'Battle Of Ages' Is King Of The Moneymakers

Posted: April 25, 1991

The gross for last week's Evander Holyfield-George Foreman title fight will reach about $75 million, promoters said yesterday, leaving the bout as boxing's undisputed, all-time moneymaker.

Thanks largely to a record pay-per-view audience, the so-called "Battle of the Ages" will surpass the 1987 Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler fight and the 1988 Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight as the sport's reigning cash king. Each of those bouts made about $70 million worldwide.

The record figure actually falls short of predictions last week that Holyfield-Foreman could top $100 million. But promoters insisted yesterday that they were not disappointed.

"I think everyone got caught up in the fervor of being in Atlantic City and increased their realistic projections by 25 percent," said Ross Levinsohn, marketing director for TVKO, Time Warner's pay-per-view subsidiary. ''But, in practical terms, these are great numbers for the future of boxing and pay-per-view."

Levinsohn said more than 1.45 million households paid an average of $37.50 to watch the fight on TVKO, for total pay TV sales of about $55 million. Previously, the most popular pay-per-view event was October's Holyfield-Buster Douglas fight, which drew 1.06 million fans and grossed $38.6 million.

Those numbers mean that 8.5 percent of the homes with pay-TV access bought the fight, which also beats the previous record of 7.3 percent set by Holyfield-Douglas. In pay-per-view, an event is usually considered successful if it is bought by 2 percent of the available homes.

Time Warner Sports President Seth Abraham said his company's research indicated that, in the average buying household, six to eight people watched the fight. That means that 11 million people saw the bout live.

Adding to the pay-per-view pot is money from closed-circuit showings ($6 million), foreign sales ($2 million), sale of rebroadcast rights to HBO ($4 million) and the live gate ($8 million).

Despite the high level of interest, Holyfield-Foreman fell about 2,000 seats short of selling out the 19,000-seat Atlantic City Convention Hall. Kathy Duva, publicist for Holyfield and Main Events, cited two factors: extraordinarily high ticket prices, even by boxing standards, and a shortage of hotels.

"A large share of the tickets were expensive ($800 or $1,000) because Donald Trump originally priced them that way to support his rights fee," Duva said. Trump's deal was later altered, lowering the site fee, but the ticket prices did not change.

Duva said Atlantic City hotels ran out of rooms on the afternoon of the fight, reducing the usual influx of last-minute ticket-buyers. "Who would want to spend a few hundred dollars to see a fight and then have to drive home the same night?" she asked.

Heavyweight champion Holyfield, who won a unanimous decision in his first title defense, figures to make $22 million to $23 million for his 12 rounds,

Duva said. Foreman is expected to take home about $13 million.

During a news conference in New York yesterday, Holyfield's promoter, Dan

Duva, said that negotiations with rival Don King toward a possible bout with former champion Mike Tyson seem stalled over arguments of how to divide the purse.

Duva said yesterday that Holyfield would demand two-thirds to Tyson's one- third, while King has suggested the purses be split 50-50. King has also suggested a winner-take-all bout, to which Duva said, "Evander doesn't want Mike to have to fight that hard and earn nothing."

The International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association have called for a June 11 deadline for King and Duva to come to agreement on terms for a fight since Tyson is the top-ranked contender. If they have not signed by then, the fight may go to purse bids.

The Holyfield-Foreman fight marked the launching of TVKO, which plans to present monthly boxing shows. The next event, on May 10, will feature title defenses by IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn and IBF flyweight champion Michael Carbajal. The suggested price is $19.95.

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