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Pay-per-view ring sports heating up in June

Pay-per-view ring sports are about to kick into gear with a busy June, ahead of what should be a robust schedule over the balance of 2017.

Last month, Canelo Alvarez's victory over Julio Cesar Chavez on Cinco de Mayo weekend surpassed 1 million pay-per-view buys, the most for boxing since the record-setting Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao clash drew 4.4 million buys May 2, 2015, according to Golden Boy Promotions Chairman and CEO Oscar De La Hoya

This month has already seen UFC 212, in which Max Holloway knocked out Brazilian Jose Aldo in Rio de Janiero on June 3, followed by World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.'s "WWE: Extreme Rules." Time Warner Inc.'s HBO Pay-Per-View, which is producing and distributing the event live, has lined up the rematch between Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev on June 17, with "WWE: Money in the Bank" scheduled for the next night. Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s Ring of Honor Wrestling promotion will stage "Best in the World - Live!" on June 23. Viacom Inc.'s Bellator MMA, which regularly airs the promotion's events on Spike (US), heads to New York's Madison Square Garden on June 24.

UFC has other events planned this summer, including UFC 214 on July 29, showcasing a rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, and the boxing world is looking forward to Alvarez squaring off against Gennady "Triple G" Golovkin on Sept. 16.

Ward-Kovalev rematch

The undefeated Ward, who survived a second-round knockout to win a unanimous-decision by the score of 114-113 with the three judges during his first fight with Kovalev last November, will re-engage with his adversary from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on June 17. Their earlier bout drew somewhere between 160,000 and 175,000 buys.

"Competition is the selling point. The first bout could have gone either way," said Tony Walker, vice president of programming and pay-per-view for HBO Sports. "Both guys are at the peaks of their career with a lot to lose. These guys don't get along. Those elements make for an exciting fight."

Walker said HBO is plying more marketing muscle behind the rematch. HBO has put "24/7 Ward/Kovalev 2" into network rotation and the preview/review show is also available on HBO.com. A replay of the first fight will air on HBO2 on June 9 and 10. The media plan largely focuses on the top 15 PPV markets with TV, digital and radio in the mix, as well as outdoor in select markets, including San Francisco and a billboard at New York/New Jersey's Lincoln Tunnel.

Mark Boccardi, senior vice president of programming and business development at iN DEMAND, which distributes events, movies and other content to operator affiliates, expects Kovalev-Ward to have strong appeal among pure boxing fans and said there is "excitement among affiliates for the rematch."

Bellator's big play

The iN DEMAND executive is also curious to see how Bellator NYC performs. "This is a test of Bellator upping its talent level, improving its brand and using the marketing capabilities wielded by Viacom. No other ring sports organization has the array of resources Viacom has," Boccardi said in an interview.

Bellator president Scott Coker said the card, headlined by Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko against Matt Mitrione, will benefit from a multimillion dollar, multiplatform campaign that encompasses "lots of digital, social, print, radio and TV, including buys on ESPN (US)."

Coker said the undercard for the June 24 event will be simulcast on Spike, which has been averaging 900,000 viewers with its Bellator event programming, and fellow Viacom service, CMT (US), from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night. A Spike spokesman said Viacom is "supporting the event across all platforms."

Additionally, Bellator sponsors Miller Lite, Monster Energy, Dave & Buster's and Blackheart Rum are engaged in marketing activations touting the card and awarding winners with VIP experiences for the event or a chance to meet MMA legends.

Coker said Bellator NYC is also being sold into bars/taverns and other venues by G&G Closed Circuit Events, and it will be available in some 400 theaters via Fathom Events.

Internationally, the event will air in 150 countries, largely via over-the-air outlets, which are paying license fees for the rights to the card. "There are lots of ways to monetize the event," Coker said.

Although he doesn't believe Bellator will present another PPV card in 2017, Coker said the promotion may look to present a handful of PPV events per year, "when it makes sense with the best fighters, men and/or women."

What's next

There could still be a July 1 PPV card from Top Rank, featuring Pacquiao and Jeff Horn from Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. While both Boccardi and Walker said their companies could accommodate the event, time is drawing short for a distribution decision. "We love working with Manny," said Walker, "but you need time to market. There would have to be something by this weekend [June 9-11]."

Walker said HBO will throw plenty of support behind Golovkin and Alvarez, and "you're going to see big plans from [promoters] Golden Boy and K2. ... This is going to be the biggest event since Mayweather-Pacquiao."

De La Hoya said the fight could draw up to 3 million buys.

IN DEMAND has already hosted a number of conference calls with cable operators discussing marketing plans for the Sept. 16 event from the T-Mobile Arena. "I have not seen this level of excitement for a boxing event in a long time," said Boccardi, who also believes triple G-Alvarez will score as the biggest PPV event since Pacquiao-Mayweather.

But Boccardi said there is nothing definitive at the moment about the spectacle that could pit Mayweather, coming out of retirement, to battle UFC star Conor McGregor.

"We're cautiously optimistic," he added, while also noting other UFC scenarios that could arise during the second half of the year.

"If he does fight Floyd, Conor's next UFC bout likely would be pushed into 2018," said Boccardi. He said there has been no confirmation either way about whether Ronda Rousey ever steps into the UFC Octagon again. He also noted that there could be other action from Jones and Cormier this year and said that Georges St. Pierre is ready to return after injury.

Walker said HBO has historically been involved with a PPV event in November, but has not yet heard from a promoter about a potential card.