When Kelly Pavlik destroyed Gary Lockett last week in Atlantic City to retain his WBC middleweight title, only 7,168 showed up at Boardwalk Hall to see it.
Normally, the 12,000-seat venue would be near capacity. But with the price of gasoline soaring, many of Pavlik’s fans from Youngstown, Ohio, couldn’t afford to make the drive to New Jersey to support him. Top Rank president Bob Arum, who promotes Pavlik, understood.
“It would have cost them $400 to drive,” Arum said. “That’s nuts.”
With the economy continuing to take a nosedive and the price of gasoline continuing to rise on an almost daily basis, Arum and other boxing promoters are reconsidering their strategies when it comes to putting on fights in Las Vegas.
“I don’t know how you deal with the situation,” Arum said. “You drive around Las Vegas, and all the traffic jams you used to see on the Strip during the weekend don’t exist anymore. The people from California are not driving in because of the price of gas.
“The only venues that can capitalize on the situation are big-city venues that have convenient public transportation, like Madison Square Garden in New York.”
Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, said he’s looking to Europe for fans to come to the Nevada cards he stages.
“More foreigners are visiting Las Vegas because of the strength of the euro and the British pound,” Schaefer said. “It’s so cheap for them to come to Las Vegas.
“I see it as a shift in tourism. The European fans will travel. We saw it with Ricky (Hatton) and, to a lesser extent, with Joe Calzaghe. I think you’ll see more international fighters on cards in Nevada because their fans can afford to travel.”
Crown Boxing’s Frank Luca puts on ballroom fight cards at The Orleans, and the economy hasn’t impacted his business as severely.
“I still feel it, but perhaps not as hard as the others,” Luca said. “My ticket prices have always been affordable, and my purses haven’t changed. But what I find myself doing is being more selective about where we get our fighters.
“The transportation costs have risen dramatically, and you have to make sure the people you use have a following. You can’t fly people in from all over the country. A fighter has to be able to sell tickets.”
Arum has tried to keep his ticket prices in line for his events. Top Rank’s upcoming big shows — the June 28 WBC lightweight championship fight between David Diaz and Manny Pacquiao and the July 26 WBA welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito — have a scale of $100 to $700.
“You have to be realistic when you set these ticket prices,” said Arum, who will charge as little as $15 for his local card June 26 at The Orleans that will feature rising super welterweight star Vanes Martirosyan. “But pricing tickets is only one aspect of it. If people can’t get to the fight, it doesn’t matter what you charge.”
While his live gates might suffer, Arum could have an antidote in pay per view.
“We might do more volume with the pay per view,” Arum said. “People who want to see the fight but can’t afford to show up in person will likely buy the pay per view.”
Both Pacquiao and Cotto’s fights will be shown on HBO Pay Per View. That doesn’t help the hotels, who pay the promoters the site fees to stage the megafights. If people decide to stay away, that means empty rooms and less traffic at the gaming tables, restaurants, showrooms and nightclubs.
Richard Sturm, president of entertainment and sports for MGM Mirage, said despite the economic downturn that has seen gaming revenue decline for four straight months, his company won’t rethink its involvement in boxing.
“Our boxing shows have been profitable,” Sturm said. “We’re very much entertainment-driven, and I think it’s important that we continue to do these events. The arenas at MGM and Mandalay Bay have been some of our best marketing tools. People enjoy coming to those venues because they’re attached to the properties where they can enjoy the entire entertainment experience.”
For now, business in Nevada continues to be brisk. Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, said that over the next 22 days 10 events of boxing, mixed martial arts or kickboxing will be in the state.
“Every event generates revenue” for the state, Kizer said. “As far as quantity goes, we’re as busy as we’ve ever been, and, between boxing and MMA, we’ve already had some big shows in Las Vegas this year.”
According to Kizer, the NAC generated $5 million in revenue for the state in fiscal year 2007. He expects similar numbers when the current fiscal year concludes at the end of this month.
“We should do between $4 (million) and $5 million,” he said.
Still, business might not be as brisk over the second half of the year.
Despite the announcement of two big fights for the second half of the year, including Juan Manuel Marquez on Sept. 13 and Oscar De La Hoya’s final ring appearance on Dec. 6, nothing guarantees people will be able to afford to attend in person.
Even the smaller venues such as The Orleans and Cox Pavilion might struggle to do well as local fight fans have to decide if it’s worth driving to a local resort or to UNLV for a few hours of entertainment.
“You may have to buy a lot of black curtains to cover up all the empty seats,” Arum said.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.