The Dream Match Express: HoganPhotos.com
By Paul Upham: This coming Saturday night the boxing world stops for the event of the year when its biggest star Oscar De La Hoya faces the best fighter in the world Manny Pacquiao. While the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas is sold out, the fight will be televised live in the USA on HBO Pay-Per-View and millions more will watch around the world. Behind the scenes at HBO, great work has gone into packaging and delivering the Dream Match to both old and new boxing fans.
“As a boxing fan first and foremost, De La Hoya-Pacquiao is a dream match-up for me too,” said Mark Taffet, HBO’s Senior Vice-President Sports Operations and Pay-Per-View. “It is not a match-up that most people had previously thought about. But when presented to them, people find it very intriguing. They know Manny is pound for pound the best in the sport, but they also know it is a real challenge for him to move up a few weight classes and fight Oscar. There is a size difference, but there is also a speed difference. I have heard just as many people say that Oscar’s power will win the day as I have heard people say that Pacquiao’s speed, youth and stamina will win the day. That’s what makes it so interesting for consumers.”
While a surprising number of people believe that moving up two weight classes for this fight will prove to be too much for the Pacman, Taffet observes that the more difficult assignment may actually be De La Hoya’s.
“It is probably just as difficult for Oscar to move down to 147 at this stage of his career,” he said, “as it is for Pacquiao to move up to 147. They each deserve kudos for reaching beyond the norm at this point in both of their careers. Manny has beaten some of the great Mexican legends of the sport in the past few years and for Latino boxing fans, that is yet another angle of interest as he steps up to fight Oscar. Larry Merchant pointed out early on that historically there were many times where fighters moved up a number of weight classes from one fight to the next. It is something that reminds people of the warriors of eras past.”
Taffet points towards one of the biggest fights of the 1980’s as to evidence that Pacquiao can move up in weight and be successful. No one gave the come-backing Sugar Ray Leonard, who was also moving up two weight classes, much chance against middleweight great Marvelous Marvin Hagler, but Sugar Ray found a way to win on points over the distance.
“When people ask whether De La Hoya-Pacquiao will be a great fight,” he said, “I remind them of Leonard-Hagler in 1987. That is exactly the historic example which stops fans in their tracks. This is a fight worthy of debate because there is merit on both sides as to who can win.”
There has been so much talk about the size advantages of De La Hoya that many people seem to have forgotten that Pacquiao is the best boxer in the world today.
“Manny Pacquiao moved up in weight in his last fight and had a phenomenal performance against David Diaz,” reminded Taffet. “Yes, Oscar is naturally bigger and stronger, but from what I remember about my high school physics class, speed is part of the equation of power and Manny has outstanding speed. Two world class athletes, two future Hall of Famers, two fighters with hearts like a lion. It’s sport and it’s entertainment. And that is why I think people will be interested and will enjoy it.”
One of the best new programs to be developed at HBO over the last few years has been the introduction of the 24/7 pre-fight documentary series. The four part De La Hoya/Pacquiao 24/7 series that is currently being shown on HBO and on other networks around the world, gives fans unsurpassed access into the lives of the boxers as they prepare for their December 6 super fight.
“24/7 is a series that comes exclusively from the production arm of HBO Sports, completely independent of the business arm of HBO Sports,” said Taffet. “We have got some of the best sports producers in the world here at HBO Sports. They produce 24/7 with the utmost of quality in mind. They gain access to the fighters and can present to the fans the reality of the fighters that most fans never see. It creates a great connection between the fans and the fighters. Like adding facets to a diamond, it just makes the diamond sparkle more, and HBO viewers love it.
“Another great aspect of the 24/7 series is that it reaches a young audience, an audience that hasn’t been as much a part of boxing’s resurgence in the last few years as it needs to be. An audience which is critical to the success of boxing going forward. 24/7 has been perhaps the most successful vehicle in reaching young people and engaging them in the sport of boxing and in the athletes themselves.”
Searching for new ways to connect with prospective younger boxing fans, who will hopefully fall in love with the sport for future years, has seen HBO develop a new application for users of the popular Facebook website.
“The Facebook application is a ground breaking new idea that was developed by some of my staff members here at HBO Pay-Per-View in conjunction with a social networking agency,” said Taffet. “It allows users of Facebook to place their photo and the photo of a friend on the bodies of virtual fighters and actually engage in their own Dream Fight.”
