VERONA, N.Y. - The bodyguard appears first.
Alfonso Redic is the 7’1”, 430-pound megalith of a man strolling into the auditorium at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino ahead of three other men who aren’t much smaller. Hidden among them, as fans snap photos and plead for autographs, strides a superstar boxer and the promoter of tonight’s fight card, Floyd Mayweather.
The event will air nationally in the U.S. on cable TV, but the biggest attraction is the fighter seated at ringside. Mayweather stands 5’8” and will weigh 147 pounds for Saturday’s bout against Argentina’s Marcos Maidana, but he towers over his sport both fistically and financially.
Undefeated in 45 fights, Mayweather has become the world’s highest-paid athlete by acting as his own promoter. After residual revenue from his 2013 fights trickles in, he’ll have made more than $112 million (U.S.) last year. In an industry where 700,000 pay-per-view buys makes an event a big success, Mayweather’s last five bouts have averaged nearly 1.5 million.
Surpassing 1 million pay-per-view buys is tougher against Maidana, who lacks a large U.S. following, and other business pitfalls loom as Mayweather enters the second half of his 30-month, $250 million contract with the Showtime cable network.
Mayweather remains the sport’s biggest draw and a one-man stimulus package for casinos, cable companies and fighters alike, but at 37 how much longer can he remain the biggest engine driving boxing’s economy?
The fighter himself says he can remain atop both the sport and the business until he retires.
But after that?
“I want to help this sport live on. I want to help this sport continue to grow,” Mayweather said during a conference call last week. “After this fight we have to be looking for the next Floyd Mayweather. We have to be looking for the next pay-per-view star.”
Descending the ring steps after a hard-fought loss, Lanardo “The Pain Server” Tyner sees Mayweather ringside and spots an opportunity. As Tyner trudges past, he and Mayweather meet eyes, touch fists and exchange words.
Most of Mayweather’s negotiations occur in boardrooms, but this one takes place on the way to the dressing room. Two weeks later he hires Tyner as a sparring partner.
In 2012, a domestic battery case earned Mayweather 90 days in jail, but a judge delayed the start of the sentence until after a bout with Miguel Cotto. Mayweather’s lawyers argued a cancelation with would deprive Las Vegas of $100 million in economic activity.
It’s not clear if that includes what Mayweather spends on his support staff, but Tyner, a 39-year-old welterweight from Detroit, says he and others benefit from the champion’s trickle-down economics. Tyner typically makes $1,000 a week as a headline fighter’s sparring partner, but says Mayweather doubles that pay and adds perks.
“Mayweather pays real nice, and you get days off sometimes because he has so many sparring partners,” Tyner says. “You don’t have to box all the time. It’s more (money) than I’ve made in a minute.”
But while Mayweather’s extra investment in preparation pays dividends in the ring, he hasn’t been as meticulous about monetizing the massive personal brand he calls The Money Team.
While rival fighter Manny Pacquiao pitches everything from razors to tablet computers to cognac, Mayweather achieves his chart-topping earnings without a single major brand endorsement. So the man nicknamed “Money” is still leaving a lot of it on the table.
“We’ve had opportunities to do different things, but he does have an endorsement,” says Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “The Money Team. That’s his brand. He’s endorsed by The Money Team.”
Still, Pacquiao and Top Rank, the promotional company that employs him, set the standard in generating revenue beyond the ring.
Mayweather is active on social networks like Instagram, and teamed with pop star Justin Beiber to invest in Shots, an iPhone-based photo sharing platform that focuses on selfies. Top Rank, meanwhile, has partnered with MLB Advance Media on a mobile app that streams live fights and archives old ones.
And while Pacquiao’s Nike deal includes several lines of branded apparel, Mayweather’s merchandise comprises mainly gaudy t-shirts and hats, and steeply priced baubles — like a $30 “Money Band” — that appeal to his most dedicated fans but few others.
“It’s more advantageous to work those networks that already exist. They have the connections,” says marketing agent Quency Phillips, CEO of the Que Agency. “(Michael) Jordan didn’t just start based on his own brand. He connected with Nike. Then it became Brand Jordan.”
But the figure that matters most to Mayweather’s personal brand is zero, for the number of losses on his record.
Mayweather is worth a quarter billion dollars to Showtime because being undefeated sets him apart. But selling his bouts means portraying him as both invincible and vulnerable, convincing fans that, unlike every other opponent, the current foe has a solid shot at winning.
With so much staked on Mayweather’s perfect record, a loss on Saturday could topple the entire empire. Or, says Showtime Sports executive VP Stephen Espinoza, it could lead to an even bigger payday for everyone involved.
“There’s a segment of the population that tunes in to see Floyd lose — the greater the risk, the more people are attracted,” Espinoza says. “Floyd’s biggest fight will be the one after he loses, if he ever loses . . . (it) would be something that we’d be very, very happy to promote.”