We cannot be sure how pay-per-view would take shape here but football could be way off the mark in considering its potential

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The Independent Online
At an advanced stage in this line of work it is essential to reject the pretentious notion of having seen and done it all before and that nothing can come along to startle toilers of long experience.

What I have in mind is information received from New York yesterday concerning response to the contest Mike Tyson undertook against Peter McNeeley in Las Vegas in August upon his return to the ring after three years imprisonment.

Even allowing for the portents of renewed violence raised by Tyson's comeback, an astonishing fact is that the fight claimed 26 per cent - $96m (pounds 62m) - of the total gross revenue generated in the US until then this year by pay-per-view television, and 48 per cent of all returns in boxing.

Two conclusions can be reached. One that Tyson is, irrefutably, the biggest drawing card in sport; the other that pay-per-view transmissions are not necessarily the bullion-pilers people connected with British sport, especially football, appear to imagine.

A few years ago, thoughts about pay-per-view occupied most of a long conversation I had in New York with an old acquaintance, Bobby Goodman, when he was director of boxing at Madison Square Garden. "What many fail to realise about pay-per-view is that you can just as easily show a loss as turn a profit," he said. "That applies as much to every form of entertainment - pop concerts, professional wrestling - as it does to boxing. If the subscribers back off you are in deep trouble."

On the understanding that British viewers will eventually have to pay for selected entertainment how many recent sports events would have persuaded them to place an order? Doubtless, had it been available, Tyson versus McNeeley. Eric Cantona's return from suspension. Because of national fascination, probably a few matches in the Premiership. Frank Bruno versus Oliver McCall. Maybe some games from the European competitions.

As we cannot be sure how pay-per-view would take shape here there is not much point in speculation, but football in particular could be way off the mark in considering its potential. Apart from any other consideration, there is a geographical problem. What appeals in Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle does not necessarily excite interest in London.

If things were in place, which of course they won't be, you could probably sell Frank Bruno's defence of the World Boxing Council championship, scheduled for 16 March next year in Las Vegas, without trying.

The projected gross viewing figure for three possible Tyson fights next year rises to 56 per cent of the total pay-per-view returns from boxing. Of those who bought the bout against McNeeley, 39 per cent were new viewers. Some social significance is drawn from the fact that 65 per cent were white.

Above all else, those figures emphasise the extent of world-wide fascination with Tyson. The confident conclusion of Tyson's pay-per-view promoters, Showtime, is that if he had not pulled out of the contest against Buster Mathis Jnr on 4 November that was going out free on the Fox network, their main rivals, Home Box Office would have taken a beating with Riddick Bowe versus Evander Holyfield on the same night. As it was HBO reached 550,000 homes, bringing in around $21m.

Assuming that the New Jersey Gaming Board can be persuaded not to raise objections on the grounds of Don King's indictment in their state for insurance fraud, Tyson will finally get around to fighting Mathis on 16 December in Atlantic City.

It will be promoted by Donald Trump in alliance with a consortium of Atlantic City casinos and go out on Fox, who were thought to have put up more than $10m for the original date.

The sort of money involved has long since taken heavyweight boxing beyond any normal fiscal considerations in sport. "If Tyson's comeback goes according to plan, his earnings second time around could rise way beyond $100m," a representative of Showtime said this week.

When prominent in helping Sugar Ray Leonard to surpass $100m in ring earnings, the Washington lawyer, Mike Traynor, forecast that the advance of pay-per-view television ensured that a similar figure would eventually come the way of a fighter from one contest. It didn't take much to work out that he had Tyson in mind.