DAZN are aiming to become the go-to place for combat sports with a deal that is set to revolutionise the way boxing is viewed in the US. Described in some quarters as the “Netflix of Sports”, former ESPN President John Skipper heads up this UK-based company as Executive Chairman and the plan is to disrupt the lucrative Pay-Per-View market that currently sees big hitters like HBO and Showtime raking in anything from $60-$100 for premium boxing attractions. With ESPN releasing their new ESPN+ app at $4.99 per month and now DAZN (pronounced Da Zone) entering the arena, the noble art is set for a global shake-up.
The recent press conference announcing this ground-breaking deal was an opportunity for Matchroom’s Head of Boxing Eddie Hearn to flex his muscles in the American market and let the competition and doubters know in equal measure that his stateside entity (Matchroom Boxing USA) is now a significant player. In doing so, Hearn has laid his cards on the table in a very public manner in the form of an eight-year $100 billion agreement that will see 16 UK and 16 US shows streamed to subscribers. There are no visible smoke and mirror, backdoor dealings or shifty shenanigans as was the case in 2014 when influential CEO Richard Schaefer upped sticks and allegedly stripped a pile of Golden Boy assets, before laying them at the door of Al Haymon and the PBC. (I asked Schaefer about that whole situation once, when he was at a Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz press conference. Grinning an unshaven smile and leaning back in his standard oversized jacket, Schaefer insisted there had been no “monkey business” on his part).
Could AJ now be appearing on DAZN alongside some of their most popular offerings, like Japanese J-League soccer?
DAZN, meanwhile, is owned by Len Blavatnik’s Perform Group. The Ukrainian-born magnate is one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, and he shelled out around £700 million in 2014 to acquire the online sports rights group. While Eddie Hearn is the chic face of the deal, I would venture that talks have been going on behind the scenes, much higher up the Murdoch food chain seeing as such a lofty financial player like Blavatnik is involved.
DAZN is not going the Pay-Per-View route here, but rather a monthly subscription with no long-term commitments. This means that the product must be strong in order to retain the interest of an ever-demanding subscriber base and, more importantly, keep the money rolling in consistently each month. Spotify (who Blavatnik also owns a stake in) and Amazon have adopted similar models in the music and TV arenas, respectively, and it was only a matter of time before sports caught up and hopped on board the new movement.
This money-spinning deal comes around the same time that Anthony Joshua’s contract is up for renewal, so it serves as a welcome power play in that respect, as HBO and Showtime seemingly scuffle behind the scenes to secure the rights to televise one of world boxing’s most lucrative commodities. Eddie is closing in on a reported three-year agreement that would tie down Joshua for his prime years while netting the Londoner a cool £100 million. With big fights on the horizon against Deontay Wilder and possibly Tyson Fury, this is a boom time for all involved. Even though Joshua has been courted by the likes of the UFC and other parties -prompting some observers to prematurely speculate that he would cut ties with Eddie and go it alone under an ‘AJ Boxing’ banner- I expect Joshua to stick with Hearn. It makes the most sense as Eddie brings a lot to the table, serves as a frontman, buffer, respectable public face and someone who can push through a deal or two. Joshua knows where his bread is buttered and Hearn is worth the percentage.
Could AJ now be appearing on DAZN alongside some of their most popular offerings, like Japanese J-League soccer? Don’t laugh too hard at that suggestion as even though Japanese soccer may not be anything worth discussing over here, DAZN already disrupted the Asian market by signing an exclusive 10-year deal to show the J-League on their streaming platform while knocking traditional TV services out of the way. If DAZN expands, will SKY, BT Sport and the likes start looking over their shoulders with a little more trepidation? More than likely SKY will get on board, having been privy to the deal all along – hence my earlier supposition that the roots of this agreement were discussed in suave upmarket functions and consummated in dingy boardrooms between serious power brokers, long before they shot up the inverted beanstalk and came to public consciousness. A tortured metaphor but I’m sure you get the point.
The bottom line is, Eddie will need to create a stack of fruitful partnerships -similar to how he operates in conjunction with Dmitry Salita Promotions- to make this deal work.
