‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: Did Major Sports Events Hurt the Box Office?

The Avengers may have triumphed over Ultron, but Earth’s Mightiest Heroes got a little bruised facing off against an onslaught of high-profile sports events.

The diabolical android had nothing on a weekend that overflowed with must-see baseball, basketball and hockey games, to say nothing of horse racing’s premier event and the so-called “fight of the century” between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

The matchup between the two greatest pugilists of our day had a lot to do with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” failing to trump “The Avengers'” record-breaking $207.4 million debut, analysts and studio executives say. With an opening of $187.7 million, the latest Marvel movie is still a massive success, and boasts the second-biggest bow in history, so don’t pass around the collection plate just yet. Still, going into the weekend, many industry sages and Disney, Marvel’s parent company, expected it to premiere to north of $200 million.

It wasn’t just Mayweather and Pacquiao that took a chunk out of the super team’s ticket sales. Millions of Americans tuned in to watch American Pharoah triumph at the Kentucky Derby, the New York Yankees edge out the Boston Red Sox, the New York Rangers defeat the Washington Capitals to inch closer to the Stanley Cup and the Los Angeles Clippers knock out the San Antonio Spurs in a wild and wooly playoff game.

“It was one of greatest sports days perhaps in history,” said Dave Hollis, distribution chief at Disney. “It feels like the barrage of sporting options grabbed a lot of people’s attention.”

The numbers suggest he’s right. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had a bigger Friday than its predecessor, finishing the day with $84.5 million, as opposed to the $80.8 million that “Avengers” banked. However, its Saturday results paled in comparison, topping out at $57.2 million instead of $69.6 million for the first film.

The falloff was particularly pronounced among evening crowds. Roughly 31% of “Avengers: Age of Ultron’s” business took place after 5 p.m., while 37% of “The Avengers'” box office and 41% of “Iron Man 3’s” Saturday tickets were sold after that hour.

“It felt the impact,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Saturday is usually a big day and those time slots are when a lot of people would go see it.”

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” wasn’t the only film fighting to hold off the onslaught of hot button sporting events. Even a film like “Far From the Madding Crowd,” an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel that seems far removed from the slug match taking place in Las Vegas, had weaker Saturday results than expected even if the audiences for both events would seem to have little overlap.

Other films, such as “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” and “Furious 7,” which catered to male crowds, predictably suffered steep drop-offs on Saturday.

“It’s not so much everyone wanted to see the fight,” said Frank Rodriguez, senior vice president of distribution at Fox Searchlight, the studio behind “Far From the Madding Crowd.” “There were parties everywhere for the Kentucky Derby and other things. There was just so much activity. It was a tough weekend overall.”

Of course, the first “Avengers” also battled against the Kentucky Derby, as well as a pay-per-view matchup between Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, but neither event could match the intensity of the interest in the boxing match with Pacquiao.

The good news for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is that more moviegoers could rush out to see the film on Sunday and the film should show impressive endurance through next weekend when the only other major debut is “Hot Pursuit,” a comedy with Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara.

Some analysts think that projections for the latest “Avengers” should have taken into account the boxing matches, horse races and playoff series that would vie for moviegoers’ attention.

“It shows the importance of looking at everything from the 30,000 feet level,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “There’s an entertainment pie and all these different events are going to take their own slice of the pie.”

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