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HBO's Back In The Ring

11/07/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

HBO hopes its Nov. 14 Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto boxing match will continue to build on the strong performances of its first two events and set the stage for a big year in 2010.

The bout, which pits Pacquiao, considered the world's best pound-for-pound boxer, against welterweight champ Cotto, will be supported by a major marketing and promotional campaign, as the network looks to score a knockout pay-per-view performance similar to its two prior events this year.

HBO's May 2 Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight drew more than 850,000 PPV buys, while the Sept. 19 Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Márquez match drew more than one million buys.

“The Pacquiao-Hatton and Mayweather-Márquez fights really created momentum in the industry that has resulted in a lot of anticipation for this fight to cap off a strong year and to continue to see mega PPV numbers in the category,” said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of sports operations for HBO. Taffet would not project how many buys Pacquiao-Cotto might generate.

“Pacquiao-Cotto is a phenomenal fight — it's one of the best matchups that a fan can conceive of in the sport today, and we believe that we have another mega-fight.”

The fight, which carries a suggested retail price of $54.95, has drawn blue-chip sponsors including AT&T, which will have in-ring signage and has produced a commercial for the fight that also promotes its texting and GoPhone applications, according to HBO Sports vice president and general manager Tammy Ross.

Other sponsors include Tecate beer, which is offering a $25 rebate for the fight with the purchase of a six-pack.

On the marketing side, the network has implemented a “very aggressive rate card” for the event, although Ross would not reveal specific terms. She did say HBO is asking for better placement of fight spots on higher-rated networks during viewer-heavy dayparts, such as weeknight primetime, in return for a better split of fight revenue.

HBO is providing operators a chance to gain rate card credit by running a set number of fight spots on key Hispanic networks.

“We have 19 of the top 20 markets agreeing to the card, which covers targeted spots as well as some [run-of-schedule] spots, and we're finding that the targeting is really working for us significantly — people are seeing it and we're getting effective placement of cross channel,” she said.

The fight's marketing message will also have a strong digital-media presence. More than two dozen sites — from Comcast's Fancast to national sites such as AOL.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! Sports and HBO.com — will feature expandable banner ads that include video and other promotional materials for the fight, Ross said.

As with the Mayweather-Márquez fight, consumers will also be able to watch the fighter weigh-in Nov. 13 via the expandable Web banners.

The network will also step up its mobile marketing efforts with a heavy push toward Hispanic households. HBO will run messages on Hispanic radio outlets encouraging listeners to text a keyword to a phone number to get fight content, including highlights from past Pacquiao and Cotto fights.

Overall, about 95% of HBO/distributor co-op marketing efforts for this event are in the digital-media platform, according to Ross.

Taffet said the fight's outcome will set the stage for a potentially lucrative year for the category in 2010. Certainly, the most anticipated fight of the year would be a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout, but Taffet said other fights in the welterweight class featuring such boxers as Hatton, Márquez, Cotto and Shane Mosley could produce several big PPV paydays.

Still, much like in 2009, Taffet said HBO will be very selective with regards to offering PPV events, with no more than three or four mega-events on tap for the year.

“We found a balance and equation that has helped fuel tremendous growth in the sport and we believe it's the right equation going forward,” Taffet said. “PPV is opportunistic and will be there whenever a mega-fight arises.”

September