By Paul Upham
On Saturday night Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito will step into a boxing ring in Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas in front of a live audience of over 60,000 people and televised to millions of people on HBO Pay-Per-View in the US and to many more around the world. It will be boxing’s biggest and most prestigious fight of the year.
The planning for such an event is never easy and thousands of man hours have gone into the preparation for a boxing match which will not just be a sporting battle, but a genuine main stream event.
“From the day the Pacquiao-Margarito fight was announced,” explains Mark Taffet, HBO’s Senior Vice-President Sports Operations and Pay-Per-View, “the staff members of HBO PPV and Top Rank have worked hand-in-hand for the nearly three months leading up to the fight with respect to the distribution, marketing, promotion and publicity. The time demands, planning, coordination and execution efforts are intense and non-stop.
“There are formal weekly conference calls in which upwards of twenty people regularly participate including not just HBO PPV and Top Rank but also the numerous advertising agencies, marketing agencies and public relations personnel involved. And those calls are just the tip of the iceberg. The phone calls and emails easily number in the thousands and take place all day, seven days a week and often late at night or early in the morning. It is grueling and exhausting, but all that is outweighed by how incredibly energizing, motivating, rewarding and fun it is. We actually thrive on it.”
While Floyd Mayweather Jr and his many fans may dispute it, many experts consider Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines to be the best boxer in the world today pound for pound. Certainly, along with his seven division world title success, the “Pac-Man” has proven to be consistently one of the most exciting active boxers world-wide.
“We haven’t conducted any formal research on this,” said Taffet, “but our decades of experience in this sport tell us that Manny Pacquiao’s phenomenal popularity is based on a few factors. In winning world titles in seven weight classes Manny has achieved something no other boxer has ever achieved, and he has done so with an incredibly fan-pleasing style. He has universally earned the admiration and adulation of fans the world over as a result of incredibly exciting, memorable fights against a literal ‘who’s who’ of boxing superstars over the past decade - fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. He is a legend and an icon in his native Philippines, and with his recent election to Congress in Philippines he is a true world figure. And most importantly, while transcending the sport with this and other accomplishments, Manny still has and projects such a high level of sincerity, honesty and humility which allows fans to connect with him easily and deeply. We in boxing are privileged to have him in our fraternity.”
With Pacquiao moving up in weight once again to face a two division world champion, it can be argued that Pacquiao is facing the toughest opponent of his career. Clearly shown when they stand nose to nose, Pacquiao is facing a much physically bigger opponent. The allure of this fight appears to be the real challenge facing the likeable Pacquiao.
“Manny won his first world title at 112 pounds in 1998,” said Taffet, “and since then has moved up through and won titles in seven weight classes. When you do what no man has ever done, and you then move up in weight yet again to fight a clearly bigger and stronger man like Antonio Margarito, you constantly redefine the art of the possible. It is, without a doubt, the single most defining characteristic of this fight in the minds of the fans and provides a clear point of differentiation from anything that has preceded it.”
In his last fight on 13 March 2010, Pacquiao defeated Ghana’s Joshua Clottey impressively on points inside the same arena venue to be used on 13 November. Hosting the match at Cowboys Stadium seemed to add to the success of the event and was a tremendous coup for Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.
“Anytime you can present an event from a venue where other mega-events take place, it adds yet another facet to the diamond and lifts the fight to a higher plateau,” agrees Taffet. “Boxing in the US has been fortunate in recent years to have fights take place in many high-profile venues such as the new Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, MGM Grand - all of which regularly host major sports and entertainment events in addition to boxing. Cowboys Stadium - being the largest and newest football stadium in America, being home to the world-famous Dallas Cowboys, and having had over 50,000 fans in attendance for Pacquiao-Clottey in March - immediately tells the consumer that this fight is special and adds to the marquee value of Pacquiao-Margarito.”
Asked if the massive stadium audience, as expected for Pacquiao-Margarito, adds to the feel of the televised product for the viewer on HBO Pay-Per-View, Taffet replies, “As an executive I would defer to my colleague HBO Sports Executive Producer Rick Bernstein on this,” he said. “But as a sports fan I can say that there’s nothing like the electricity of a big, passionate crowd to heighten the experience of a fight both in the live arena as well as in the ‘electronic’ arena in living rooms at home.”
Pacquiao’s ability to cross over from the minor boxing columns to the mainstream sporting pages and into the overall public conscious has been demonstrated in recent days. The Pac-Man’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he sang a duet with popular Hollywood actor Will Firrell and a feature story on the 60 Minutes program on CBS, showed the one man promotional muscle he now brings to the table.
