Sportico reported that last Sunday’s Showtime pay-per-view boxing event, headlined by the Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul bout, is tracking toward one million (or slightly more) domestic buys (figure includes: cable, satellite and streaming). Considering PPV sporting events typically do not air on Sunday nights, as boxing and UFC have scheduled their biggest matches almost exclusively on Saturdays for the last three decades, the Mayweather-Paul exhibition could signal a shift. Given the roughly $50 million in PPV sales generated and WWE’s long track record of success in the Sunday night time slot, Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza believes we’ll see more PPV sporting events moving from increasingly busy Saturday nights to Sunday evenings moving forward.
Our Take: Professional boxing events didn’t always take place on Saturday nights. As Espinoza explained, “If we go back to the ’70s and ’80s, big matches—some of the most historic—were on weeknights. Once the shift to network TV occurred [in the late 1980s], sports began to congregate on weekends and then essentially [fights] slid into primetime or late primetime to maximize viewership.” They’ve remained there since.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship began running its PPVs on Saturday nights because that is what boxing had always done. UFC president Dana White grew up an admirer of the sport.
It’s fair to suggest—as Espinoza did—that simple inertia has kept boxing and UFC PPVs events on Saturday nights for the last three decades. “Some of the rigidness about Saturday night is an avoidance of risk taking,” he said. “You don’t want to move your pay-per-view event to Sunday only to find out that nobody wants to watch [in that time slot]. That would be a tough lesson to learn through experience.”
But there are also some logical reasons why the events have remained on Saturday nights despite Sunday nights being widely recognized as better for television (hence, why the big four sports target the window). Promoters, fighters and networks alike want to maximize PPV sales (their biggest source of revenue on the event). To do that, they need to capture viewers on the West Coast. That means the main event often takes place late at night on the East Coast. It’s difficult to schedule a fight that doesn’t begin until close to midnight (or after) when people have to work the next day. It’s worth noting the Mayweather-Paul exhibition ended well before midnight.
The fact that a large percentage of high-profile boxing and UFC PPV events are held in Las Vegas seemingly plays into the decision-making process, too. As evidenced by WWE’s decision to schedule SummerSlam for a Saturday night this year, no one seeking to generate a significant gate on the Strip wants to host an event Sunday night, typically the day people fly out of the city. Naturally, the casinos hosting boxing or MMA matches would also prefer they occur on Saturday. That is unique to Las Vegas, though. Espinoza said there isn’t any evidence to suggest “Sundays are more challenging than Saturday night in terms of [realizing] the gate.”
Mayweather-Paul ended up on a Sunday night because of Mayweather’s desire to avoid overshadowing previously scheduled boxing events. “Whether it was June 5, June 12, June 19 or June 26, each of those dates had at least one, if not multiple, boxing events already scheduled, and he wasn’t looking to sort of come down on top of another event. It was more of a courtesy to everyone else to do it on a Sunday,” Espinoza said.
Considering early PPV sales estimates, it is safe to say Mayweather’s gamble on Sunday night paid off. “In this atmosphere, with all the piracy going on and all of the competition in the sports market, anytime you get in the neighborhood of 1 million buys, that’s a massive achievement,” Espinoza said.
Going into Mayweather-Paul, Showtime figured Sunday night would be an outlier. But Espinoza said it’s clear that “going on Sunday night [should] warrant more consideration than it has received in the past. There’s a tremendous opportunity with a lot of people at home and without much competition from major sporting events [at least relative to Saturday]—as long as you’re not keeping people up unreasonably late.”
Of course, the Showtime Sports executive wouldn’t recommend scheduling a PPV event against the NFL in the fall. “[Sunday] probably works best in the summer when there is a little more flexibility—particularly with a youth audience. I’m not sure if the younger end of the Logan Paul demo would [have been] as apt to watch it if they were going back to school the following morning,” he said.
Fans who missed Mayweather-Paul (and the Chad Johnson fight) the first time around can catch the encore Saturday night on Showtime.