LAS VEGAS — If Richard Schaefer looked a bit nervous standing near his fighters on a massive stage this week at the MGM Grand, he had good reason.
In a city of high rollers, on one of the biggest betting days of the year, the head of Golden Boy Promotions is taking the biggest gamble of all. He's got $60 million on the line that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez will not only deliver a great fight on Saturday, but deliver at the box office, too.
He's betting the 152-pound (69-kilogram) matchup between two unbeaten fighters will be a blockbuster, perhaps the richest fight ever. And right now, there are not a lot of wise guys in this gambling city who would bet against him. "My goal is to break the record," Schaefer said. "We will do 2 million homes which will make it the single biggest pay-per-view in boxing."
If it is, it will be largely because Golden Boy is charging the single biggest price ever for a boxing match, a whopping $74.95 if you want to watch in HD. That will give U.S. boxing fans at home not only the most anticipated fight in years but a 140-pound (63.5-kilogram) title fight between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse that would be a headline bout anywhere else.
Want to be there in person? The fight sold out in hours, but you can still find a seat on the main floor for $9,422. If that's too rich, the cheapest nosebleed seat on Thursday on StubHub was $1,687.
Schaefer said the fight is such a hot ticket for the celebrity crowd that they're calling asking to buy tickets instead of getting them free. Magic Johnson wanted some and so did Kobe Bryant, but his choice of ringside seats in the center of the front row were already taken.
"Saturday could be a $200 million night," Schaefer said. "Boxing is hardly a dying sport."
Not when it has the highest paid athlete in the country it isn't. Mayweather will make at least $41.5 million for the 12-round bout, bringing his salary this year to $73 million in two fights. Alvarez, the red-headed star from Mexico, won't do too badly himself, with a $5 million guarantee and a chance to make double that if the fight is a big hit.
For Schaefer and Golden Boy it's a bit more complicated. They get a windfall guarantee from the Showtime network — which Schaefer says doesn't even cover Mayweather's purse — and after splitting with cable and satellite companies they'll end up with about $35 from every house that buys the fight.
Add in a $19.9 million live gate and a few million here and there from sponsorships and foreign rights sales, and it could be a nice payday indeed for the company Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya founded.
Those in boxing familiar with big fight promotions don't think Schaefer will have to worry about closing his company's doors. He begins to make money at about 1.5 million pay-per-view buys, and the indications are that this fight will exceed that, though getting to 2 million might be tough (Mayweather's 2007 fight with De La Hoya is the biggest selling boxing pay-per-view at 2.4 million buys).
Mayweather is the big driver behind those sales, but his fight in May against Robert Guerrero was a bit of a box office dud at about 900,000 buys.
But the 23-year-old Alvarez is already a huge star in Mexico and is seen as the biggest challenger to Mayweather since he beat De La Hoya on a split decision in 2009. Oddsmakers favor Mayweather by 2½-1, narrow odds by his standards.
"Canelo is sort of a trailblazer, comparisons are being made to Oscar," said Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president of Showtime sports, who formerly worked for Golden Boy. "He's got the ability to cross over the way Oscar did, especially to non-boxing fans and women."
Indeed, Alvarez could be a breakout star in boxing if he beats Mayweather. But what the sport really needs is a competitive and exciting fight that even casual fans will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.
Whether it's the richest fight ever may not even matter.