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?
Actually, no. As it was for George Foreman, that other boxer-entrepreneur,
before him, fighting has become more of a hobby than a livelihood for De La
Hoya, a sort of vanity project, not unlike his brief, largely forgotten singing
career. We exaggerate, of course, seeing as how De La Hoya may earn upward of
$25 million for his bout with Mayweather. That's not exactly pin money. But,
let's face it, the effort--the training and the promotion--are going to be
interfering with his day job.
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.
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?"