EDWARD TRACY, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF SANDS CHINA, WANTS MACAU TO BE THE LAS VEGAS OF ASIA, WRITES MATHEW SCOTT.
The guess is, Edward Tracy is having the time of his life.
When he has been up there on the podium at the Venetian Macao over the past 18 months, Tracy has done what he is paid to do – he has pounded the drum for the business he’s in charge of as president and CEO of Sands China.
But there’s been a glint in his eye all the while, specifically when Tracy turns his attention to his property’s growing stature in the fight game.
That’s why when you get up close you’ll find that initial suspicion confirmed. When Tracy talks about his love of the pugilistic arts, it is a passion that goes back decades and is steeped in the rich history of the fight game.
What has Tracy buzzing is that he has been able to put Macau on the map thanks to partnerships with the likes of veteran boxing promoter Bob Arum and his Top Rank organisation and Dana White’s Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The fight cards are now coming at regular intervals from both codes, while other events – such as the Thai Fight World Battle – continue to also explore what the market out here is keen on.
The crowds, the viewing figures and the old-fashion word on the street – never mind the twittersphere – is they’ve got things pretty well right, pretty damn quick, even taking into account the odd mismatch.
Asked about his own personal connection to boxing and Tracy immediately turns to his youth and to a man who captured the imagination of the world.
“My earliest influence when it came to boxing was Muhammad Ali,” Tracy says.
“When I was a young man he was a huge influence on me. I always loved the stories about boxers. Where they came from, how they worked their way out of whatever situation they were in, how they worked their way up.
“It was also what they did with their success and Ali was really a guy who was trying to make the world better without being necessarily didactic. Not only was he a champion boxer he was a champion for a lot of causes.”
The opportunity to work closely with the power brokers of the sport first came in Tracy’s previous incarnations working for the Sands group in Puerto Rico and the Trump organisation in Atlantic City. Instances where Tracy was able to establish boxing as one of the major attractions.
THE CITY IS ALL ABOUT POTENTIAL. IT’S BOXING, IT’S MIXED MARTIAL ARTS WITH THE UFC, IT’S ABOUT FINDING PEOPLE WHO ARE THE VERY BEST AT WHAT THEY DO.
The move to Macau offered similar opportunities, but with potential that demanded to be measured on a far greater scale. Just in case anyone needs reminding, Macau is a city of about 600,000 residents that welcomes an estimated 24 million visitors per year.
And even though gaming revenues are expected to be propped up at around one per cent this year, these punters are still currently coughing up about US$45 billion per year into the city’s cavernous (and carnivorous) casinos.
“When I came here I just looked at the numbers,” Tracy says.
“I looked at our entertainment platform across a broad portfolio of offerings and I knew what worked in the US could work here. One – because there is a billion more people.
“Two – because it was relatively new. Three – because there was a very firm foundation of action sports, of martial arts, in Asia. I knew if we put the right foundations together we would have a success on our hands.”
Veteran promoter Arum says he “shot my mouth off” when he first saw the Cotai Arena and imagined it as a venue for boxing, one he thought might even rival those offered up by the sport’s spiritual home in Las Vegas.
“Ed was the one who understood how it could work,” Arum says.
“It’s had a lot to do with Zou Shiming and his popularity, and it’s had a lot to do with Ed’s work. Even in America now, there is talk of Macau becoming the fight capital of the world.”
It’s some claim, even from one of the sporting history’s great spruikers, but Arum hasn’t backed many losers in his 50-year career and he knows that Macau offers a few things Vegas can never boast – there’s the very friendly tax breaks fighters can make use of and there’s all that potential audience just across the Barrier Gate.
Tracy says the opportunity to work with Chinese flyweight Zou Shiming – a two-time Olympics gold medallist and three-time world amateur champion – was crucial because of the 33-year-old’s popularity on the Mainland, and the interest there would be in his decision at the start of last year to turn pro and point himself towards a world title.
“It has helped enormously that we have a world champion in Zou to coalesce the programme around,” Tracy says.
“My view wasn’t about how do we get our feet wet, it was how do we bring in the best of the best and accelerate.
“Macau in 10 years has seven times the revenue of Las Vegas and it took Vegas 50 years to get to those figures. The city is all about potential. It’s boxing, it’s mixed martial arts with the UFC, it’s about finding people who are the very best at what they do.”
As has been proven with Zou – unbeaten at 5-0 going into the 23 November clash and wildly popular with the Cotai Arena crowd – it has helped across the code the cards we are witnessing have more than their fair share of Asian fighters.
Zou has shared the limelight with the up-and-coming Hong Kong junior bantamweight Rex Tso, as well as Macau’s own super welterweight Ng Kuok Kun and the Chinese lightweight whirlwind Ik Yang – all of whom remain unbeaten.
Manny Pacquiao’s presence last November and his return to fight American Chris Algieri on 23 November has also helped spread the word about Macau worldwide.
Meanwhile, the UFC’s cards have featured cult hero “The Stun Gun” Dong Hyun Kim and unearthed Hong Kong-based Brazilian Alberto Mina, and showcased the (admittedly debatable) skills of the finalists in the organisation’s first series of The Ultimate Fighter China.
Tracy points to the full houses his property is entertaining as well as a broadcast reach he estimates made it into 920 million homes in China in 2013, with the figure pushed up over the one billion mark when the US and Mexico, Central America and Russia markets are taken into account.
So far, then, so good.
“I think there’s a process that you go through, a growth, and we are very proud of the growth of our non-gaming revenue and the quality of the cards we are putting on is at the forefront of all that,” Tracy says.
“The entertainment value is of vital importance to us as it is to me as a fight fan. It has got to be a full-on night’s worth of entertainment and that’s what we think we have been giving people.
“We are extremely proud to have created this venue for young athletes from China, from Hong Kong, from right here in Macau and from all over Asia to hit the world stage.”