One of the most anticipated boxing matches in recent history took place Saturday night when Gervonta “Tank” Davis defeated Ryan Garcia by seventh-round TKO before a sold-out crowd peppered with A-list sports and entertainment celebrities at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The bout represented a big win for the sport simply by taking place. Given boxing’s messy system of rival promoters and exclusive broadcast and streaming partnerships—not to mention multiple weight classes, governing bodies, etc.—the negotiations to try to put marquee matchups together fail more often than not.
But even as all the stars aligned in this case, one thing remained missing: Sponsorship. While Davis and Garcia brought personal relationships with brands such as Under Armor and Gatorade to the fight, the event itself did not have brand affiliations beyond Showtime, DAZN and the promoters, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy and TGB.
While it is true that it’s often the rights holders that are the primary beneficiaries of sponsorship, in this case partnership dollars would have been thin icing on a big cake for the above rights owners, who stand to make millions from the live gate and broadcast revenue. That is likely the reason there was no third-party brand presence.
That’s a definite shame because in addition to benefitting a brand that could have forged connections with both passionate and casual boxing fans, a Davis-Garcia promotional partnership could have delivered real value to those fans and the sport of boxing itself.
The fight was available to North American viewers through pay-per-view at a cost of $84.99, a steep price compared to most previous boxing PPVs. That alone could have made the bout a prime target for a promotion modeled on multiple successful sponsorships that Tecate beer formed with top fights early in the last decade, including a reported $5.6 million deal to be the presenting sponsor of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout in May 2015 in which the brand offered between $15 and $50 off the $89.95 PPV price with proof of purchase of one or more 18-packs.
That “Fight of the Century” marked the high-water mark in PPV buys, with 4.6 million worldwide. Since then, those numbers have dropped precipitously, making the case that a Tecate-like sponsorship that could have boosted the number of PPV purchases for Davis-Garcia would have been extremely favorable for boxing, bringing the potential of expanding its fan base at a critical time.
Consider that Stephen Espinoza, president of sports and event programming for Showtime, which produced and sold Davis-Garcia, said prior to the fight that he would be “perfectly satisfied” with a total of 400,000-500,000 domestic buys. “That’s still bigger than just about anything other than the top four or five fights we’ve seen in the last five years,” he told online boxing news channel iFL TV.
Experts in the business of boxing say the number of buys has plummeted in recent years in large part due to two reasons: Piracy—it has become easier to view PPV broadcasts without paying—and the high prices charged for legitimate viewing.
While the PPV numbers are not yet public, there is no doubt a promotional partner could have brought in more fans who were scared off by either or both the high PPV cost or pirating.