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15 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Columns Paul Upham

Inside Pacquiao vs. Cotto with HBO Pay-Per-View’s Mark Taffet

By Paul Upham: It is the biggest boxing match of the year and has the most intensive advertising and marketing plan. As hard as Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto are working in the gym to be ready for their Firepower battle on Saturday night November 14, behind the scenes at HBO a dedicated team has been working day and night with promoter Top Rank to sell the super-fight to the masses. While the direct focus has been on maximizing the number of pay-per-view buys, indirectly, it is also helping to take boxing to a brand new audience.

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. As with all big fights hosted by HBO Sports, great work has gone into precise packaging in wide varieties. Pacquiao-Cotto is being taken to the fans via the many new technologies available.

“In 2009, we are experiencing a digital media explosion,” explained Mark Taffet, HBO’s Senior Vice-President Sports Operations and Pay-Per-View. “The internet and the various other digital and social media platforms are providing tens of millions of opportunities to reach consumers in a new and effective way. Digital marketing has become one of the anchors, if not the key anchor of the marketing and promotion plan for the pay-per-view mega-fights of today.

“We’ve got HBO’s digital platforms --, HBO You Tube, HBO Facebook, HBO My Space, HBO Twitter and I-Tunes. We’ve got all of the major websites such as Yahoo, ESPN, AOL, Fox Sports. These are filled with a tremendous array of high quality videos in short form. Fans are actively choosing to engage this product to the tune of tens of millions of views. It is very exciting and motivating.”

At HBO, Taffet has been involved in the sport’s biggest fights over the last two decades and agrees that boxing fans today have such a wide opportunity for inside and up to date information on a super-fight such as Pacquiao-Cotto that was never available in the past. Twenty years ago, fans were limited to a newspaper story or would catch a brief report on the television news, but today, fans can virtually follow the boxers schedule on a day to day basis directly as it happens.

“The internet and digital media platforms allow the fans at home to virtually experience being in training camp or on site and to communicate with one another throughout the entire promotion,” said Taffet. “We believe this enhanced experience is really driving a lot of interest among new fans and among younger fans, which is critical to the continued success of the sport in the future. We call it, the hunger to go younger. By the amount of time that they are watching these videos and experiencing the digital media platforms, fans are telling us that they are engaged and they want more, and we are going to fulfill that for them.”

HBO Pay-Per-View has hosted only two other fights in 2009, being Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather Jr-Juan Manuel Marquez, but both were blockbuster successes. The return of “Money” Mayweather generated a phenomenal one million pay-per-view buys in the USA.

“The increased pay-per-view sales are a sign of just how strong the sport is at present,” Taffet told SecondsOut. “I am incredibly bullish these days. We are employing the digital media platforms to reach today’s consumers where, when and how they want to be reached. We’ve also had tremendous success with HBO’s 24/7 series, the single most important television program to impact the sport of boxing over the past decade. 24/7 has allowed us to reach new fans, new demographics and really create that all-important connection between the athlete and the fans. It is that personal connection which we believe drives the long term interest in the sport.

“Also, this year has been characterized by a tremendous resurgence in sponsor activity and involvement. For many a year, the promoters and agencies went to the door steps of corporate America and had trouble getting those companies involved in the sport of boxing. But in 2009, companies like Tecate, AT&T, Home Depot, DeWalt Tools, Quaker State and South West Airlines are not only providing important media advertising but they are also creating tens of millions of activations in tens of thousands of retail stores across the country, bringing boxing to the end aisle displays of some of the biggest stores in America. This again provides a whole new outlet and opportunity to reach consumers and impact them, in a way that we haven’t been able to do for many years.”

While the 24/7 series is targeted at building the profiles of the two boxers involved and has had a powerful impact in the USA, it also helps grow the sport abroad, with the reality documentary series being shown in countries all around the world.

“I am so proud to be a part of a company that produces a show like 24/7,” said Taffet, “with the singular focus on quality that has defined and been the mantra of HBO Sports. We know it is meaningful, we know it is impactful, and it is ensuring the continued success of the sport by reaching and connecting with a generation of newer and younger fans.”

Just like when Pacquiao faced Ricky Hatton earlier in 2009, the Pacquiao-Cotto match features two boxers who reside outside of the United States, but who have forged strong fan bases in America.

“Boxing’s worldwide appeal is as great or greater now than it has ever been,” observed Taffet. “If you look at the stars of the sport today, they represent virtually every continent on the globe. Here in the United States where the pay-per-view revenue is generated, fight fans appreciate great fighters who fight with their hearts and are engaged by their stories and personalities regardless of where they are from. It is very rewarding to see that the sport can have this type of appeal and that the fans are so appreciative of these athletes.”

