Conor McGregor's improbable challenge of Floyd Mayweather Jr. was a hit at the box office and could end up the biggest pay-per-view ever, with an estimated 50 million people watching in the United States alone.
Preliminary figures released by Showtime PPV on Friday showed the fight was tracking in the "mid to high" 4 million range, threatening the 4.6 million record set by Mayweather's 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao. Showtime's Stephen Espinoza said the number will likely rise some as more firm figures come in.
"It's a little soon to be predicting a record," said Espinoza, who heads sports for Showtime. "But the record is definitely within reach."
Estimates vary, but if an average of 10 people watched each pay-per-view the total audience for Saturday's fight in the US could reach 50 million people, or nearly one in six Americans.
"I'd absolutely call this a complete success," Espinoza said. "This was a fight that had massive expectations in both the fight itself and the business results. It lived up to those expectations in every respect."
At $99.95 a buy, the pay-per-view generated at least $450 million in revenue on domestic television alone, money from which each fighter gets an undisclosed percentage. Mayweather estimated after the fight he would make $300-350 million, while McGregor said his take would be around $100 million.
Though the fight suffered some at the box office because of extremely high ticket prices, it hit the kind of numbers on pay-per-view that promoters were hoping for. When added all together the fight could generate some $600 million in total revenue, which would be along the lines of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.
Mayweather stopped McGregor in the 10th round, the first time he has had a real stoppage in nearly a decade. But McGregor's performance also won some applause, as he boxed better in his first boxing match as a pro than many thought he would.
Assuming the preliminary estimates hold up, Mayweather will have participated in the top four pay-per-view events of all time. His fight with Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 sold 2.4 million pay-per-views, and his 2014 fight with Canelo Alvarez sold 2.2 million.
Espinoza said he should know by next week whether the fight will end up No. 1 or No. 2 on the all-time list. But he said the early estimates were lower than what the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight ended up to be, and that this would likely go higher, too.
"There could be a good amount of growth between the initial numbers and where we eventually end up," Espinoza said.
The pay-per-view numbers include streaming on the Showtime and UFC apps as well as cable and satellite television buys. The fight was held up briefly because of some streaming issues, but Espinoza said reports of widespread problems with the online feed were overblown.
"We were particularly pleased with the digital streaming aspect," he said. "It was our first venture going direct to consumers on Showtime and we were thrilled. We generated over four times the buys we had expected online."
There were also reports of several million illegal streams of the fight and Espinoza said Showtime's anti-piracy technicians saw more illegal streams than any previous fight. But he said the nature of the fight meant groups of people gathered to watch it, and that most bought it legitimately to be guaranteed the best possible feed.
"We knew we had a massive event with huge interest," he said. "And we knew a huge amount of people were going to be watching, including some who watched illegally."
Mayweather improved to 50-0 in what he said was his last fight, while McGregor is expected to return to UFC following his only pro fight.