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Enough Bang for the Bucks? : DOUGLAS VS. HOLYFIELD: THE PAY-PER-VIEW CHALLENGE COMES TO $32.1 MILLION

October 21, 1990|EARL GUSTKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That groan you heard when Mike Tyson crashed and burned in Tokyo on Feb. 10 wasn't just coming from his promoter, Don King.

Even more horrified were the men and women who run America's cable television industry. When Buster Douglas separated Tyson from his championship that afternoon, something else went by the boards as well.

Agreement already had been reached that Tyson and Evander Holyfield would meet June 18, 1990, in what some projected as possibly boxing's first $100 million fight. It was to have been that rarest of matchups: Two undefeated heavyweights, both in their prime, fighting for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

And all Tyson had to do was knock over a 42-1 shot, Buster somebody.

So Tyson-Holyfield can never happen now, at least not as two unbeatens. Meanwhile, Douglas, a likable guy from Columbus, Ohio, will finally, on Thursday, defend his championship, against Holyfield, in a unique pay-per-view show brought to you by the man who would be boxing's king, Steve Wynn.

The norm in these mega-fights is for the promoter to sell the pay-per-view telecast to regional promoters around the country. This time there are no middlemen. Wynn, president of Las Vegas' Mirage Hotel, the fight site, is selling the signal directly to cable systems.

Wynn figures that by eliminating middlemen, he stands a better chance of paying for this monster. When he bought Douglas-Holyfield, he put up the largest guaranteed purse ever: $32.1 million. Douglas gets $24,075,000, Holyfield $8,025,000. Some cable systems, balking at Wynn's asking price, are refusing to carry the fight.

One theory has it that if enough people don't plunk down the average PPV fee of $34.95, Mirage room rates will take off like rockets.

Obvious question: Why was Tyson not granted a rematch with Douglas? Answer: Because Holyfield had been the No. 1 contender for more than a year, and was legally entitled to a championship opportunity. If anyone had tried to match Tyson and Douglas, Holyfield's people would have sued everyone in sight.

Tyson may have a long wait before he has a chance to regain the title. If Holyfield beats Douglas, agreement already has been reached for a 1991 Holyfield-George Foreman fight for which Holyfield would earn $19 million, Foreman $13 million.

But if Douglas beats Holyfield, Tyson could get his rematch in 1991.

Steadily, the dollars generated by major fights have grown toward nine digits. Boxing's two richest fights were Tyson-Michael Spinks in 1988 and Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler in 1987. Both grossed about $75 million.

Now, many believe the first $100 million fight is in sight, although no one expects it will be Thursday's.

Doug Stewart of Denver-based United Entertainment, one of the country's largest cable systems, talked about two that may.

"Tyson-Foreman and Tyson-Douglas would both do $100 million," he said. "When Tyson-Holyfield didn't come off, it was a real body blow to the pay-per-view business.

"All our systems are 40% behind in their PPV revenue projections. There just haven't been any big events."

Stewart's company organized a consortium of six major cable conglomerates last July and tried to purchase from Wynn all PPV rights to Douglas-Holyfield. This was before Wynn decided to sell the telecast himself.

"He asked me how I'd promote it, and I told him we'd have to do something no one ever thought you'd have to do for an undisputed heavyweight championship fight-to spend a lot of advertising money, to educate the public as to who these guys are. I mean, had anyone ever heard of Douglas before he beat Tyson? Holyfield isn't a household name, either.

"This won't be like Tyson-Spinks, where you could put your feet on your desk, knowing that sportswriters would give you 29 columns every day."

Wynn hired Rick Kulis, who has promoted many PPV showings of major Southern California fights, to sell the Douglas-Holyfield signal directly to cable systems. He says the average price to view the fight at home in Southern California will be $39.95, with some systems jumping the fee to $49.95 on fight day.

"The Mirage will spend over $2 million advertising this fight," Kulis said. "A lot of people said Wynn couldn't possibly break even on this thing, but I don't know of anyone with the hotel who concedes this fight will lose money."

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