In 2015, boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao set an all-time Pay-Per-View record when their fight garnered 4.6 million total buys, generating $460 million in revenue.
While the official numbers won’t come out until next week, Mayweather’s Aug. 26 fight against Conor McGregor is expected to surpass 5 million buys.
But many fans who have cut the cable cord paid $99 to view the fight through the UFC Fight Pass or Showtime apps, and still didn’t get to see it.
In the minutes leading up to the bout, Twitter lit up with widespread complaints about the UFC Fight Pass and Showtime.com streams of the fight. There were major failures.
It was a sign that for all the promise of the live sports streaming revolution, the tech still has a long way to go.
Why is it that 110 million people can watch the Super Bowl every year with no problem but when Floyd fights PPV providers go *poof*?
— Mike Chiappetta MMA (@MikeChiappetta) August 27, 2017
The failures were widespread enough, and frustrating enough to consumers, that there’s already at least one class action lawsuit against Showtime over the app’s technical difficulties. Zack Bartel, of Portland, Ore., is suing for unlawful trade practices and unjust enrichment and seeks $200 per Oregon resident who ordered the fight from Showtime and had problems.
Showtime has no comment on the lawsuit. But a spokesperson gave Yahoo Finance this statement on the streaming issues:
“We received a very limited number of complaints, and we’re reviewing all of them carefully, and we will respond accordingly. Refunds are handled at the point of sale, so of course anyone who bought directly from Showtime, via our online distribution or our app, and could not see the fight because of an issue with that distribution, we will issue a full refund.”
UFC, for its part, gave this statement:
“We’re incredibly disappointed by the technical difficulties that were experienced Saturday night, and we’re working with our vendor NeuLion to assess exactly what happened. We are reviewing each [refund] request on a case-by-case basis. We are in direct contact with consumers regarding a resolution.”
In an additional comment, UFC president Dana White said, “Nothing is more important to the UFC than our fans. They’ve always been incredibly loyal and supportive and we’ll always take care of them.”
Showtime and UFC won’t say exactly how many reports they received of failed streams. There were enough of them that the fight was delayed by an hour to give them time to refresh their servers. But for many fans, the streams never worked.
To be clear, cable PPV providers suffered big outages as well. And both failures are equally aggravating: a viewer expects that if they’re going to cough up $100 to watch a fight, it will work perfectly, regardless of whether they did it through cable or the Internet.
We r so UPSET with @FrontierCorp / no one answers / calling them for 2 hours! Ordered Fight on Pay per. view / can't get it
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) August 27, 2017
But the failures are especially troublesome when one considers all of the promise and hype of the many new streaming options for sports. Yes, Showtime’s platform was relatively new and untested, and the expectation that it would work seamlessly during such a high-volume event is asking a lot—but if you’re going to charge $100, that’s what customers expect. And in the days before the fight, it was clear there would be record-setting demand.
The problems make traditional television look reliable by comparison. Faced with all the streaming glitches and angry fans, plain old cable television starts to look pretty good.
This fight, and all of Mayweather’s fights since 2007, when he split from promoter Top Rank, was only available through cable PPV or PPV streaming options. But Top Rank, which represents many of the best boxers, announced this week a four-year exclusive deal with ESPN that will put its fights on ESPN.
The contract is a win for the ailing cable network, and a rare retort to the cord-cutting revolution: If you get ESPN, you’ll be able to watch these fights. That’s a lot simpler than paying for PPV or for glitchy, untested streaming services.
As a new NFL season approaches, sports fans are hearing a lot of noise about the myriad options for cable cord-cutters: Amazon Prime will stream 10 Thursday Night Football games; NFL Mobile on Verizon phones will offer certain in-market games; NFL sells its own NFL Game Pass service for $99 that streams out-of-market games.
But after seeing the failures of streaming on fight night, it may serve as a reminder, for many, that a cable subscription, that much-maligned option for watching live sports, can still be more reliable than all the new bells and whistles.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.