Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Price Nostalgia? Comcast Corp. Will Soon Know

This coming Saturday will be the ultimate throwback promotion in sports. The biggest events on the calendar will be a horse race and a prizefight, meaning that a fan can experience a whole day in which he or she is living in 1935.
First up, the Kentucky Derby, the only horse race in America that still attracts non-racing fans in large numbers both in person and on TV. This is partially because the Derby is a truly thrilling event, and mostly because it takes on the first Saturday in May, From the swells in the clubhouse to the spring break extension for Midwest colleges in the infield to the folks at home making their own mint juleps and running betting pools, it's an excuse to have the first good outdoor party of the year, the same way the Super Bowl serves as a party to forget February has just started.

For TV viewers who don't bet, the Derby is free. Watching a horse race on which one has not bet, however, is kind of missing the point. It's like watching the movie on an airplane flight but not paying for the headphones.

For the nightcap, I term I use in all its senses, there's the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight scheduled for 11 p.m. Eastern, meaning probably 11:45 Eastern. This encounter deserves the title Fight of the Century, if only because it's taken most of the 21st century to get these two into the same ring. It has been relentlessly promoted by corporate entities ranging from ESPN (understandable) to Air Asia (huh?). These two boxers are also about the only ones sports fans who aren't fight fans (those under 85) have ever heard of.

The fight is expected to gross as much as $250 million. It damn well ought to, seeing as high-definition pay per view will be $99.55, thank you very much. This means the alliance of HBO and Showtime producing the program can hit that number with an audience about the same size as that of "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS.

In keeping with the day's nostalgia theme, Pacquiao-Mayweather will honor one of boxing's oldest traditions -- it's a ripoff. In 2009, it might've been a great fight worth your $100, the classic matchup of Pacquiao the aggressive slugger and Mayweather the gifted boxer. Alas, Manny hit the far side of the hill about the same time Mitt Romney's campaign began to get going. Mayweather can still duck punches, and Pacquiao can't throw them as well. Since the prime attraction of the bout is the desire of normal folks to see horrible person Mayweather get his block knocked off  (a desire Mayweather exploits with great skill), there are going to be a lot of disappointed and poorer fans at the fight's end.

Gosh, that sounds familiar. In 1935, it happened every Saturday night in every American town big enough to have an auditorium. We've come a long way since then. Progress means that the athletes in our most popular sport wear helmets, so we can pretend their brains aren't getting scrambled.

We have not made so much progress that Floyd Mayweather isn't a very, very rich man. Throwback Night promotions always sell.


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