Stephen Espinoza runs boxing at Showtime and has put his stamp on the program in a big way, with the signing of the game's top pugilist, Floyd Mayweather, to a mega-deal that will span six fights and guarantees Floyd somewhere in the neighborhood of $38 million a fight.
Espinoza chatted with NYFightblog on Tuesday afternoon, at the Vanderbilt Suites at the MetLife Building on Park Avenue, during a media luncheon to shine the spotlight on Robert Guerrero, Mayweather's opponent for a May 4 fight. This will be the first fight for Floyd under the Showtime banner, after fighting on HBO since 1997.
I asked Espinoza if we might see Floyd fighting on CBS, not on Showtime pay-per-view. In my mind, it's a no-brainer that the sport needs to birth more fans. The best fights and fighters have been behind the PPV paywall for 20-plus years now, and as a result, there are only about 1.2 million, give or take, hardcore fight fans in the U.S. That is the rough number of people who tune in to the top fights offered by HBO and Showtime, and can be relied upon to buy top-level PPVs.
Is it a pipe dream, I asked Espinoza -- an attorney who worked for Mike Tyson, and then Golden Boy Promotions before being named Showtime boss in November 2011 -- to think we might see Mayweather fight on CBS on a Saturday night?
"No, it's not a pipe dream," Espinoza told me. "Floyd is known for doing the unexpected."
I have to imagine that it would be a hard lift to try to achieve the same money take from advertising and sponsorships and such, compared with the numbers generated by hardcore fans ponying up 1.5 million times, at $60 a pop, generating $90 million. Advertisers throw about $4 million per commercial at the NFL during the Super Bowl.
Yes, fight revenue has to be shared with the cable providers, the fighters are richly compensated and the promoter gets a cut. But even after that pie gets divvied, there's more to be made via the PPV model than the ad-based model. So, how is it not a pipe dream? "It would have to be a very different, an alternative business model," Espinoza said.
I see it as a smart investment, even if you don't quite match the PPV take. Why? Because you will be giving easy access to stellar prizefights, not making people traverse a moat to get to the fight, drawing from a pool of 110 million households, versus about 100 million households wired for cable/satellite. It's never easy to take the long view, and leave some money on the table, but I get the feeling that Espinoza and some other influential dealmakers share my thinking.
We, boxing fans who love the sport and want to share our addiction, certainly hope so. We deserve it, because we have to dig harder into our pockets than other fans of other sports.