Nov 12, 2009 at 05:09 PM
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Is Boxing Back For Mainstream Sponsors?

Looking at the line up of sponsors that promoter, Top Rank, has assembled for this weekend's Pacquiao/Cotto fight, you might think so. For one fight, at least.

Sponsors for this weekend's blockbuster bout at Las Vegas' MGM Grand now include AT&T, Mexican beer Tecate, The History Channel, Smart Phone, and Aeromexico, announced at this week's pre-fight press conference.

Michael Marley of the NY Boxing Examiner writes:

"Boxing has gone above and beyond “Just For Men Hair Coloring,” the loyal boxing sponsor which has more or less carried the ESPN boxing series in recent years."

Indeed, as UFC has soared in popularity and expanded to include several non-endemic sponsors, in recent years it seems boxing has been headed in the opposite direction partly due to the loss of some of the sport's most marketable personalities. Dana White, president of the UFC, thinks that the personalities are what drove boxing in the first place.

"[Boxing fans] show up to see Floyd Mayweather not fight," White said earlier this year. "This guy will run around in circles … you're going to pay $55, $60 to see 'Dancing With the Stars' with Mayweather again. On that same night, you can all tune in [to the UFC] to see five great fights for $10 less."

Part of the commercial for this particular fight extends to the international appeal of having a filipino-born Pacquiao battle a Puerto Rican icon in Miguel Cotto. In Manila, for instance, six giant viewing screens throughout the city will show the bout live to up to 20,000 residents of the Philippines. Top Rank has capitalized on this fight's particular appeal to the latin community by securing mainstream sponsors that resonate with this demographic.

Top Rank President Todd duBoef says that for this fight they have rejected some sponsors including an energy drink. "We are looking for a higher level of sponsors and we've been getting them," duBoef said adding that many high profile, potential sponsors will be in attendance for this weekend's fight.

These 'potential sponsors' might be getting pitched on a Yankee stadium blockbuster in 2010 and a more sponsor/marketing-friendly product, taking a page from rival UFC's playbook. That's what Top Rank's Bob Arum alluded to in a pretty candid interview at Yankee stadium announcing the fight.

Charged with making Top Rank's product more sponsor-friendly is New York-based Leverage Agency, which has helped secure sponsors like The History Channel for this weekend's fight.

"The demand is certainly there and advertisers are starting to really understand boxing and it is now back in the main stream," Leverage Agency founder Ben Sturner told SponsorPitch.

So is this weekend's fight simply a perfect storm of strong personalities and appealing demographics or an indicator of boxing's rebirth as a commercial property?

"This all feels to me like the 80s," Top Rank's Bob Arum says. "We had Sugar Ray (Leonard) and Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns. We are in that era again. I'm really enthusiastic. not only because I think Pacquiao-Cotto is going to be a great fight. But I'm enthusiastic because I can see a rebirth of boxing."

Time will tell whether mainstream sponsors see boxing's future in the same light.