Lewis-Tyson sellout claims ring untruePosted: Wednesday May 29, 2002 6:45 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- It turns out Mike Tyson's fight with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis isn't such a hot ticket after all.
Despite claims of a record-breaking $23 million sellout, tickets are so plentiful it appears promoters seriously overestimated the attractiveness of a title bout in Memphis, Tennessee.
British fans aren't coming, high rollers aren't nibbling and it seems nobody wants to pay huge ticket prices to be in summery Tennessee in June, no matter how interesting the fight.
That means promoters could end up with the embarrassment of lots of empty seats at the Pyramid Arena for the biggest fight since Tyson bit Evander Holyfield five years ago.
Some people close to the fight estimate just over half of the 19,000-plus tickets have actually been sold to fans. Most of the others are in the hands of ticket brokers or have gone on public sale at the arena.
Many of the tickets apparently come from the Lewis camp, which bought about 6,000 to resell to British tour operators only to find little interest among Lewis' countrymen to go to Memphis.
Lewis promoter Gary Shaw didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Things have gotten so bad that a behind-the-scenes dispute erupted when Tyson's camp reportedly tried to sell some of its tickets in England.
"It's a marquee matchup but they have a lot of things working against them," said Rafael Rivas, vice president of sales at ticketcity.com, an Internet ticket broker. "If it was in Vegas, there would be a lot more demand. Because it's Memphis, it's kind of remote and not very appealing."
Some Memphis residents have found that out the hard way.
Mike Lakey bought four tickets -- two for $2,400 each and two for $1,400 each -- with hopes of maybe doubling his money. After running ads in the local newspaper for two weekends, he had only "two nibbles" and was getting worried.
"I'm afraid I'm going to take a bath," Lakey said. "Right now, I'm stuck with them."
The lack of demand became even more evident Wednesday when promoters put another 3,500 seats back up for public sale, just 10 days before the June 8 fight.
The official reason was that demand was so high those tickets weren't needed for promotional purposes. But tickets priced up to $2,400 at ringside simply aren't selling.
"It hasn't been a big mover and I'm sure the location has got a lot to do with it," said Mike Freund, director of business development at ticketsnow.com, an Internet broker. "I don't know what people can do once they get there. In Vegas and Atlantic City, you can do a lot of other things. It's kind of an odd place."
Local promoters who paid a $12.5 million site fee to land the much-anticipated fight said just a few days after tickets went on sale last month that all 19,185 tickets had been sold for a record gate of just over $23 million.
Indeed, only 1,875 tickets were put up for sale the first day at the arena, prompting people to line up to buy tickets they thought they could resell at a profit.
Chris Johnson of Prize Fight Promotions, the local promoter, said there was no attempt to deceive people about the demand for tickets.
"We did not mislead the public," Johnson said. "We had all our tickets allotted before."
So many tickets are on sale on Ticketmaster that buyers can get blocks of up to 16 seats in a row in all price levels except $250. On the Internet, some sellers promise tickets below face value, while on eBay, most of the ticket auctions have drawn no bids at all.
Johnson said promoters hope sales will pick up beginning Friday, when Lewis and Tyson are expected to arrive in Memphis for the final week of the buildup.
"We still feel there are a lot of people who don't feel like the fight is going to happen," he said. "We anticipate once the media covers Tyson arriving in Memphis on Friday they'll realize the fighters are here and we're less than a week away from the fight."
That's not likely to help ticket sales in England, where fans who normally travel to Lewis fights are staying home or spending their money going to the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
When Lewis fought Evander Holyfield in New York City in 1999, several thousand British fans bought tickets at Madison Square Garden. In the rematch in Las Vegas, up to 5,000 British fans cheered for their hero.
Both of those cities are served by direct air service from London and very familiar to the British. Memphis isn't, and it shows.
"Memphis just isn't an ideal tourist destination," said Richard McKenna, sales manager for All Leisure Travel and Events in London. "Everyone who had an interest in it would have wished it had taken place in Las Vegas."
Tyson's manager, Shelly Finkel, said the tickets reserved for the Tyson camp were all sold.
"I had guaranteed a certain amount and we exceeded that," Finkel said.
Despite the problems, the fight still figures to be a huge draw on television, where more than 1 million homes are expected to buy the event at $54.95. If sales exceed that, the fight could still be the richest ever, surpassing the $100 million taken in by the second Tyson-Holyfield fight in 1997 in Las Vegas.
British fans also plan to see the fight -- but on television. The fight is expected to do up to 1 million homes on pay-per-view in England, despite a starting time of 5 a.m. in London.