Smart marketing makes Mayweather ‘Money’
US boxing expert Kevin Iole says that Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s business acumen outside the ring is as slick as his moves in it.
Richard Schaefer had had enough of Floyd Mayweather Jr. During a cross-country tour to promote the 2007 fight between Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, Schaefer quickly grew irritated of Mayweather’s antics.
One day, Mayweather intercepted De La Hoya’s lunch. Another time, he swiped the Golden Boy’s gym bag. At one point during the cross-country tour, Mayweather brought a chicken with a gold medal around its neck onto stage at a news conference to mock his adversary, who had been unflatteringly dubbed “Chicken” De La Hoya by the great former New York Daily News boxing writer, Michael Katz.
The De La Hoya-Mayweather fight would go on to become the highest-grossing match in history, and Schaefer had more than enough work to keep him busy. Every day, it seemed, Schaefer got a call from De La Hoya complaining about yet another Mayweather prank. Angry, irritated and anxious to get back to work, Schaefer sought out Mayweather.
The one-time Swiss banker angrily confronted the superstar boxer and went nose-to-nose with him, telling Mayweather he didn’t appreciate his childish antics.
“It was an ugly conversation and confrontation, really ugly,” Schaefer said. “I actually told him, ‘If you continue with this behavior, I’m going to send you back to the plane and I’m going to send you home.’ He got upset and we were really going at each other hard.”
It wasn’t long, though, before Schaefer earned a grudging respect for Mayweather’s business sense. And a few months after Mayweather and De La Hoya set a pay-per-view record by selling 2.45 million units, Schaefer found himself seated next to Mayweather on a flight to London.
They had a conversation about promoting and marketing. Suddenly, Schaefer’s grudging respect turned to admiration. Mayweather, he discovered, was far brighter, more analytic and filled with clever ideas, than he’d ever imagined.
From his earliest days as a professional, Mayweather was adamant he should be marketed primarily to an urban market, and he proved correct. He has turned into the biggest pay-per-view draw in boxing, drawing numbers rivaled only in the sport’s history by ex-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. In his last four fights, he’s sold over 6 million pay-per-view units that have generated nearly $400 million.
On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he’ll meet Victor Ortiz for the World Boxing Council welterweight title in a bout that almost certainly will top 1 million sales and could exceed 1.5 million.
As great as he is as a fighter, however – rival promoter Lou DiBella believes Mayweather may deserve to be ranked in the top 10 all-time – he may even be better as a promoter. He knew he had to expand his audience, so after beating De La Hoya, he appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” After a win over Ricky Hatton, Mayweather appeared on several WWE telecasts and ultimately was featured in Wrestlemania 24.
DiBella was an HBO executive more than a decade ago when Mayweather not only rejected a lucrative contract offer from the network, but he dismissed it as “slave wages.” Almost to a man, the boxing industry was outraged at Mayweather’s gall.
DiBella, who had worked long and hard on the deal, was apoplectic. Mayweather was barely into his career and had been offered what at the time was a massive deal, more than $12.5 million for six fights. Even though his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., urged him to accept it, Mayweather Jr. unhesitatingly said no.
“He called it a slave contract and I got really [angry],” DiBella said. “I told him that if he walked through Times Square with me and a single person recognized him, I’d reopen the negotiation. But here’s the amazing part of this story: The kid wasn’t happy with the way he was being promoted. He wanted to be promoted in a different way, to a different market. He and [Top Rank’s Bob] Arum fought for years over that. He finally got what he wanted. And guess what? He was right.
“The Dancing with the Stars thing worked. The WWE thing worked. And I wasn’t raised to throw $100 bills in the air, but you know what? That worked. It got him an awful lot of play. It got him a lot more play than if he’d paid 10 grand that month to a publicist.”
Mayweather signed with Arum’s Top Rank in 1996 after he won a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics. Top Rank was, as now, one of the sport’s dominant promoters and tried to push Mayweather as the next Sugar Ray Leonard.
Top Rank had gone to extraordinary success with Leonard in the 1980s, pitching his good looks, a clean-cut persona and dazzling skills. The formula clearly worked.
Mayweather, like Leonard, was an Olympic medalist. He had the same good looks and dazzling skills. But he chafed at being pushed as the second coming of Leonard.
“He had great respect for Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali [men Arum promoted], but for as long as I’ve known him, he always pushed back on attempts to promote him as the next Leonard or the next Ali,” said Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather’s close friend and the CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “He didn’t want to be the second anybody. He wanted to be the first Floyd Mayweather.”
Mayweather complained so incessantly about it that in early 2004, a few months after a Nov. 1, 2003, stoppage of Philip N’Dou, his attorney, John Hornewer, flew to Las Vegas to sit down with Arum and Arum’s stepson, Todd duBoef.
Hornewer and Ellerbe sat in Arum’s Las Vegas office and pitched Mayweather’s message: Promote me in the urban community and to the hip hop crowd. Dump the Sugar Ray Leonard campaign.
At the time, Top Rank was making a heavy push to promote to the Hispanic market, particularly in the Southwestern U.S. Arum wasn’t doing a lot of business in the urban market because there was a perception among boxing insiders at the time that that audience didn’t buy pay-per-view.
Mayweather believed that, given one of its own to root for, they would buy in big numbers. Hornewer said duBoef was open to considering the idea, but Arum was not.
