Here’s the NYT on Money Mayweahter:
Mayweather, regarded as one of the best boxers in history, fights under a highly unusual financial structure, exchanging upfront risk for back-end profit while retaining total control. He is even responsible for paying his opponent, in this case a business expense of at least $2 million…
In his previous four fights, Mayweather earned $115 million. For Saturday night’s event, he is expected to make about $40 million, and the checks will come for years, determined by the results of many things beyond the fight itself, like the gate and the pay-per-view television numbers.
The Superstar Phenomenon means the brightest stars will be ‘bigger than the sport’. This is a tired phrase, but I think it has real meaning in boxing, where an athlete can supplant the entire organizational power structure and, effectively, ply his trade independently. Mayweather can and does regularly.
‘Bigger than the sport’ does not describe, say, LeBron James or Roger Federer or Tiger Woods (ok, these examples are all from 2008 but stay with me). They cannot quit dealing with the NBA or the ATP or PGA and remain relevant. There’s a powerful force that keeps these superstars in the fold: Monopoly.
Fans want the best to compete with each other in an unbridled athletic competition; ironically, financial and organizational competition (i.e. capitalism) prevents this. Multiple organizational bodies (‘leagues’) compete by holding their athletes hostage. They say to each other: together we can give the fans what they want: superfights, superbowls and world-super-grand-mega-intercontinental undisputed championships. Apart the pie is smaller. So let’s cooperate!
But these aren’t your grandfather’s competing organizational bodies. The AFL and ABA deliberately pursued a strategy of selling their Pepsi recipe to Coke. They wanted to cash out.
But because there is no dominant player in boxing, nobody blinks. The economic model is a classic prisoner’s dilemma where nobody plays nice.
I wish I could measure it, but my feeling is that casual fans’ interest in boxing is weak for smaller fight and increasing for personality-driven superstar bouts. This means that promoting bodies are banking concentrating their resources on those superstar bouts. They need these fights bad and Floyd’s nicking their lunch.
A potential way around this is the UFC (monopoly) model. You know what I notice most about the UFC ? Small records and young athletes.
Guys don’t have 30-something fights before they hit the big time. And once you hit the big time, the lights shine on you until someone knocks them out.
Boxing promoters have this tendency to milk a superstar cash cow by setting up weak fights with plausible contenders insiders know can never live up. This cements the superstar as The Best ($ka-ching-ching$), while the real contenders languish. A lesser sport (and SMALLER PIE, I shout from the rooftops) is the result.
There are signs that the other superduperstar in boxing is getting his (business) act together. If Paquiao can duplicate Mayweather Promotions and the next superstar after that follows suit, my hope is that the promoters (the sanctioning bodies are laughably irrelevant) will collude to destroy the superstar model.
Tournaments. Younger stars. More stars.
Starve the beast.