CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Floyd Mayweather has all the hallmarks of a breakthrough athlete.
The onetime welterweight champion had star turns on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," the WWE's "Wrestlemania" and even his own HBO miniseries and -- in an undefeated boxing career that's seen him post 41 wins -- he has emerged not only as arguably his sport's most-dominant athlete but also it's most-compelling personality. That status was confirmed in his recent defeat of "Sugar" Shane Mosley that grossed more than $78 million, the second highest-grossing pay-per-view fight in boxing history.
So, considering Mr. Mayweather has the media and the fans in his corner, one wonders: Where are the brands?
While Mr. Mayweather does have a shoe deal with Reebok and has been featured in an AT&T commercial alongside TV anchor Bill Kurtis, he's had strikingly few personal endorsement deals for an athlete of his fame and stature.
HBO, which broadcasts the boxer's pay-per-view fights, estimates Mr. Mayweather alone has brought in $292 million in pay-per-view revenue for the network in the six fights he participated in prior to the Mosley match -- ranking him second only to Mike Tyson in terms of revenue. Those six matches yielded 5.5 million total buys, an average 900,000 buys a fight. "There's a reason they call him 'Money' Mayweather," said Mark Taffet, HBO's senior VP of Pay Per View.
What's holding Mr. Mayweather back, sports marketing experts say, is boxing's dwindling profile.
"It's shocking how minimal the interest [in boxing] is today to someone of a certain age," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago consultancy SportsCorp. "But what you've had is decades of corruption, self-dealing and treating people the wrong way that's opened the door for things like [mixed martial arts]." Mr. Ganis adds that the only boxers who are interesting to marketers these days tend to carry ethnic folk-hero status that's easily converted into marketing programs, such as Mexican-American boxing great Oscar De La Hoya and welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao, who was just elected to congress in the Philippines. Mr. Pacquiao is the Michael Jordan of the Philippines, where he works with McDonald's, San Miguel Beer and telco firm PLDT, as well as Nike, which maintains a dedicated microsite for the boxer.
That wasn't always the case for boxing. Dating back to the 1920s, heavyweight champs such as Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali were top endorsers and often the highest-paid athletes of their eras. And charismatic boxers in other divisions, like Sugar Ray Leonard, the Mayweather of his generation, appeared in the early '80s in ads for 7 Up (featuring rival Roberto Duran and their children) and Diet Coke. And in the endless cola combat of those days, Diet Pepsi got into the ring with Mike Tyson.
Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe disagreed that boxing's sorry state is holding Mr. Mayweather back, saying the issue had more to do with an economy that's limited the prospects for multi-year arrangements, as well as Mr. Mayweather's scarce schedule (he fights only about twice a year). The boxer had also briefly retired from the ring.
And, Mr. Ellerbe noted, while Mr. Mayweather isn't netting much in the way of endorsements, his fights are. The Mayweather-Mosley bout attracted the most promotional partners ever for a pay-per-view boxing match, estimates Golden Boy's chief marketing officer, Bruce Binkow, with Tecate beer, AT&T, DeWalt Tools and StubHub collectively shelling out several million dollars' worth in marketing and retail support.
Several sponsors, including Tecate and DeWalt, have devoted marketing and in-store efforts to offering consumers rebates for a certain amount off the $55 pay-per-view fee with purchase of their products. The result has been a measurable impact on sales from previous promotions.
Danielle Maged, head of business development and partnerships for ticket marketplace site StubHub, the Mayweather-Mosley fight's official marketplace partner, said two of the top five highest-grossing fights in StubHub history are Mayweather fights. "He attracts the mainstream boxing fan, and we'll generally see him leading the most ticketing activity in the week leading up to a fight," she said.