During every stop of the four-city press tour to promote his fight against Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather strode onto the stage carrying a backpack full of money. On the first stop in Los Angeles, he supposedly had a yet-to-be-deposited $100 million check. At subsequent events, it was varying amounts of bundled cash, which on the third stop in New York, he took out and hurled at his opponent and onto the stage.
He could afford to do that, just as everyone on the stage could afford to not scramble around and pick up the loose bills, because there will be many more bags of money for all involved once the fight takes place.
Make no mistake, Mayweather will be making more money than anyone. While most fighters' accounts pale in comparison to their promoters', Mayweather is legitimately his own promoter. When the 40-year-old steps in the ring, he not only earns his fight purse, he also collects revenue from television rights fees, ticket sales, sponsorships, even concession stand sales. Fans can't even buy a hot dog in the arena without giving their money to Mayweather. While many boxers have tried to follow in his footsteps by setting up dummy promotional outfits that would seem to be for nothing more than show, they haven't tapped into the same revenue streams as him.
Though there is a non-disclosure agreement on releasing firm financial numbers of either party, if Mayweather and his camp are to be believed, he will take home in the neighborhood of $350 million, joining Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as the only athletes to earn $1 billion-plus from their sporting careers.
"Everyone in boxing wants to operate in this small circle. Floyd's been able to show you why you don't have to, and that's why he's in the position that he's in, going out there being his own boss, being his promoter and doing things the way he wants to do them. Exposing the fans to something different," Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe recently said.
Mayweather-McGregor is certainly something different, a rare accomplishment in a sport as old and as storied as boxing. While the closest historical comparison may be to the 1976 fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, even that is a bit of a stretch. It's similar in that the personalities are just as big, but different in that the rules are agreed upon and Vince McMahon isn't meddling in the negotiations trying to get one of the fighters gouged with a razor blade to enhance the drama. This is the most prominent mixed martial artist on the planet trying to defeat the greatest boxer of his generation in a boxing match.
Therein lies the main reason why the fight was difficult to make: Realistically, the bout shouldn't be competitive. On paper, a 0-0 novice who hasn't boxed competitively since he was 15 years old against the best professional boxer in the world is an egregious mismatch. The reality is that MMA fighters do cross over into boxing all the time, either as a one off, or as a side hobby for extra cash and practice on their stand-up game. Generally, they do so on off-TV undercards. Promoters like using them because they typically "look the part," entering the ring in great shape, possibly carry some cache from the MMA world, but otherwise do not threaten the home fighter whatsoever.
This fight could turn out the same way, or be even less competitive. Under normal circumstances, a commission wouldn't sanction the bout for fear of losing their jobs or reputations.
Under these circumstances, though, there's a lot of money at stake for the state of Nevada and elsewhere, and some extra zeroes in everyone's account can make anger and guilt wash away. The state receives 8 percent of the gross revenue from tickets sold at a boxing event in Nevada, with the commission raking in 25 percent of that amount, according to the New York Times. In the past, the state of Nevada has postponed a jail sentence for Mayweather in a domestic violence case in order to allow him to fight, so in the grand scheme of things, allowing a possible mismatch in the boxing ring is of far less public consequence.
For Mayweather's record-breaking superfight against Manny Pacquiao in 2015, 336,000 people visited the city, booked up 97 of all hotels available in the region, and bought an estimated 2 million drinks, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Mayweather's opponent this time is likely even more popular than Pacquiao was when they fought, and maybe the most popular MMA fighter ever, buoyed by a monster marketing machine in the UFC.
"There's really no comparison," Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, told VICE Sports of the difference in buzz between the two fights. "It's an entirely different level. You attribute that to a couple of factors. For one, you're not just drawing from the boxing fan base, but from boxing and MMA. You've got an unique, one-of-a-kind event. It's unprecedented. No one knows what to expect, and that's created a whole different level of excitement, even among people who don't normally pay attention to boxing and MMA."
Mayweather-Pacquiao set the pay-per-view record for buys at 4.6 million, generating more than $400 million in domestic revenue. Vegas odds currently have the over/under for this PPV set at 4.9 million. The MMA audience—and more specifically McGregor's rabid fan base—has done something strange: They've turned this into a competitive fight. His fans aren't tuning in to see their guy try something crazy, they legitimately believe he's going to win, and they're putting their money where their mouth is.
"It will probably be bigger than the Super Bowl as far as how much money we're going to take on it."
The first betting line that ever appeared on the internet for this fight was a comical 225-1, a line so absurd that sportsbooks normally wouldn't even bother offering it, both because it would tell bettors "this is hopeless," but also in fear that the favorite could suffer a freak injury. Quickly, though, it got down to 25-1, and then by the time the fight was announced, 6-1. Today, some sportsbooks have McGregor listed as a 3-1 underdog—effectively saying he has the same chance of winning as Pacquiao did.
"If you compare it to any other fight, it's the biggest fight we've ever offered. Volume-wise, pre-fight, it's I would say even 100 times bigger than any fight we've ever seen before. Normally we take three quarters of our bets the day of, so just based on what we've already taken, looking at that it's just going to get bigger as the week progresses," Kevin Bradley, sportsbook manager of Bovada, told VICE Sports.
"It will probably be bigger than the Super Bowl as far as how much money we're going to take on it."
