Celebrities fight for the best tickets to Mayweather-Pacquiao

Recording artist Justin Bieber, left, holds up a pair of championship belts before Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s fight against Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 5, 2012.
(Al Bello / Getty Images)

Saying yes to Robert De Niro was easy.

The Oscar-winning actor will get a prime seat for Saturday night’s main event. So will Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

As the clock ticks down to the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao bout — the most-anticipated fight in decades — promoters are scrambling to accommodate a flood of ticket requests from celebrities, business tycoons and superstars from other sports.

“They can’t all sit in the front row,” said Dena duBoef of Top Rank Inc., which represents Pacquiao. “Tickets and seating are probably the biggest nightmare for this fight.”


Most of the 16,800-seat arena at the MGM Grand has been divvied up among the resort and the two fighters’ camps, with only 500 seats made available for public sale.

There will be about 900 ringside spots, depending on the final configuration. That isn’t enough for all the A-list names and high rollers who want to be near the action.

“Nothing matches the hysteria we’re seeing,” said Stephen Espinoza, a Showtime executive who controls some of Mayweather’s allotment.

Promoters are still mixing and matching names, pondering whom to put where, especially in the first few rows. As longtime Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman said: “Absolutely there is a pecking order.”


Star-studded crowds are as much a part of boxing as uppercuts and smelling salts.

Mayweather versus Pacquiao has become a red-carpet event if only because it took years of negotiation to get the boxers — perhaps the greatest of their generation — into the same ring.

“This has been a long time coming,” Oscar winner Jamie Foxx says in a promotional TV spot.

The MGM Grand declined to comment for this story, as did numerous celebrities expected to attend. The Times received a list of ticket requests from boxing executives who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss seating details.

De Niro, Eastwood, Damon and Affleck made the cut for the first few rows, the executives said. So did Michael J. Fox and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Will Smith and Jimmy Kimmel are expected to be there, but one Oscar winner was placed farther back and decided not to attend, said an executive not authorized to give the actor’s name. UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, quarterback Tom Brady and nearly a dozen NFL team owners were still waiting for their exact seat locations.

Celebrities will share the floor section with the likes of Jesse Jackson and hip-hop mogul Sean Combs. The MGM Grand has offered prime seats to its best customers — gamblers who carry a minimum $250,000 credit line in the casino — said Bob Arum, chief executive of Top Rank Inc.

Over the last few weeks, the longtime boxing executive has stopped short of making promises to big-name actors and directors, telling them instead: “We’ll put you on the list.”

The situation is delicate because boxing and the entertainment industry enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. No one complained when pop star Justin Bieber — a regular in Mayweather’s entourage — barged onstage at a recent pre-fight news conference.

A singer with more than 63 million Twitter followers can generate buzz and boost pay-per-view revenue. Espinoza said that Bieber “adds to the spectacle.”

In return, celebrities parlay their fame into great seats. They get a close-up view, a chance to hear the thud of each body blow and some free publicity.


Ringside seats aren’t necessarily the best seats in the house. They are not elevated, so fans must look up from floor level. And they aren’t tiered, which makes sitting behind a taller person problematic.

So why are they popular?

“It’s about being seen,” said DuBoef, who is also Arum’s stepdaughter.

Television cameras that follow the action also catch faces in the background. A commonly known fact: The first 10 rows offer the best chance for getting on screen.

“Boxing is kind of unique because there is such intimacy in the arena,” said Bragman, head of Fifteen Minutes public relations. “And every publicist can make an argument why their talent should be in the front row.”

Hollywood knows how to maximize airtime. Actors and their representatives often ask for seats opposite the principal camera locations — the main and the 90-degree — as opposed to sections that show up less frequently on hand-held cameras situated on the ring apron.

The frenzy around Mayweather-Pacquiao also has led to requests from people falsely claiming to represent actors. Fight executives have been on the lookout for “double-dipping” — publicists and agents seeking tickets from more than one source.

“You have to know what’s real and what’s not real,” DuBoef said. “Because I was a publicist for a while, I know who most of the agents are, who most of the publicists are, and who they are calling for.”

Once her tentative seating plan is complete, she will get back in touch with those representatives.

“I tell them that I have their client sitting next to this person or that person,” DuBoef said. “I ask if that’s all right.”

The answer is usually yes. But publicists occasionally suggest placing one actor a few seats — or a few rows — apart from another. The same thing happens with hotel executives and businessmen.

“Each CEO wants to be sure they are in front of other CEOs,” Espinoza said.

No one will get a complimentary ticket for Saturday night. Regardless of fame or influence, celebrities will pay $10,000 per ringside seat — if they get the opportunity.

More than a few A-list names will receive bad news over the next few days. DuBoef hates making those calls.

“Sometimes they get offended,” she said. “I apologize to them.”

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Twitter: @latimespugmire

Pugmire reported from Las Vegas, Wharton from Los Angeles.

Read the Los Angeles Times’ special edition Flipboard digital magazine Mayweather vs. Pacquiao