Promoter Bob Arum and his talented team at Top Rank have been making and marketing super-fights for over four decades. At HBO, Taffet’s marketing team headed by HBOPPV Vice President Tammy Ross and HBO Sports Vice President Janet Indelli work closely with the promoters of each fight to develop the precise marketing angles and plans. Both promoter and television network have astutely recognized the new media available to reach their audience.

“Amidst this digital media explosion, one of the great success stories of 2009 has been our ability to understand, harness and create new marketing initiatives which reach the current and next generation of fans regularly, efficiently and impactfully,” said Taffet. “In the Mayweather-Marquez fight, there was a strong focus on the passionate African American and Latino consumer bases and the return of Mayweather. In the case of Pacquiao-Cotto, not only are we obviously reaching Filipino fans and Puerto Rican fans, but we are also communicating the incredible strength of this match-up to a broad base of sports fans. And judging by the superb number of consumer views of all of the short-form videos we have distributed on the various digital platforms, we know we are connecting with the fans.”

Taffet has also been buoyed but what he sees as an increased interest in boxing’s biggest fights by main stream media.

“We are greatly encouraged by the significant increase in coverage by major media outlets. National newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today. National magazines likes Time and Sports Illustrated. Syndicated radio programs covering hundreds of markets all across America, and some of the biggest shows on television requesting the fighters to make appearances. All of this has brought boxing to the front pages of the sports section and into the news and entertainment sections. That gets us into the hearts and minds of fans across all demographics. It has been one of the great success stories in 2009.”

However, Taffet cautions that while you can have the best marketing strategy available, media coverage and throw millions of dollars at promotion, ultimately it comes down to the appeal of the boxers to the fans for the sport to succeed.

“What is important at the end of the day is that fans make a connection with the athletes. Whether it be through HBO’s award-winning 24/7 series and the digital media platforms, whether it be out of admiration of the athlete’s ability, the sheer entertainment factor or the quality of the match-ups, one thing is certain: the strength of the connection between fan and athlete is the basis of the strength of the sport. And through fights like Pacquiao-Cotto, Mayweather-Marquez, Pacquiao-Hatton, Mosley-Margarito, Marquez-Diaz, Williams-Wright, Cotto-Clottey, and Klitschko-Arreola, we believe fans connected strongly with the sport in 2009.”

While some will debate whether Manny Pacquiao is the best boxer in the world today pound for pound, ahead of Floyd Mayweather Jr, there is no doubting the popularity of the Pac-Man with the fans. He is a genuine superstar.

“Manny Pacquiao is one of the great assets of our sport,” declared Taffet. “He gives 150% every time he steps between the ropes. Outside the ring, Manny is a leader in his country, someone who people admire and respect the world over.”

Similarly, Miguel Cotto has developed a tremendous following, and not just in the Puerto Rican communities in New York and his native Puerto Rico, where is treated like a God.

“Miguel Cotto’s commitment to training and his fan-pleasing style in the ring have always been a great part of his appeal,” said Taffet. “And in this installment of 24/7, fans have been able to see the personal side of Miguel -- the interactions with his dad, his wife and kids, and his boxing team. I think it has given many fans a real appreciation and connection with him.”

When it comes to estimating how successful the Pacquiao-Cotto fight will be in terms of pay-per-view buys, while Ricky Hatton had substantial fan support travelling to Las Vegas from the UK, Cotto has a more substantial fan base locally. Pacquiao-Hatton did 850,000 buys in the USA, according to a report at ESPN, and it would seem that Pacquiao-Cotto could do much more.

“Each pay-per-view fight has its own personality,” explained Taffet. “Pacquiao-Hatton featured two fighters with incredible passion from their home country fans. Mayweather-Marquez featured America’s best taking on Mexico’s best and the return of one of the sport’s megastars. In Pacquiao-Cotto, you’ve got what is viewed by fans as one of the most exciting pure match-ups the sport has to offer. We’re very bullish on the fight.”

While there have been less pay-per-view fights on HBO this year, part of a new plan to revitalize the sport, 2009 is viewed as a success by Taffet and others at HBO.

“At HBO Sports, we made a conscious decision to restore some of the magic by doing fewer pay-per-view fights and having each one be more special for the fans. Consumers have told us with their purchases that we did the right thing. We also made a commitment to deliver more big fights live on HBO, and fans have told us with their increase in viewership that we did the right thing there as well. We have seen increased sponsor involvement, and a great consumer appetite for boxing in the digital media explosion. And 24/7 has reached a new and younger fan base as well as enhanced the connection between the fans and the athletes.

“So we are very pleased and very proud of what has taken place in 2009 and it gives us tremendous energy and motivation as we look ahead to 2010.”

Paul Upham
Content Editor

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