AEG Comes in Swinging with De La Hoya
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: May 14,2008

Legend has it that boxing is one of the easiest games to fix, but
that hasn’t stopped AEG from making a bet on the sport and
inking a deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
AEG bought an undisclosed minority stake in Golden Boy, first
established in 2001 and responsible for about 50 boxing events per
year. While the non-exclusive deal provides an additional content
source for AEG’s global network of arenas, it also breathes
some life into the sport, suffering from an aging roster of marquee
boxers and increased competition from Mixed Martial Arts
organizations including the perennial Ultimate Fighting
Championship. “Shame on UFC for even attempting to tell the
world that boxing is a dying sport,” said Darren Libonati of
the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, which hosted a fight
between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe on April 19 that grossed
$11.6 million. “Boxing is cyclical and it’s gone up and
down over the last 30 to 40 years. When the heavy weights are
firing, it’s the best thing in the world.” Libonati
said De La Hoya’s celebrity has certainly helped the sport
and created an environment where “every fighter needs an
opponent, and everyone needs Oscar.” Whether the new AEG deal
will actually include a De La Hoya fight remains to be seen. The
scrappy super welterweight from East L.A. has promised to retire at
the end of the year and recently beat Steve Forbes in front of
27,000 fans during a fight at the AEG-managed Home Depot Center in
nearby Carson, Calif. De La Hoya is planning a highly anticipated
bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 20 at the non-AEG MGM Grand
in Las Vegas, but he might have one more fight left before the end
of the year — a fight that could take place at a number of
AEG facilities including their new arena in Beijing, the 02 in
London or 02 World in Berlin. Regardless of where De La Hoya
chooses to fight, the deal provides long-range vitality for Golden
Boy as its stable of fighters grows older with former champions
Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez all coming
off loses. “It just means that you’ll have another
option for you and your fighters to get dates,” said
Libonati. “When you have a stable of fighters, your biggest
issue is how to keep them fighting. Guys get lost under these
promoters and big stables of fighters.” AEG’s financial
backing and global venues could also give Golden Boy CEO Richard
Schaefer more flexibility in pursuing Olympic Boxers who shine
during the summer’s Beijing Games, along with free-agent
prospects. He’s even considering an arena tour of young
boxers. “If you’re a young fighter these days, Golden
Boy is going to be the promoter you want to sign with,” said
AEG’s new COO Dan Beckerman, who helped author the deal.
“This deal gives them access to a number of arenas including
our facility in Beijing, as well as the 02 in London where the 2012
games are being held.” De La Hoya has a long history with
AEG, going back to 2000 when De La Hoya fought Mosely at the
Staples Center. Earlier this year, De La Hoya bought a portion of
the Houston Dynamo Major League Soccer franchise from AEG and last
week, AEG officials announced plans to erect a seven-foot-tall
bronze statue of De La Hoya outside of the Staples Center. The
Staples Center’s Lee Zeidman said that boxing continues to be
a strong event for arenas, with promoters shooting for the
8,000-12,000 ticket sales range. “We could do it up to
18,000, but most of these really big fights want Saturday nights
for HBO broadcasting and it’s hard for us to clear those
dates unless it’s during the summer because of our basketball
and hockey teams,” Zeidman said. “Regardless, I think
boxing is here to stay from an arena point-of-view.”
Beckerman said that boxing matches could really be held in any
building type — from giant stadiums all the way down to small
theaters, including the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live.
“It’s really about finding the right size for the right
guy in the right market,” Beckerman said. “We can be
really flexible and deliver large facilities for guys who are
expecting large bouts, or more intimate settings for lesser known
matchups.” The largest roadblock to getting big fights in
U.S. arenas remains competition from Las Vegas venues, which can
offer a higher guarantee to promoters because it’s offset by
gaming money. Most of the headliner, broadcast fights are still
held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena or the nearby Mandalay Bay, but
that could change by 2010 when AEG plans to open its own
22,000-seat area in Sin City, along with a whole litany of other
development projects of different sizes. — Dave Brooks
Interviewed for this article: Dan Beckerman (213) 742-7120; Lee
Zeidman, (213) 742-7255; Daren Libonati, (702) 895-3727