Boxing may not come to mind as one of the highest-paying sports, but when it comes to a big fight and eager fans, a single boxing match can generate millions of dollars in revenue. (For some of the biggest deals in TV, check out Top 4 TV Sports Deals Of 2011)
TUTORIAL: Economics Basics
History's Biggest Pay-Per-View Match
A pay-per-view (PPV) record-breaking fight was Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, which took place on May 5, 2007. The previous record was 1.99 million sales; Mayweather and De La Hoya drew in over 2 million PPV purchases and generated $120 million in revenue.
What the fighters earn varies according to sport (boxing or Mixed Martial Arts), the participants and the prestige of the event. Generally, the fighters receive a set amount per fight plus a percentage of the PPV earnings; the more sales that are made, the more they earn from their percentage. Mayweather won the 2007 fight, but both fighters took home a nice paycheck; far above their guaranteed earnings. De La Hoya, who was guaranteed around $23 million, took home about twice that much. Mayweather, who was guaranteed at least $10 million, also earned about double that amount.
Boxing vs. Mixed Martial Arts in PPV Sales
Though the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) continues to rise, it will need to rise quite a bit more to hit boxing's PPV popularity. For example, the biggest PPV buy rate for a MMA fight is at 1 million PPV buys, with estimated earnings of around $5 million. Though $5 million is a nice chunk of change, it's nothing compared to the money a publicized, popular boxing match can draw on PPV. MMA fights tend to draw PPV buy rates more like 375,000; 500,000 or 800,000.
Since his 2007 record-breaking fight, Mayweather has continued to make big money with PPV fights. He pulled in 1 million PPV buys in a 2009 match against Juan Manuel Marquez, and 1.4 million buys in a 2010 match against Shane Mosley. Even though the 2007 match pulled in 2 million buys, the industry standard for a "mega fight" still stands at 1 million buys. It doesn't look like that 2 million mark is going to be broken anytime soon, despite rumors that Mayweather and De La Hoya might have a rematch. The highly hyped "star power" fight between Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather got an estimated 1.3 million PPV purchases.
That number puts it up in the top for 2011 records, but doesn't get it close to the all-time 2 million number of 2007, which still stands as the biggest PPV fight of all time.
The Bottom Line
There's plenty of money to be made in PPV fighting, both in boxing and the newer, but ever-growing, MMA camp. We're a strange culture, perhaps, when we'll shell out $50 to sit on our comfortable couches and watch other people get beat up. And as long as we're willing to pay, you can bet that the boxing and MMA industries will continue to provide. (For more on sports, read The "Next Big Thing" In Pro Sports.)