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By the time Oscar
De La Hoya steps into the ring in Las Vegas next May to defend his WBC super
welterweight championship against Floyd Mayweather Jr., it will have been a
year since his last fight. His enormous purses aside, you may well ask, Is this
any way to make a living?
And not just one day job, either. De La Hoya has so much going on these days that it's difficult to isolate just one occupation. Land developer, boxing promoter, media mogul, philanthropist--this is a super welterweight with a super welter of interests. He tells people that he's still mostly a boxer and that even this mega-fight with his nemesis, Mayweather, does not spell the end of his career. Though De La Hoya, 33, seemed to be on the way out two years ago, after Bernard Hopkins dropped him to his knees with a blow to the liver, he claims to have been invigorated by his destruction of Ricardo Mayorga earlier this year and wants to fight beyond next May. But no matter how well he does in the ring, his business interests will soon dwarf all else. In business terms, his boxing could become a loss leader.
De La Hoya has almost become too big for his own good. Like Foreman, who toyed with a second comeback in his 50s but then decided he couldn't afford to take time from his own business empire to do something as low-paying as box, De La Hoya faces the prospect of pricing himself out of his sport. He still commands the biggest purses the game can produce--the goal of this promotion is to break the pay-per-view record of 1.99 million buys, each at a probable cost of $49.95--but he must now reckon with a variety of enterprises that require his attention, most of which offer a bigger future than fighting does.
For those who have followed De La Hoya's career, this is a startling development, because he was not very careful with his money coming up, nor was he very interested in anything but the task at hand. At times he spoke dreamily of a career in architecture, but otherwise he didn't concern himself with the future, which didn't extend much past his next fight. But several years ago, after he met a Swiss banker named Richard Schaefer over a game of golf, he began to redefine his goals, or rather to expand them. De La Hoya and Schaefer quickly set out to capitalize on the Mexican-American fighter's celebrity--not just in boxing but in the burgeoning Hispanic market.
Of course the first order of business was to extend the boxing franchise, which has been De La Hoya's bread and butter since he won an Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games. World championships in six classes have earned him millions in purses and created one of the most familiar names in the sport. But to prepare for the day when he would no longer be a headliner, De La Hoya and Schaefer created Golden Boy Promotions, gathering select fighters under his umbrella to go after the pay-per-view dollars that promoters Don King and Bob Arum had kept mostly for themselves.
In only a couple of years Golden Boy has attracted some of the biggest nonheavyweights in the game and has become more than simply an alternative promoter. Schaefer points out that, as the end of 2006 approaches, Golden Boy will have accounted for about 70% of the total pay-per-view volume in boxing: 2.2 million buys for the year. "I think we've arrived," says Schaefer. Nearly half of that was for De La Hoya's bout with Mayorga, but even so, the fighter has a stable that's varied and powerful enough to make up for a postretirement shortfall in income. Among De La Hoya's boxers are 35 current or former world champions, and they're not just Latino fighters--who constitute the big niche market in boxing these days. Golden Boy also promotes African-American fighters such as Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Winky Wright (chart, next page).
Golden Boy has become a steady supplier to Telefutura (12 cards), HBO (11) and ESPN (6). The reason the company has been able to grow, aside from attracting high-profile fighters by word of mouth--"We're spotless," De La Hoya has said, "straight shooters"--is that it's been able to endure low margins of profit. Since the "shareholders" are De La Hoya and, to lesser extents, Hopkins, Mosley and Wright, it's much easier to keep plowing money back into the business, even though it's long been profitable, with revenues well beyond $50 million for 2006.
De La Hoya and Schaefer have ambitions beyond boxing, of course, and these have to do with exploiting the exploding buying power of Latinos in the U.S., who are 44 million strong and growing faster than any other segment of the population. Maybe this is easier to recognize in Southern California, where Los Angeles elected a Hispanic mayor, than in other parts of the country, but it still takes a little vision to recognize where this demographic is going. And, in any case, with a reported $500 billion worth of Hispanic buying power (which is growing at three times the rate of non-Hispanic spending), it's not like De La Hoya and Schaefer were the only ones to notice.
"This space is so underserved," Schaefer said. "You look at Anglos, the African-American markets, there are lots of entertainers, lots of celebrities. Look at the Hispanic market. Give me five people who have both recognition and reach. Edward James Olmos? Who else?"