Though Arum would promote Mayweather for more than two additional years, that was the beginning of the end of the relationship between Top Rank and Mayweather. But when Schaefer began promoting Mayweather’s fights in 2007, the relationship between them was initially not great.
“When we first did [HBO’s boxing reality series] ’24/7’, we bumped heads,” Mayweather said. “He didn’t understand me. But we got on a flight to London and we sat next to each other and we talked and talked. He said, ‘Floyd, I see things this way.’ And I said, ‘Well, I see things that way.’ We came to understand each other. It’s been a great relationship.”
Schaefer was amazed by Mayweather’s business acumen. Ellerbe said that long before former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg developed the “24/7” series, Mayweather came to him and proposed a show that was essentially what would become “24/7.”
It draws big ratings and has become essential to promoters trying to sell a pay-per-view card. What it has really become is a vehicle for Mayweather to build his brand.
“24/7 is the Floyd Mayweather Show,” DiBella said. “When it’s not the Floyd Mayweather Show, with all due respect, it’s very ordinary. That’s fact. 24/7 was invented for him and, truthfully, Mayweather is the star of it. If he did another reality show, it would work. He’s a compelling personality. Whatever you think of him, he causes you to react.
Though the reality show was the vehicle that propelled him to stardom and made him a superstar in the general public, he had long since become an icon in the hip-hop community.
Ernesto Shaw, known professionally as DJ Clue, a DJ, rapper and prominent New York City radio personality, said in the hip-hop community, Mayweather is one of the three or four biggest sports figures. Mayweather is right at the level of NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, LeBron James of the Heat and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, he said.
“He’s part of the community and he speaks that language and he knows how to market it,” Clue said. “Floyd is flashy and shows that money and the fancy cars and the beautiful girlfriend. He’s got Mayweather Records and that helps. But he’s always doing something to keep himself relevant within the community.
“He’ll be out at the clubs hosting parties, going to strip clubs, that kind of thing. He also aligned himself with 50 Cent and that really helps him, too.”
Schaefer said Mayweather is one of the greatest self promoters he’s ever seen, but even Ellerbe admits that not all of his stunts work.
Earlier this year, when a federal judge in Las Vegas had ordered him to give a deposition in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather was at a night club in Atlanta where he was videotaped burning a $100 bill.
It raised a huge backlash and Ellerbe said that Mayweather knows it was a mistake.
“First of all, that was the character, ‘Money Mayweather,’ not the man, Floyd Mayweather, who did that,” Ellerbe said. “But if he had it to do all over again, I think it would have come out differently. In the middle of a recession, with people looking for work, struggling and hurting for money like they are, we understand how that looked.”
Mayweather can be extraordinarily charitable, and often drives into inner city Las Vegas to feed homeless people. When boxer Genaro Hernandez – The man Mayweather beat in 1998 to win his first world championship – died after a long battle with cancer in June, Mayweather picked up the cost of the funeral. Mayweather, though, didn’t publicize it and declined to speak about it. It was Hernandez’s brother, Rudy, who told the story.
“That was incredible the kindness he showed our family,” Hernandez said.
Doug Stewart, the co-host of the sports talk radio show “2 Live Stews” on 790-AM in Atlanta, has been close to the hip-hop community for many years. He raves about Mayweather’s marketing genius and said he clearly has his finger on the pulse of the hip hop world, but Stewart said he fears Mayweather made a critical mistake when he erupted at his father in the opening episode of the current “24/7.”
What started as playful banter quickly turned into a nasty confrontation and Mayweather Sr. was escorted out of the gym owned by his son. The elder Mayweather will not attend Saturday’s bout, though he said he will buy the pay-per-view.
Stewart wasn’t taking sides, but said the ugly scene failed to go over well.
“He has all these crazy theatrics and does so many outlandish things to promote his fights, it proves his genius,” Stewart said. “But the one thing that everyone in the black community I’ve spoken with didn’t agree with was the blowup with his Dad on ’24/7.’ That’s the first thing he’s done where the feeling, from top to bottom in the black community, was unanimously against him. I know he lost points with me doing that.
“No matter what ill feelings you hold toward your father, at the end of the day, it’s still your father and your father deserves respect. It was way over the top. I’m one of the biggest Floyd fans there is. I always defend him and I think he’s one of the best ever to do it. But not even I could validate that huge argument with Senior. It was totally, totally uncalled for.”
Mayweather’s critics, of where there are legion, say that’s one of only many things he’s done that have been totally uncalled for. Mayweather is facing six separate lawsuits, as well as felony charges from a domestic violence case against the mother of his children, ex-girlfriend Josie Harris.
Mayweather wouldn’t comment on his legal cases, but said he’s largely misunderstood. He is, he said, only trying to enjoy his life and the perks that come with being one of the greatest boxers ever.
The monster depicted in the lawsuits is alien to him, he says. He doesn’t worry about what others choose to do and would prefer if he were offered the same courtesy.
“I never count the next man’s money or worry about what he’s doing or how he lives,” Mayweather said. “Each man lives how he wants to live and takes care of his family. Some people want to live, you know, a real just relaxed life. Me, myself, I’m animated. I’m happy, full of energy. You only got one time here on Earth, so me, if I only got one time, I’m going to have fun.
“When I get to be [cutman] Rafael [Garcia’s] age, I still want to have fun. I want to be his age, dancing like he does. I’m energized, I’m happy and that’s how I want to live my life, having fun. Money don’t make me. I make money, but money don’t make me. It doesn’t define who I am as a person.”