Bradley says the majority of action is coming in on McGregor, hence the substantial line movement. Unlike in other Mayweather fights when plenty of late action comes in on Floyd the day of the event, Bradley doesn't anticipate the trend changing on fight day, and expects another wave of bets on McGregor.
"It's going to be the biggest decision we've ever had in any event in any sport ever. Meaning we're going to need Mayweather big time. If McGregor wins, we're talking a massive, massive loss for us," Bradley said.
Las Vegas itself can comfortably expect to profit handily off conventional gamblers, though. In May 2015, the month of Mayweather-Pacquiao, $2.57 billion was wagered on non-machine games, according to Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The casino winnings on those bets exceeded $1 billion, an all-time record.
Bovada in particular has offered an unprecedented amount of ways to win—or lose—money on a boxing match in the form of prop bets. You can bet on something as simple as the number of knockdowns that will occur in the fight, to more exotic and complicated scenarios, such as who the fighters will enter the ring with, or whether McGregor will last more rounds than Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray will notch strikeouts that night. Whether you're just a general sports fan, or a pop culture junkie, there's a reason to bet on the fight and, as a result, have enough vested interest in it to watch.
In terms of a boxing match, as long as you're willing to pay, there's never been an easier fight to watch. For many years, the biggest boxing matches were confined to regular pay-per-view, meaning you'd need access to digital or satellite cable in order to watch the fight. As the major sports leagues adopted streaming services, boxing mostly lagged behind, save for a few ventures by particular promoters that was mostly limited to smaller fights or deep undercards.
Recently, Showtime has started to offer fights on its app, and has streamed a handful of events on YouTube. It's also possible to subscribe to the network without being a cable subscriber, through the Amazon Prime interface. But even with those efforts, it still had something to learn from the UFC, which has enjoyed phenomenal success with its Fight Pass subscription application, which can mostly be accessed through any streaming-capable device.
Though it may be that McGregor and the UFC stand to gain the most out of the partnership on this event, boxing as a whole can learn the most.
"There's tons of big fights that I've been involved with, but obviously none as big as this. This is the biggest event ever in combat sports history," UFC president Dana White told VICE Sports. "It's the most distributed event in pay-per-view history. You can get this fight anywhere. It's available in over 200 countries on pay-per-view. If you're in Manhattan or on a deserted island somewhere, if you can connect to Wi-Fi, you can buy this fight."
Ultimately, most consumer money will still come in through conventional pay-per-view sales. With a hefty price tag of $100 to order the fight, many fans will take to sports bars to catch the event.
Establishments pay a fee to air the fight which is in relation to their overall capacity—the bigger the bar, the more it costs. While those costs can be significant, the cost of not showing this particular fight can be even greater, perhaps risking losing all clientele for the night.
Erik Olson, owner of Thomas Magee's Sporting House in Detroit, said Mayweather-Pacquiao was by far the most profitable night in the history of the establishment, and that Mayweather-McGregor will almost certainly unseat it. He sold most of the seats at his bar for Mayweather-McGregor at $30 apiece within a day of the fight becoming official.
"These are destination events," Olson told VICE Sports. "As soon as you mix the casual fan in, everything is worth a lot more money. Guys who normally don't watch fights are having a big night out, women who don't normally watch sports are going out to watch the fight. Everyone's going to sit down and open up a bar tab, and that's what we want."
It will be the same thing across the rest of the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. Kim Jensen, general manager of St. Louis Bar & Grill in Mississauga, Ontario, is charging patrons a smaller sum to enter, just $10, but can already anticipate filling the entire 160-person capacity. Mayweather-Pacquiao was also the most profitable night in the history of his business, Jensen said, with recent McGregor-headlined UFC cards being high up on the list.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a sports bar that's not showing the fight. Not every bar shows major boxing pay-per-views, but it is extremely easy to find establishments that air UFC pay-per-views. The UFC offers bars a subscription service, where they commit to show every pay-per-view of the year at a discounted rate. The bars that subscribe have no doubt seen the influx of customers when McGregor fights, something Showtime has taken note of by offering a similar annual package for a fixed rate.
Just about the only revenue stream that hasn't been automatically declared a rousing success has been the live gate. With face value prices going as high as $15,000 per seat, tickets do actually remain available. But Ellerbe said the gate revenue had already exceeded $60 million as of last week. That means this fight would have already tripled the second-highest grossing gate in Nevada boxing history, Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez, and is approaching the all-time leader, Mayweather-Pacquiao ($72 million), even before swarms of fans hit the city. When it's all said and done, it could reach the $90-million mark.
No stone has been left unturned in terms of revenue streams for this fight. Outside of conventional sponsorships for both fighters, including watch companies, energy drinks, and headphones, pop up merchandise shops have opened up in Los Angeles and in Las Vegas. Mayweather has also used this event to promote his Vegas strip club, Girl Collection, where he's been appearing throughout the week and will have a post-fight after party that he has said can net him another $300,000.
"I'm just like, how did you come up with that? Unlike a lot of these fighters that think shit's just supposed to happen, it's supposed to fall out of the sky, Floyd's gone out there and created a fan base. Love him or hate him, it's his thing to reach out to the casual fan," said Ellerbe.
When Mayweather reaches out to the casual fan, it's mostly to prod them, rather than dap them up. But either way, he reaches into their pockets in a way no other athlete has ever been able to do—whether it's to take their money, or line them with even more cash.