For the past two weeks I've been asked constantly about the pay-per-view numbers for the May 2 Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight, boxing's biggest fight of the year so far.
The eagerly anticipated showdown was promoted wonderfully. There was great buzz all week in Las Vegas and an electric atmosphere inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on fight night, not to mention a spectacular second-round knockout victory for Pacquiao.
However, the period at the end of the sentence -- the pay-per-view buys -- has been missing because Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who co-promoted the event with Golden Boy Promotions, refuses to disclose the figures for reasons that are beyond me.
He sure gave me an earful about it this week while dropping several words that wouldn't be appropriate for an ESPN.com blog. In the one statement he made that I can quote, he said (loudly), "We did very well. Everyone involved in this event did a good job, but it's nobody's business what the numbers are but ours and the fighters. I'm not gonna release the figures."
For whatever reason, Arum doesn't want to give them out, nor will he allow his partners at Golden Boy or HBO PPV to disclose them. What does he have to hide, anyway?
However, being a resourceful kind of guy with pretty darn good sources in the boxing business and television industry, I got the number, Arum's secrecy be damned. From what my sources tell me, the fight sits at about 825,000 domestic pay-per-view buys with the likelihood that when they're all counted, the total will reach 850,000 or more.
That means the fight generated almost $50 million from the American pay-per-view, a huge number that doesn't even take into account the pay-per-view figures from Hatton's turf in the United Kingdom, where the fight easily could have done 1 million buys. Nor does it take into account the live gate of $8,832,950 or the closed-circuit ticket sales of $575,750 in Las Vegas alone. There's also a pile of cash from the rest of the closed-circuit and international television sales, a seven-figure license fee from HBO for the delayed broadcast rights, sponsorship money and merchandise revenue.
How big was Pacquiao-Hatton? If you take away heavyweight pay-per-views involving Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield as well as the Oscar De La Hoya fights, it's the second-best ever. Only Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s victory against Hatton in December 2007 did more business, generating 915,000 domestic buys.
The bottom line is that Pacquiao-Hatton was a massive success, something Arum should be proud of instead of trying to hide, especially because this was the first big fight of the post-De La Hoya era. I stopped trying to figure Arum out a long time ago, but his decision on this topic makes no sense.
At a time when many have questioned what would become of the boxing business in the wake of the retirement of De La Hoya, the all-time pay-per-view king, Pacquiao-Hatton answered the question with an emphatic, "Yes, there is still life in this business."
When a 140-pound fight in which neither participant is American can do a number like 850,000, especially in the midst of a brutal recession, it's celebration time. And it's not the end, either. A whole series of fights involving Pacquiao and Mayweather can get the public excited and generate big numbers. With Mayweather out of retirement and set to face Juan Manuel Marquez on July 18, you can bank on another fight that will generate in the 500,000-buy range. And, eventually, when Pacquiao and Mayweather finally meet in the fight the public is already demanding, I believe it may rise into the 1.5 million-buy stratosphere.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer and HBO PPV chief Mark Taffet acquiesced to Arum's insistence that official numbers not be released on Pacquiao-Hatton, but neither of them is happy about it. I don't blame them. They want to talk up their success, not be muzzled.
So without disclosing the figures, Taffet did say, "Pacquiao-Hatton was a true megafight and establishes Manny Pacquiao as a true pay-per-view star. Most importantly, with Pacquiao-Hatton, Mayweather-Marquez and the great possibilities of matchups in the 140- and 147-pound divisions, we are entering a very exciting period for boxing fans and the sport."
Taffet is right, even if that wacky Arum doesn't want to acknowledge it with facts and figures.