DAZN’s current offerings very much slot into the niche category and you could imagine some of the sporting events on their roster fitting seamlessly around the schedule of a Free Sports TV in the UK (Sky channel 424 if you’re interested). DAZN streams the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) in Germany, so they have previous form with Matchroom Sports. They will also be screening a significant portion of Champions League matches to subscribers in Germany next season, so their scope for obtaining valuable content is widening all the time.
The fact that the deal is set to run for a possible eight years means that pathways can be formed from the outset and directions mapped out, which would be more difficult if the outcomes had been secured on a short-term basis as has been the case with the likes of HBO in recent years. The top man at HBO boxing, Peter Nelson, had invested heavily in the likes of Gennady Golovkin (nearing the end of his career), Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (tainted by a PED scandal), Sergey Kovalev (lost to Ward, who himself retired, leaving no big future star to emerge from those two contests) while Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko (now both fighting on ESPN). HBO and Nelson are undoubtedly under pressure as the channel’s grip on big time boxing continues to loosen. Last weekend we saw Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares box each other on ESPN at the same time as HBO televised the Saddam Ali-Jaime Munguia fight. Just a few years ago you would’ve easily reversed those cards, with Munguia’s impressive knockout win representing the standard of an ESPN Friday Night Fight card and Lomachenko and Linares comfortably strutting their high-level stuff on HBO. How times have changed.
One thing Eddie doesn’t have in abundance at the moment and will undoubtedly need if he is to fulfil his obligations is top-level talent. Danny Jacobs has headlined with Matchroom in his last two bouts, but it is not entirely certain whether Jacobs has completely split from Al Haymon. Indeed, Jacobs himself has been fairly contradictory when discussing the current involvement of Haymon in his career. Haymon would appear to be still involved in an advisory capacity with Jacobs, while Matchroom USA handles the promotional side of his career and HBO exclusively televise his fights. Could other fighters follow Jacobs’ lead and align with Hearn but still avail of the guiding, highly influential hand of Uncle Al in the background?
Cutting ties with Haymon is no easy task, and sources indicate that there is often a myriad of stipulations and ties weaved into any deal to ensure Al retains his requisite leverage. I’m not as much of a Haymon detractor as most. I think he’s done right by a number of fighters over the years and has the best interest of his fighters at heart – but I’ll save that discussion for another day. The likes of Vanes Martirosyan (who ran to Don King, which remarkably is still an option), Andre Dirrell and Jamel Herring have all managed to escape Haymon’s clutches. However, I doubt Haymon will be shedding too many tears at any of those departures and, more than likely helped to ease the exit routes of such a motley crew.
The bottom line is, Eddie will need to create a stack of fruitful partnerships -similar to how he operates in conjunction with Dmitry Salita Promotions- to make this deal work. Hearn and the Matchroom brand will be the driving force here though. Make no mistake, the “in association with” part of the fight posters will be tucked away in type 10 grey font because nobody gets in the way of this marketing push and rightly so.
The $1 billion deal is slightly vague in that around half will be put up for the first four years and then a possible further four years on top of that, IF the deal is successful and continues as negotiated and announced. Then we might be approaching somewhere close to the billion mark, assuming the streaming numbers, subscriber totals (bringing in projected revenue that has yet to be nailed down but quoted as anything from $12-$20 per month) and expected returns all match up as proposed. In a nutshell, don’t get too hung up on the big figure just yet. While it is difficult to ascertain precisely how much money will be available per show, the reality is that such a big statement in the boxing market will inflate values and prices, especially when boxers come to the table to negotiate their own self-worth. The prices were previously inflated when Al Haymon swaggered into town, armed with a fistful of Waddell and Reed’s dollars, and formulated the PBC.
In conclusion, the deal has been widely reported and speculated on in great detail, regarding what it is supposed to represent and how it will play out, but the best thing to do is give it a year and see what transpires. Only then will we see how it works in practice, what is promised and delivered and how it affects the boxing landscape as a whole. Surely, in capable hands, an injection of such a significant amount of cash is a good thing for boxing.