Users can throw and land punches and if enough punches are landed, virtual bandages appear on the opponent. A knockout results in little birds circling around the downed boxers’ head. Exciting music and sound effects are accompanied by fans’ voices urging each boxer on. To download the application to your existing Facebook profile, users can visit http://apps.facebook.com/dreamfight and pick a fight with any of their friends.
“It is great fun,” smiled Taffet, “and most importantly it is a way of engaging a younger audience and exposing them to the sport through the medium that they use and consume. As a result it stands to be a much more effective means of inviting them successfully into the sport than by just relying on television, radio and newspaper advertising.”
The development of a younger boxing audience has become an important goal at HBO as the network attempts to attract new fans to the sport.
“We have put a tremendous effort into digital marketing initiatives,” Taffet explained. “In addition to the Facebook application, we have also produced a very unique series of short videos with Mario Lopez who is host of the Extra syndicated entertainment program in the United States. Mario spent time with Oscar and Manny in their camps and he had both traditional and non-traditional interviews with them.
“The non-traditional interviews included things like playing darts and singing Karaoke with Manny. With Oscar, Mario ran through the hills of Big Bear and engaged in a sparring session. It’s a very interesting and very engaging video series which we’ve distributed on HBO’s YouTube channel, the HBO On Demand service, Extra.com, HBO.com and cable operators free-on-demand platforms which are widely used by digital customers now in the United States. With all of our digital media and internet initiatives, we are trying to engage a younger audience and create the next generation of boxing fans.”
HBO and the promoters of this fight are acutely aware of the hard financial times currently being experienced around the globe and the pressures being placed on the wallets of boxing fans. Taffet explains that steps have been taken to provide greater value for money for the December 6 event.
“We are keenly aware and mindful that these are tough economic times,” he said. “Consumers are demanding value more than ever before. We are doing our best to deliver value in a number of ways. From a product standpoint, De La Hoya-Pacquiao features the sport’s biggest star against the sports best fighter in a dream match-up. We really believe that this is the most valuable product that we can present to consumers and it is the right product for these tough times. In addition, the undercard features two of the sport’s bright young stars of the future in Victor Ortiz and Juan Manuel Lopez. So this card is boxing putting its best foot forward in an event that showcases not only the best of today but also the promise of tomorrow.
“From another perspective we are providing value with some great sponsor programs and participation. Two of the companies, Tecate Beer and Full Throttle Energy Drink are each offering US$20 rebates on the pay-per-view to consumers who purchase the Tecate Beer and Full Throttle Energy Drink products at retail. It is an unprecedented US$40 off. It just reinforces how aware we are of the value that must be provided in these times.”
After becoming a star in his native Philippines and the Pacific, since his USA debut in 2001, Pacquiao has established himself as one of the most popular boxers in the world today with his exciting all action style.
“Manny generated 400,000 pay-per-view buys in the U.S earlier this year when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez,” said Taffet. “That was a great indicator to us that he is crossing into new demographics. Manny Pacquiao fights the kind of fights that boxing fans love, and he’s about to step up to the biggest challenge of his career when he meets Oscar. Fans know they are going to see a great fight in the centre of the ring on December 6.”
Over the years Taffet has spent countless hours with De La Hoya and has seen first hand how he has established himself as the Golden Boy both inside and outside the ring.
“From the moment he won the Olympic Gold medal in 1992 and looked up into the heavens honoring his mother, America fell in love with Oscar,” observed Taffet. “Since then, not only has he been a superstar in the ring, taking on every great fighter of his generation, but he has also put in endless efforts outside the ring forgoing a lot of his personal time to engage in appearances and activities that really are necessary for a fighter to become the megastar that Oscar is. Oscar gives his all to the fans, and they love and respect him for that. He also has a certain magic, connecting with fans in a way that very few athletes do. Everybody who sees him feels like they know him. That is a gift that few athletes have, one of those things that separate the stars from the superstars.”
At HBO Taffet has been involved in the sport’s biggest fights over the last two decades and is hopeful that De La Hoya-Pacquiao will not only be a great boxing event, but a fight inside the ring that will be long remembered.
“It presents such a myriad of challenges for both fighters, and is truly a dream match,” said Taffet. “Because of the styles of the fighters we think it should be a great fight in the ring. I am hopeful and optimistic that it is going to be the type of fight that people talk about for years to come.”