Sponsors Crowd Around De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao Bout

HBO Pay-Per-View Event Spurs Rebate, Virtual Game, YouTube Promos

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Cable subscriptions may be among the last thing consumers cut in a recession, but what about pay-per-view events?
Coca-Cola's Full Throttle energy drink is sponsoring a game on Facebook in which players compete for a trip to Las Vegas to see the match.
Coca-Cola's Full Throttle energy drink is sponsoring a game on Facebook in which players compete for a trip to Las Vegas to see the match.

The big-ticket boxing bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao, set to air Dec. 6 on HBO's pay-per-view platform, will be perhaps the biggest test yet of consumers' entertainment budget, as a quintet of sponsors tries to help HBO, Mr. De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and Mr. Pacquiao's MP Promotions shave as much as a collective $50 off the match's $54.95 price tag.

Tecate Beer, Southwest Airlines, DeWalt Tools, Cazadores Tequila and Coca-Cola's Full Throttle energy drink face the unique challenge of helping HBO break pay-per-view records in a tight economy while still convincing viewers of their own brand's value.

Cash back for beer buyers
Tecate, for example, is offering a $20 pay-per-view mail-in rebate to anyone who buys a 12-pack, with commemorative displays rolling out in more than 1,000 retail locations to promote the match. Carlos Boughton, Tecate's brand director, said the company is spending as much as 25% more than its usual boxing-based marketing budget to promote the bout.

"If you're going to pay 55 bucks for pay-per-view, we want to make sure as many people are watching as possible," he said. "We don't really believe in the insert-brand-here approach of advertising and promotion, so this makes it worth our while. The more people that watch the fight, the better off everyone is."

Expectations are high that Saturday's bout will match and even exceed the previous pay-per-view record, set by Mr. De La Hoya himself in May 2007 for his fight against Floyd Mayweather. The fight logged 2.4 million household buys and generated $134 million in pay-per-view revenue, 1 million more buys than Mr. De La Hoya's second-biggest match in his 18-fight pay-per-view career, said Mark Taffet, HBO's senior VP-sports operations and pay-per-view. Mr. Taffet said any fight that surpasses the 1 million-buy mark could be considered a success, particularly in the current economic climate.

"Over the past few months, it's become clear we have to work a lot harder to get consumer attention," he said.

Ticket sales to the actual fight at the MGM Grand Resort in Vegas saw no such recession-related setback, with all 16,000 seats selling out in under two hours back in September.

Facebook jumps in the ring
But HBO is counting on more than just sponsors to help get the word out about the big fight. The network has also rolled out a series of web promotions, including a Full Throttle-sponsored "Dream Fight" virtual game for Facebook, in which Facebookers can fight their friends and compete for a trip to Vegas to see De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao in person.

HBO and the fight's promoters also enlisted "Extra" host Mario Lopez for a series of behind-the-scenes interviews with Mr. De La Hoya, for distribution on HBO's YouTube channel, ESPN.com, HBO.com, HBO on-demand and Extra.com. Mr. Lopez exhibits a Jeff Spicoli-like dedication to uncovering his subject, even sparring in the ring with the prizefighter in one recent clip.

Richard Schaefer, CEO of Mr. De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, hopes the new digital initiatives will help the fight reach a broader fan base beyond core 18- to 35-year-old males who normally shell out for pay-per-view boxing. "Oscar De La Hoya really transcends the sport, and therefore he's able to draw people into these events who usually might not be there."
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