Disappointed that there’s no legal way to stream Saturday night’s fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao? Pacquiao’s promotion company shares your pain. Todd duBoef, the president of Top Rank, told Bloomberg that his company wanted to offer fans a way to pay to watch the fight online, but Showtime and HBO vetoed the idea. “It wasn’t a decision I was in favor of, but I understood why they wanted to do it,” he said.
Top Rank has seen streaming as an increasingly important part of its business since 2012, when it started a partnership with MLB Advanced Media. The first boxing match that it put online was a controversial fight where Timothy Bradley seemed to lose to Pacquiao, but was then awarded a split decision. DuBoef says the company approaches its fights with the expectation of streaming them online.
Neither Showtime nor HBO is a stranger to streaming, but they weren’t interested in playing along this time, presumably because they want viewers to buy the $100 pay-per-view package. Showtime advertises Showtime Championship Boxing, a show that airs live bouts, as part of its mobile viewing app. While HBO has delighted cord cutters with its recent introduction of HBO Now, boxing fans have been grumbling that it doesn’t offer live boxing matches online. Matches are available on HBO’s streaming services 24 to 48 hours after they're completed, unless they appeared on pay-per-view. Raymond Stallone, a spokesperson for HBO Sports, said the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight won’t be available on HBO Go by Monday, but didn’t specify what might happen after that date. In any case, most of the people who are interested in the fight aren’t willing to wait even that long.
Stallone says the company didn’t have a discussion with Top Rank about making an online stream available in the U.S. “Our focus is on terrestrial TV and a secure method to deliver the Mayweather-Pacquiao event to the masses,” he said in an e-mail. Showtime didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It’s not surprising that the organizers of a boxing match would be wary of streaming. The entire sporting industry is holding its content back from online distribution in a way that frustrates at least a portion of its fan base. The risk of putting events online is that it will undermine the traditional profit centers of the industry. But many people think the lack of a legitimate option for streaming is a major reason people turn to piracy in the first place. Type “HBO streaming boxing” into Google and the top results are piracy sites.
As I wrote earlier this week, illicit streaming is a major concern for everyone involved in Saturday’s fight. HBO, Showtime, and promoters for Mayweather and Pacquiao filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to block two sites that had been advertising free streams. But it’s very difficult to shut the entire piracy industry down. DuBoef says that most pirated boxing streams originate from legal over-the-air or cable signals in international markets, and are redirected online. He says the fight’s organizers have been aggressively pursuing violations of intellectual property, from contacting bars that are rerouting personal pay-per-view subscriptions to hold viewing parties; to sending cease-and-desist letters to beer distributors claiming to have some official connection to the fight; to working with Internet providers to tamp down streaming. “We’re seeing a lot of piracy of everything,” he says.