Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Mayweather vs Marquez Big Screen Experience

Last night's HBO PPV show played live at movie theaters across the United States, and Jeff Pryor was one of the many boxing fans that witnessed the larger than life action on the big screen.

Mayweather's gleaming smile 20 feet wide. Marquez's cup of urine, ten feet tall. The fever dream of a punch drunk fisticuffs fanatic? Not if you were at one of 170 or so theaters on fight night.

Sometimes harkening back to an earlier era can seem entirely new... even innovative. This past Saturday night for "Number one, Numero Uno", the Mayweather-Marquez mash up, Golden Boy Promotions went old school with a twist and brought a live boxing event back to the cineplex just as it used to be in the days before cable, satellite, pay per view and internet streaming.

Before these modern accouterments of boxing viewing, there was a period of time in postwar Hollywood where an invention emblazoned "Theater Television" came about as a secondary source of income for boxing promoters. In this case filmed events were presented at a later date within the theaters, bringing a whole new audience that otherwise may not have had the opportunity to see the spectacle. Later, these re-broadcasts would go live...

On March 28th 1958, Sugar Ray Robinson's second bout with Carmen Basilio was screened at 174 theaters in 140 cities, with 364,876 attendees bringing in over 1.4 million dollars in revenue. This was by most reports the first live closed-circuit boxing broadcast. The new revenue stream was a portent of things to come for boxing promotion.

As things evolved and widespread live broadcasts became easier to deliver, Patterson-Liston's first go around in 1962 was a record setter which drew over 563,000 spectators to the screens and netted 4.5 million dollars. Most notably Ali and Frazier's "Fight of the Century" was a closed circuit smash where it has been estimated that more than 300 million watched the bout.

During this period in the fifties, sixties and seventies the chief idea of closed circuit was largely to expand the available "gate audience" by setting up satellite locations, whether it be theaters, arenas, or even community halls in which to sell more tickets. Fans enjoyed the atmosphere, bigger screens and feeling like they were a part of the event.

Actor Burt Lancaster remarked that the crowd was so into the Bonavena-Ali Closed-circuit broadcast he attended that some of the fans were yelling at the screen "Shut up, Howard. Let us watch the fight!" Towards the always loquacious Howard Cossell's commentary.

Promotors, who originally charged $5-$10 per seat for closed circuit broadcasts, slowly ratcheted up the price to $25 and higher by the eighties. At $30 a pop, the prices caused one fan, Johnny Carlstom, who was among the 2000 who attended the infamous "No Mas" bout at the closed circuit location of Harrah's casino in Reno, to exclaim "I'll tell you one thing. I'm never going to pay to see a fight again." Would that you hadn't Johnny... would that you hadn't.

As the economics of the sport shifted, and the networks, ABC, NBC and CBS started getting priced out of bigger fights, closed circuit became a necessity as opposed to a luxury for promoters. By the end of the eighties, with the boxing fan base tapering off, closed circuit locations gave way to closed circuit in your living room... pay per view, at even more exorbitant prices.

Flash forward to September 19th, 2009. Boxing's return to movie theaters.

With the HD Pay Per View broadcast of the Mayweather-Marquez card clocking in at $60, a new, less expensive, alternative was a welcome sight. The ticket I bought to watch bludgeoning on the big screen was $12.50, though reportedly tickets were $15 elsewhere.

The broadcast started at 7:30pm, with the half hour PPV hype show and continued with the entire HBO broadcast to credits.

The city I watched from has a population of about 60,000. I'd wager one citizen for every thousand showed up. For the mathematically challenged, of which I am one, that's about sixty people who sat in the cinema for four and a half hours to watch the men fight.

The crowd came to life at times with Locke and Cruz exchanging in the opener, with Katsidis' peppering Escobedo on the ropes, when Juarez summed up his entire career by falling short in the explosive, but frustrating waning seconds of his rematch with Chris John, and in moments when Marquez clipped Mayweather clean or Mayweather blitzed Juan with flashy salvos.

In short, it was a good crowd, with a little cheering, a little clapping, a little cat calling; and overall an enthusiastic atmosphere and a great way to watch a fight.

My only previous "Closed-Circuit" experience was earlier this year in February at Madison Square Garden, when after Miguel Cotto's bout with Michael Jennings they screened Kelly Pavlik's fight against Marco Antonio Rubio on the jumbo-tron for those of us in attendance.

Like that experience, this one gave me a nostalgic flash point for what it might have been like to watch one of those classic bouts of the seventies with a roomful of other boxing mavens; removed from the location, but somehow still a part of the spectacle together.

Really, the only problem I had, was that the projector of the theater I was at was lacking it's blue gun. Broadcast signals are made up of blue, green and red image feeds. Without the blue, for instance, the image looks overly red and muted. Chris John's trunks were Gatti's favorite color, blue? Not for us. They were a pale teal green.

For me that's a major issue, but I doubt it bothered most. Aside from isolated instances like that, the technology infrastructure across the United States these days likely means that doing a large scale event broadcast like this went off relatively flawlessly.

Depending on what deal Golden Boy worked out with the third party theater distribution company they used to get the fight to theaters, one would think this was a profitable venture for them and hopefully enough so that others will follow suit and offer major boxing events in theaters on a regular basis.

The bottom line is that seeing Marquez and Mayweather, larger than life playing before us on the big screen was pretty great. The price was right, and I wouldn't hesitate to forego my living room, for the cinema again should another big fight get the hollywood treatment.

To re-coin an old phrase; A good fight seen bigger, beats a good fight seen smaller.

It could be a winning strategy for boxing in the coming years.

e-mail Jeff Pryor


Manny said...

I went to one of the San Diego theaters, it was a packed house (300 plus people) and alot of fun. It was the best 15 bucks ive spent in a long time. I hope boxing does this again maybe for Cotto & Pacquio?

LatinoPorVida said...

Too bad oh Canada did not air this fight live hopefully for Pacquiao vs Cotto they will.

Anyhow I still had a good time at a local bar drinking my Corona's as I yelled "Dinamita" even though I knew Mayweather was going to win.

In the end it's all good, all fun, I had a great time! I love boxing! The fights weren't as exciting as I expected but the crowd sure made up for it!

After the main fight was done with both Mayweather and Marquez fans celebrated now that's what I like to see.

Jason said...

I too was at one of the San Diego theaters (LJ) and agree with Manny that is was a great experience. Coming from the East Coast, I did not expect a big crowd in a pretty sleepy sports town like San Diego so I was pleasantly surprised, especially on a night with a UFC card on PPV. If you're a guy like me who only has one or two friends that like boxing, it makes perfect sense to pay 15 each to watch it in a theater than host everyone at your place for 50. I'm also hoping they have Pacman-Cotto in this format.