Another important tool in showcasing Pacquiao the man behind the boxer on fight night’s, has been the extremely popular 24/7 documentary series. Not only does Pacquiao/Margarito 24/7 showcase the event itself, it serves as an important vehicle to once again expand the horizons of boxing and attract new viewers.
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“Make no mistake about it,” agrees Taffet, “for the sport of boxing HBO’s Emmy-award-winning 24/7 series is the most impactful television program in over a decade to reach new fans and to expand the demographic base of the sport. Through its unique combination of storytelling and reality/documentary style, 24/7 has demonstrated an uncanny ability to create a strong connection between the viewer and the boxer like no program before. The resulting value to and contribution to the sport is virtually immeasurable.”
The world today offers new media such as FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter to market boxing’s biggest matches. It is an important role for Taffet and his talented team at HBO to investigate and fully utilize all of the opportunities that modern technology has to offer.
“In today’s world, if you don’t communicate to your consumers via digital and social media then you aren’t connected to your consumers,” stated Taffet. “ In the past two years, digital and social media initiatives have become essential, primary and invaluable to the marketing plan and the communications plan with boxing fans.
“For Pacquiao-Margarito, behind the scenes photos from 24/7 field producers in camp are being posted to HBO’s Facebook page almost daily and pushed via Twitter mentions as well. Fan response to these photos is very strong. In most cases they are drawing more comments, likes and thumbs up from fans than anything else on the page. Consumers are being driven to our Facebook and Twitter platforms through inclusion in our marketing and radio campaigns for both 24/7 and the pay-per-view event, including all of the national, local and syndicated radio stations broadcasting live from Dallas during fight week.
“In our newest program, HBO.com introduced a live video blog - www.InsideFightWeek.com - and incorporated new content via Twitter and HBO’s Boxing Facebook page where fight fans can follow all major fight week events with live daily webcasts, insider articles, exclusive photos, live Q&A’s with the fighters, roundtables with HBO commentators, fighter arrivals and the official weigh-in. Distributors are also participating in record numbers to reach their customers with content and messages via Facebook and Twitter and are including programs such as a 24/7 trivia contest and glove giveaways. And fans will have access to key fighter quotes from media conferences and camp days via postings to the HBO Facebook and Twitter outlets.
“There are a myriad of other marketing initiatives. But perhaps the most important is the creation and distribution of short-form video assets and the leveraging of those video assets across all of our marketing platforms. At HBO, we have created over two dozen different high-quality video assets including Face-Off With Max Kellerman, fighters’ Greatest Hits, sit-down interviews with Pacquiao and Margarito, and lifestyle pieces such as “Pacquiao: On The Basketball Court” and “Manny & the Band”. These video assets are seen by consumers on HBO platforms such as HBO.com, HBO On Demand, HBO Facebook and HBO’s YouTube channel, as well as on many high-profile websites in the sports, entertainment, lifestyle and general news segments.”
The Pacquiao-Margarito match demonstrates boxing’s platform as a truly world sport. A fight between a Filipino and a Mexican in the home of “America’s” team, is not one which could have easily been envisaged many years ago in the 1970’s and 1980’s when American boxers were dominating the sport.
“The Pacquiao-Margarito fight has broad appeal across all market segments and demographics,” explains Taffet. “As a megafight, it appeals to general sports fans well beyond the core boxing fan base. And Manny Pacquiao is now a world figure, so his fights cross over into news and entertainment outlets in addition to sports. But we always make sure we never take for granted and always address the needs of the huge and loyal Filipino and Mexican fans who follow these two fighters regularly. Whether it be through marketing or through publicity outlets, through traditional media or the internet, we make sure there is a regular flow of information and content to serve the Filipino and Mexican fans across the country.”
While there is almost universal agreement that boxing as a whole can improve and must in many ways in an attempt to survive and outlast its many competitors, 2010 certainly has not been a failure for premium boxing on HBO PPV.
“2010 has been a very successful year for HBOPPV,” reports Taffet. “We have exceeded expectations with virtually every PPV event we have distributed. Pacquiao-Clottey in March generated 700,000 buys - a great success for all of our distributors and over 70% above our expectations. We expected Mayweather-Mosley in May to be a megafight and it generated approximately 1.4 million buys and became one of the biggest PPV fights in our history. And while I am always superstitious when it comes to predicting PPV buys, we do believe Pacquiao-Margarito will be a PPV megafight and will close out another big year for HBOPPV and the PPV industry.”