had asked for it, demanded it. There had been talking going back a couple of years. And when they made it, the demand was as high as it was going to get. Cotto and Canelo were both at high points of marketability, as was the matchup.
Nobody asked to see Canelo Alvarez vs Amir Khan. Nobody. The fight came out of left field, was scoffed at or worse upon its announcement, and they never got the greater public to believe that it was actually an interesting or compelling matchup. No matter how many times they said that Amir Khan had the fastest hands in boxing and would actually be tough for Alvarez, they weren't able to convince very many actual people who would have to actually spend 70 actual dollars that this was the case.
And even though Khan boxed well before nearly having his head taken off with a Canelo right hand in the sixth round, the promotion is not really vindicated. The ending was what the detractors said would happen. That sooner or later, Khan would be hit by a naturally bigger, stronger man, and would not be able to get through it. You can dissect the knockout however much you want, and Khan did make a costly mistake that got him hit with the bomb, but bottom line is that Amir Khan, who was expected by the naysayers to be knocked out, was knocked out. And at any rate, the real problem is not what happened in the fight -- which was pretty fun to watch for what it was, and Khan's effort was commendable, as was his fearlessness in taking the fight -- but what happened before. Their job was to sell it. They couldn't. Because nobody wanted to buy a clearly flawed product.
The potential argument that could come is that even at 332,000 buys, Canelo-Khan did better than most fights could on pay-per-view. And that's true, the same as Mayweather-Berto and Pacquiao-Bradley III and Pacquiao-Algieri and Pacquiao-Rios all did better than most fights could do on pay-per-view. But all of them were disappointments compared to projections and expectations, at least the expectations of the promoters and networks that were responsible for convincing people to buy these fights.
Each one of them had a notable flaw, but there is the one obvious common trait: nobody was asking to see these fights. And they sure as hell didn't want to pay $60-80 to see them.
Whether or not this affects the Canelo-Golovkin negotiations is up in the air for now, but it most likely will, one way or the other. Either Golden Boy will see that they need a strong B-side and a fight people actually want to see if Canelo Alvarez is going to be Mr. Pay-Per-View, or they'll start to think the time is not right for the fight, that it needs to marinate -- as Oscar De La Hoya often mocks Bob Arum for saying once about the never-did-happen Yuriorkis Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez matchup. (Remember when that was an Official Big Deal?)
I have argued before that pay-per-view is a dying platform, that the world and the way we consume entertainment has changed too much for it to really be what it once was. I still believe that, but even if you disagree with me -- and many of you have in the past -- I don't think anyone can disagree that you certainly can't sell a fight nobody wanted. We're past the days when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao could deliver a million, or at least close to it, for fighting just about anyone. Canelo Alvarez has never come close to that level of stardom, the type that goes beyond boxing and into the actual popular culture of the day. And despite reaching that level against Miguel Cotto, it's pretty obvious he can't reach it against just anyone. He needs a dance partner. He's got one out there.