Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 20 News List

De La Hoya still a major attraction on pay-per-view TV

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Even in losing by a knockout on Saturday to Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya continued to proved his potency in pay-per-view TV.

The undisputed middleweight championship fight drew a million buyers and grossed US$56 million, according to HBO Pay-Per-View.

At that level, it was the second-most-lucrative non-heavyweight fight ever, exceeded by the De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight in 1999 that was bought by 1.4 million homes and grossed US$71 million.

The leader was the rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson in 1997 that was seen in 1.99 million homes and grossed US$100 million.

With the Hopkins and Trinidad shows, De La Hoya owns the top four non-heavyweight pay-per-view events. The other two were 950,000 buys for his rematch last year against Shane Mosley and 935,000 buys for his 2002 bout against Fernando Vargas.

"Oscar De La Hoya is one of the biggest franchises in the history of pay-per-view," said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of HBO Sports.

For the 16 pay-per-view cards that De La Hoya has starred in since 1995, he has persuaded 9.5 million buyers to pay an astonishing US$444 million.

De La Hoya, like Julio Cesar Chavez before him, is extremely strong in Hispanic markets, especially in the Southwest and California. "They bring in a disproportionate number of the buyers when Oscar fights," Taffet said.

But Taffet said that Hopkins' strength in the Northeast, particularly in Philadelphia, helped push sales to cable and satellite subscribers to one million. "Oscar's fights perform best when the other boxer brings a lot to the fight," he added.

This was Hopkins' biggest test in the market, but four months from his 40th birthday, he is too old for his pugilistic and marketing savvy to make him a pay-per-view legend.

A rematch against De La Hoya, Trinidad or Roy Jones Jr. would almost certainly bring well more than the US$9 million he was guaranteed Saturday. But any of those fights could be his last, because he said he did not want to fight past 40.

Hopkins has been an infrequent pay-per-view boxer, largely because he built his reputation without becoming a cross-over icon like De La Hoya. Hopkins' previous best performance, 480,000 buys, owed more to the presence of Trinidad, whom he dissected in that 2001 fight, than his own popularity.

As excited as boxing insiders get at hitting the 1 million pay-per-view mark, it is still a small part of the American viewing public.

An audience of 5 million, for example, would match up with last week's episode of ABC's George Lopez, the 64th-ranked program, but would be less than one-quarter of the 22 million who tuned in to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Some reality series drew much better: Survivor had an audience of 20 million, and The Apprentice 2 had 15.9 million.

The 5 million figure would be roughly comparable to the 4.8 million who watched the latest episode of De La Hoya's Fox boxing reality series, The Next Great Champ, the 69th-ranked prime-time show of the week.

The viewership was disappointing for prime-time entertainment, and as a reality series, it is not weird enough.

"It's unfortunate that unless you show a bunch of girls in bikinis or families trading their wives, you'll be hurt in the ratings," said Richard Schaefer, executive director of De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Maybe, he suggested, "we should have people vote for the best-looking ring-card girl."

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