On Saturday night, a pay-per-view event stands to score an estimated U.S. take of $500M-plus. If it were a movie, that figure easily would land in the list of 10 top-grossing films of all time.
Obviously we’re taking about the boxing match between the undefeated, five-division, 11-time world boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr., 40, and Irish UFC lightweight champ Conor McGregor, 29, aka “The Money Fight,” which will air live from the 20K-seat T-Mobile arena in Paradise, NV.
That PPV revenue projection is based off the $99.95 rental fee and easily will eclipse the 4.6M buys ($460M) of the 2015 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout. Worldwide, Saturday’s fight is forecasted to generate $700M to the 2015 match’s $600M. Uber-aggressive estimates even are predicting $1 billion worldwide. Reported estimated venue ticket sales for Mayweather-McGregor are expected to near $90M, besting the $72M made by Mayweather-Pacquiao. The largest number of ticket sales for any UFC fight featuring McGregor amounted to just under $18M, and that was November’s UFC 205 in New York, when McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight belt.
For many fans, Mayweather-McGregor is a dream match in the Batman vs. Superman playground notion of the word, a fight proposed by Conan O’Brien two years ago when McGregor was a guest on his late-night TBS show. For UFC and boxing, it’s a battle of the brands between the 23-year-old lion cub, UFC, which was valued a year ago in its recent sale to WME|IMG for $4 billion, and the much older boxing, a sport that the Los Angeles Times boldly declared last year was “dead” given its shortage of talent and waning PPV revenue (Mayweather’s last fight, with Andre Berto in September 2015, drew only 550K PPV buys or an estimated $38M).
On Saturday, it’s Mayweather’s ring, and McGregor will conform to boxing’s rules, meaning no kicking, no elbows, no grappling. There’s concern that it’s a risky fight: Mayweather is coming out of a nearly two-year retirement but is the more knowledgeable, undefeated pugilist. But McGregor has his age and size working in his favor. The Association of Ringside Physicians recently expressed a great concern over the Nevada commission’s OK for the fighters to use 8 oz. gloves instead of 10 oz. which is the normal rule for boxers weighing more than 135 pounds. An 8 oz. glove comes with less padding, working in the favor of the near bare-knuckle, faster puncher, who is McGregor. The whole bout harkens back to when Muhammad Ali fought Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in June 1976, a battle that’s seen as one of the early forerunners to mixed martial arts. That fight went 15 rounds and wound up in a draw. Ali came away with a bleeding and swollen left leg, as well as two blood clots that would impair him for the rest of his career.
Should Mayweather win Saturday’s fight, he will officially beat Rocky Marciano’s storied 49-0 career record, which Mayweather matched after his fight with Berto. How much Mayweather and McGregor will haul away from the fight is unknown and is based on global PPV subscriptions, ticket sales and sponsorships: Reportedly, Mayweather collected a $100M guarantee after beating Pacquiao in May 2015, and his purse could be significantly larger, with many projecting that McGregor will clear $50M-$70M.
Saturday’s “Money Fight” makes this weekend’s box office look like a joke. After last weekend registered the lowest three-day at the domestic box office for 2017 with $95.9M for 100-plus reported titles, this weekend will register another low, -11% and estimated at $85M per analysts. However, this weekend’s swamp at the B.O. has less to do with any competition from the Mayweather-McGregor fight — “It sure as hell isn’t impacting Leap!,” cracked one distribution head about this weekend’s animated family offering — and more to do with the lackluster product that is out on the marquee coupled with the fact that it’s a sluggish time at the summer B.O.
Still, it’s an interesting juxtaposition between theatrical box office and the PPV fight because it loudly shows that great content rules even at this late point in the summer. Given how most older males will be glued to the TV set on Saturday night, box office analysts expect Lionsgate’s action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard to be down 5% more than usual in its Saturday play. Should the Ryan Reynolds-Samuel L. Jackson film hold No. 1 at -53% in its second weekend with $10M, that would be considered great, though some think it could be steeper. Other new entries this weekend include the Weinstein Co.’s Leap! ($4M-$5M opening) at 2,570 theaters and Sony Affirm’s faith-based title All Saints at 700 sites ($3M-$4M).
But essentially, if there was a huge five-quad tentpole in the marketplace, the Mayweather-McGregor fight wouldn’t slow it. During the first weekend of May 2015 when Mayweather-Pacquiao occurred, Disney/Marvel opened Avengers: Age of Ultron, which posted the then-second-best weekend ever at the domestic box office with $191.3M (this was before Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ranked on the all-time U.S./Canada openers list). Prior to that, the previous big fight was Mayweather’s September 14, 2013, bout with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, and that weekend yielded a record opening for a September live-action title as Insidious: Chapter 2 banked $40.3M.
“If audiences want to go to the movies, they will shift their schedule accordingly to both go to the movies as well as watch the fight,” 20th Century Fox domestic distribution boss Chris Aronson tells Deadline.
Given the fact that older men might head to the box office on either a Friday or Sunday, BH Tilt and WWE Studios are opening their co-acquisition, the Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon, in 1,600 locations, hoping to whet guys’ palates outside Mayweather-McGregor. But the movie is expected to make only $3M off a microbudget P&A spend.
Fathom Events will be showing the Mayweather-McGregor fight in about 500 theater locations on Saturday night, its 10th Mayweather fight and 18th boxing event overall since it began live transmission of bouts on the big screen in 2009. Ticket prices are set by each theater, but they average $40 a person. Mayweather-Alvarez was Fathom’s biggest grosser, drawing 73K attendees and over $1M in box office ticket sales. Mayweather-McGregor is expected to blow those figures away given its enormous pre-sales. Typically, these Fathom boxing events pull in an audience that buys their tickets at the window, so already Mayweather-McGregor is an anomaly. Over the last eight years, Fathom counts north of 400K attendees at its boxing events.
Showtime will be the domestic PPV broadcaster of Mayweather-McGregor. While the fight will be available to purchase on any cable or satellite box, it’s also being made available through a new Showtime PPV app — which is different from Showtime’s new streaming service — so that viewers can watch on their phones or desktops. That said, given the fact that the boxing match also can be seen in more than 6,000 restaurants and bars in the U.S., and given the group-buy nature of PPV, it’s not expected that the online streaming revenue of the fight will bring in earth-shattering numbers. The fight can be seen in as many as 200 countries. Mayweather-McGregor happens this Saturday at 9 PM ET/6 PM PST in the U.S., and it’s part of a four-fight package.