Business

Fight night in America, but not in Boston bars

Few bars spring for costly bout

Workers install signs for the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao scheduled for Saturday.
John Locher/AP
Workers installed signs for the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao scheduled for Saturday.

For sports fans, this Saturday is the equivalent of Christmas. There’s the Kentucky Derby, the NFL draft, the NBA and NHL playoffs, a Red Sox-Yankees game. And to top off the day: the late-night boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, hailed as the fight of the century.

But Boston fans hoping to watch the bout at their favorite bar might well be out of luck. Many of the city’s most popular watering holes — including The Harp, The Fours, and Stats Bar & Grille — have made what may seem like a stunning decision not to air the long-awaited showdown between two all-time greats.

The reason is simple: Despite widespread interest, it’s just too expensive.

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Mayweather-Pacquiao is smashing pay-per-view price records for at-home viewers ($99.99 for high definition), and the cost for businesses is astronomically higher. Fees vary slightly among cable and satellite providers, but a typical quote is about $30 per person, multiplied by an establishment’s maximum occupancy under the fire code.

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For The Fours near TD Garden, which holds 395 people, that would have meant paying roughly $12,000.

“That’s a lot of money to shell out and hope to recoup,” said manager Jim Taggart. “The last few weeks, I’ve been getting 20 calls a day asking if we’re showing the fight, and I have to say no. I’m not sure people realize there’s a substantial fee.”

Taggart and managers at other bars noted that Saturday is shaping up to be a lucrative day anyway, making a massive pay-per-view expense seem like an unnecessary risk. Beginning with the fourth round of the draft at noon, the sports extravaganza will last into the night, drawing thirsty fans and their credit cards.

Though boxing has fallen out of the mainstream in recent decades, this clash of the sport’s biggest stars — years in the making — has momentarily rekindled a level of mass appeal not seen since Mike Tyson was in his prime.

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Some have called the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout a once-in-a-generation event.

Even casual sports fans who may never have watched Mayweather or Pacquiao in the ring have witnessed their verbal sparring through the media since 2010, when they were first slated to meet. That bout fell through, with the boxers’ camps arguing publicly about drug testing, money, and who is scared of whom.

Now, hype and curiosity surrounding the revival of a match that seemed as if it might never happen has created what analysts expect to be the richest payday in boxing history — perhaps the richest in any sport, ever. Each fighter is expected to earn more than $100 million for 12 rounds at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Most of that money will come from the 3 to 4 million homes projected to buy the match on pay-per-view television. A small group of friends could gather at one house, split the cost, and each pay the equivalent of a movie ticket and popcorn.

But the math is not so simple for bars, which must make large upfront investments and then hope to sell enough food and drink to make the night profitable. Adding to the risk, managers said they would have to stay well under full capacity to ensure all patrons have a decent view of a TV screen, meaning they would need even more revenue from each guest to justify the expense of airing the fight.

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Those taking the gamble are hedging their bets with eye-popping cover charges — in some cases more than people will pay to see the Sox and Yanks in person at Fenway Park.

Society on High in the Financial District, which has a 170-person capacity, sold tickets in advance and capped admissions at 120. Most were bundled as six-person tables which, combined with minimum food and beverage purchases, went for $775.

Lending an extra Vegas feel, a former Playboy Playmate will emcee the festivities, said Frankie Stavrianopoulos, Society on High’s creative director.

Stavrianopoulos expects to turn a profit when fight crowd spending is combined with sales during other sporting events earlier in the day. But he acknowledged that making arrangements to show the fight has caused him headaches and said he understands why others are avoiding it.

In fact, Stavrianopoulos is so worried that the bar’s occasionally spotty cable feed could go out at the worst possible time that he called DirecTV for an emergency satellite system installation that he expects to be completed by Saturday.

That, plus the pay-per-view fee, will cost about $11,000.

“I woke up [Wednesday] morning and my wife goes, ‘What happens if they can’t get DirecTV in there?’ ” Stavrianopoulos said. “I’m like, ‘Then I’m screwed. My reputation goes down the tubes.’ ”

At McGreevy’s, an Irish pub in the Back Bay, management decided to air the fight and treat it like a loss leader that may not be profitable on the day but that could pay dividends later. Owner Ken Casey, the Dropkick Murphys frontman, also owns a fight promotions company called Murphy’s Boxing, so there is a natural connection.

The bar paid $7,900 for Mayweather-Pacquiao and will charge a relatively modest cover of $25 per person at the door. Reservations are available but not required.

“This isn’t something we’d normally do,” said general manager Chuck Hitchcock. “The discussion was, ‘Is the publicity going to be worth the cost?’ Not necessarily from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, but we think there might be some residual value from the exposure.”

Without promotional considerations, managers elsewhere made a different call. Bill Fairweather, owner of The Greatest Bar near the Garden, said much of his 420-person venue was already booked for a Cinco de Mayo party, and he knew that crowd wouldn’t be willing to pay extra to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao.

The Cask ’n Flagon by Fenway Park originally planned to air the fight, even advertising a watch party on Twitter, but then backed out. Assistant general manager Phil Placide said other bars in the neighborhood subsequently announced their own showings, and management concluded the investment would have been worthwhile only if the Cask had a monopoly.

And at Stats in South Boston, general manager Lauren Creamer said the only way to afford the pay-per-view price would have been to charge an exorbitant cover, and “we don’t like to do that.”

With so many bars opting out, fight night in Boston could be missing a communal aspect that once characterized such a spectacle. Thirty years ago, some 14,000 people packed the old Boston Garden to watch Marvin Hagler beat Tommy Hearns in one of the biggest boxing matches of that era.

On Saturday, seats at the new Garden will be empty.

Related coverage:

Boxing’s future on the line with Mayweather-Pacquiao bout

Manny Pacquiao: Relax, I’m going to beat Floyd Mayweather

Mayweather-Pacquiao money skyrockets

Callum Borchers
can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.