Floyd Mayweather to Showtime: He’s Boxing’s Albert Pujols
Thinking of words to describe Tuesday’s announcement that boxing’s current pound-for-pound king, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, had dumped cable network and pay-per-view partner HBO in favour of rival broadcaster Showtime.
Mayweather’s movement tilts the pay-per-view landscape, instantly transforming Showtime from a big-time suburb to the centre of attention and action, and maybe not just on Mayweather fight nights. In signing boxing’s biggest name to a long-term deal Showtime signals to the sports public that its ready to go chequebook-to-chequebook with HBO to acquire boxing’s top free agents.
“Unprecedented” fits too.
Mayweather’s deal includes perks that bring boxing into the mainstream in ways it hasn’t been in a generation. The pre-fight documentary series moves from cable to CBS, while the introductory news conference for Mayweather’s springtime title fight against Robert Guerrero is slated to take place during the network’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament broadcast.
Boxing fans can’t ask for more exposure than Mayweather during March Madness.
But as much as this deal boosts boxing by reshaping its relationship with mainstream broadcast outlets and sports fans, two more words describing it continue to surface in my mind.
Not for Mayweather, who, I’m sure, received a ton of money up front without having to commit himself to the entirety of a deal that could span up to six fights spread over up to 30 months. If he decides to fight twice and go home, I’m sure he’ll do exactly that.
But for Showtime to stake the long-term future of their boxing program on a welterweight days away from turning 36 is a gamble worthy of any Las Vegas baccarat table.
Terms of the deal weren’t published but a Mayweather Promotions news release touts the Showtime contract as “record-breaking,” with estimates pegging the value at $200 million if Mayweather sticks around for all six fights. Either way Mayweather’s arrangement with HBO, plus his high-risk, high-reward business model had already made him the world’s highest paid athlete. And the guy who walks around with hundred-dollar bills bundled like bricks has never hinted he’s open to a pay cut.
Showtime knew it, and anted up.
“HBO, they made a great offer, but the Showtime PPV/CBS offer was substantially greater in every facet, from top to bottom,” Mayweather adviser Leonard Ellerbe told ESPN.com. “So bottom line, HBO was outgunned. They came to a gun fight with a knife. At the end of the day, it’s business.”
And right now it looks like a smart investment.
Mayweather remains the highest-profile on the planet, standing alone among boxers since Juan Manuel Marquez flattened Manny Pacquiao in December. His last nine bouts have drawn an average of nearly 1.1 million pay-per-view buys, and with CBS’ promotional muscle behind him he figures to shatter that barrier again May 4, even if Guerrero brings few fans to the event.
But will Showtime’s bet on Mayweather look this good midway through 2015?
I can’t say with certainty that the network is any smarter than a baseball team that bestows a decade long, nine-figure contract on a free agent in his early 30s.
When I look at Mayweather in the context of this deal I see Albert Pujols, who at 33 should still eclipse 30 home runs and hit close to .300 in his second season with the Los Angeles Angels. It’s the least he can do to justify a 10-year contract that will pay him $240 million. And if his rebound from a disappointing 2012 helps propel the Angels to the playoffs few fans will grumble about the size of Pujols’ salary.
But check back with them around 2019, as Pujols pushes 40 years old, his salary escalating as steeply as his performance declines:
$28 million in 2019.
$29 million the next year.
$30 million the season after that.
What kind of performance will justify a salary that size?
A triple crown and a division title? Fifty homers and a World Series? All of the above plus 15 stolen bases?
And how likely is it that a 42-year-old can produce the type of numbers that will keep fans from complaining about his gigantic salary and demanding the team dump it?
About as likely that Floyd Mayweather, at 36, can line up six of the top fighters in the world and beat every one in a manner convincing and entertaining enough to keep a broad audience tuning in, all while maintaining a pace (one fight every five months) he hasn’t kept up since 2005.
Which is to say, not likely at all.
Not because Mayweather isn’t the best fighter on the planet right now, and one of the greatest ever to lace up gloves. He’s definitely both of those things. And he’s not just willing but eager to return to the ring regularly, vowing not to relapse into the long layoffs that have defined the second half of his career.
Except that Mayweather’s schedule isn’t entirely his choice, not with age and injuries constantly threatening to pull a vicious double-team on a fighter who will be 36 the next time he competes. Right now Mayweather can still dismantle just about any fighter between 147 and 154 pounds and should outclass Guerrero in May. But well see what happens to his clinical ring efficiency at 38, as his reflexes slow, along with the recovery times between intense workouts and long fights.
As we’ve discussed before, Time has never lost and never will.
So justifying Mayweather’s massive contract might mean that over its six-fight life span the quality of his opponents drops off along with his skill, which is a great way to keep him undefeated but a lousy way to persuade fans to drop $60 or more on a PPV broadcast. Pujols can hit .325 until he’s 50 in the Dominican Winter League, but he makes big money to perform against the best.
The problem with matching an aging Mayweather against the best a year or two from now is that he might lose. Not because someone like Austin Trout is a superior technician, but because very good fighters in their primes can handle great ones headed to retirement. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why Felix ‘Tito” Trinidad’s record includes a win over Pernell Whitaker.
Then ask yourself how wise Showtime’s six-fight deal looks if Mayweather drops a decision in fight number three.
Probably about as smart as the Yankees’ 10-year, $275-million pact with Alex Rodriguez looks right now, as the 37-year-old tries to rehab a hip that’s been surgically repaired and a rep battered by his links to the Biogenesis steroid scandal.
Notice the Yankees are working to get out from under that deal.
The Mayweather-Showtime partnership doesn’t have to end that badly, but if Showtime execs don’t recognize the risk in signing a fighter that old to a contract that long they should probably watch more baseball.
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