Over the last few weeks we've seen DAZN snapping up talent and building a very strong stable of fighters to work with through different promotional tie ups, notably working hand in hand with Matchroom US, World of Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions. They have seen the streaming service become more talked about than almost any fighter in the sport right now. One market they've not yet cracked, at least for boxing, is the Japanese market, despite being available in the country for quite a while now.
DAZN is available in Japan, and is relatively big there with rights for things like the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball), UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Premier League, the J League, F1, various Tennis and Rugby competitions, a number of MMA companies and even some professional darts. Their content library is solid in several areas, but not in boxing.
They do also show some boxing, but by some I really do mean "some". Most of their boxing content is from the US, and whilst that has shown some Japanese fighters, including Ryota Murata, Ryohei Takahashi and Takeshi Inoue, they haven't exactly been shown at prime time. Instead they have been shown live, at the same time as their bouts have taken place in the US, giving them a mid-day type of time slot. The idea seems to be for the channel to appeal to Japanese audiences on the value of Western fighters, which does have it's place with Japanese fight fans, though maybe not as big of a place as DAZN would like.
This means that not only are the fans rarely able to see Japanese fighters on the service, but that a lot of the fights they get on the service aren't at a great time for their audience numbers, and there is actually a pretty good reason for this.
The rather unique thing about Japanese boxing is that, for the most part, their biggest fighters are available on free TV. Fighters like WBA "regular" Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue, WBO Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito, WBC Light Flyweight champion Kenshiro, WBC "interim" Bantamweight champion Takuma Inoue and former WBA "regular" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata are all linked to Fuji TV, for fights held in Japan. On the other hand WBA "super" Light Flyweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi, former 3-weight champion Kazuto Ioka, former unified Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi are all inked to TBS, and WBO Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka is inked with TBS' affiliate CBC, which allows TBS to show his fights.
Notably it does look like it's not just the present tied up with TBS and Fuji TV but also the future with TBS having a working relationship with Watanabe, who promote prospects like Ginjiro Shigeoka and Seiya Tsutsumi as well as up coming world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi, whilst Fuji's deal with Ohashi Gym is likely to see Fuji having exclusivity on Satoshi Shimizu and Taku Kuwahara, among others.
The only real outlier to this is Tomoki Kameda, who does have a streaming deal, albeit with Abema TV, who have shown his last few fights for free. They appear to be working strongly with Kyoei and the Koki Kameda TFC series of shows, so Kameda is also off the table, at least for now.
Unlike in the US Japanese fight fans aren't accustomed to paying for boxing, especially not for their top guys. They also see their fighters fighting on free TV in front of a multi-million people audiences, with their profiles becoming huge as a result
Saying that however they have had the ability to pay for some boxing, with Boxingraise offering some VOD and live domestic action, G+ being a premium service that shows a monthly live domestic card and WOWOW showing some international content, but on the whole it's rare to see boxing on pay TV in Japan. Even services that did once offer paid options, such as GAORA and Sky A+ have now all but stopped their boxing content. GAORA hasn't shown anything in years and we believe the last Sky A+ boxing card featured Naoko Fujioka against Shindo Go.
If we do look at the available pay options for Japanese fans they cater to 2 different markets.
Boxingraise is outlier in a lot to how boxing content works in Japan, with it being a combination of a streaming and Video on Demand service. It is run by Dangan, who promote a number of shows every month, and is available online. It is a boxing only service, that typically shows 1 live card a month and adds 4 or 5 new shows on a delay basis, whether it's a classic card or a recent one is dependent on the activity of any given month. At ￥980 it's affordable, but it is boxing only content, and will cater to those who are hardcore fans only. Notable this is actually available outside of Japan though is one that only hardcore fans are ever likely to be interested in.
WOWOW is a general premium service, showing a combination of movies, live content, musical concerts and things like the Oscars. Basically if you get WOWOW you're unlikely to get it mainly for the sport. It has a traditional fan base, having been around since the 1990's and it's boxing content is not significant enough to get the channel just for boxing. Think of it as the Japanese Showtime, without PPV if you will, with plenty of wide ranging contest. In regards to boxing it only shows big US bouts, often on delay. Some fighters are live but usually it's a delay broadcast.
G+ is a more clear premium sports channel, and is a channel that is linked with free TV giant NTV. This is more of your Sky Sports type of thing, showing sport through the day with things like classic wrestling, golf, NASCAR, Boxing, a combination of classic, live and magazine shows. On average they do 1 live boxing card a month, though there is some leeway with that, and it's on a Saturday afternoon/evening, as part of their long established Dynamic Glove series. To add the channel on to a typical satellite package is ￥900, though of course you will need a satellite package to begin with.
When DAZN launched in Japan it's main rival likely was SKY A+ and G+, both of which are premium sports channels. As mentioned SKY A+ no longer seems to show boxing, or haven't done for a while, but as a general sports channel it is DAZN's rival.
When DAZN launched in Japan it did so at a price point of ￥1750. Yet for a boxing fan, who already has a CS Satelite set up, that's not significantly cheaper than paying for G+ and Boxingraise, and getting a couple of live domestic cards, some archive stuff and getting the other benefits that come with G+.
The pricing for SKY A+ is a bit more complicated than for DAZN or G+, due to it's tiers, but on the whole it does cost more than DAZN. It offers multiple channels, through the TV with multiple services on some of it's packages. With it not showing boxing however it's difficult to really talk about them as competition here, as in for this particular market, but they are certainly rivals in terms of general sports content. What DAZN is likely to do is to make SKY A+ cut their pricing and perhaps even force them to offer more versatility to their services, just to compete with what DAZN are offering. However that seems like it will just benefit consumers more than anything, at least in the short term.
The big issue that DAZN is facing when breaking into the Japanese market, for boxing, is that it lacks live content in prime time. We suspect that we'll see Matchroom and Goldenboy using more Japanese challengers, to try help their broadcast partner's Japanese arm. What DAZN needs to make it in Japanese boxing market is a deal with a domestic promoter, at least one. Unfortunately for them it's hard to see where they go in regards to inking with a top promoter but there are options out there.
A starting point could be World of Sport Boxing, who promote Takeshi Inoue, Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako and a couple of promising prospects. Along with Shinsei Gym, who promote Etsuko Tada, Reiya Konishi, Shun Kubo and Yuki Yamauchi, though they have had a working relationship with Fuji TV in recent times. As well as the likes of Yokohama Hikari and Ichi Riki, who have worked together a lot recently. Between them they have not only Ryohei Takahashi but also Akihiro Kondo, Ryo Akaho and Keita Kurihara. It's also worth noting that Naoko Fujioka has worked on the same shows as the Ichi Riki and Yokohama Hikari fighters in recent times, which would give them a chance to continue that relationship
If DAZN could link with those promoters they wouldn't have male world champions, but they would have 2 female world champions, a regular and steady stream of live shows in and around prime time, with the potential to build the names of fighters who could fight for world titles. For example Inoue is likely to get another shot down the line, Konishi is set to get a second world title fight, Kubo is world ranked and a former world champion, Kondo is set for a world title eliminator, and the prospects that they would tie up would give them a longer term plan. It would also allow DAZN's international arms a chance to showcase Japanese fighters before they get big fights, meaning that the likes of Takahashi and Inoue would have been more well known before making their US debuts recently.
Will DAZN link up with Japanese promoters?
There hasn't been much rumour about it, but we wouldn't be surprised if it happens in the future. It does make sense from a boxing point of view, and would be beneficial to the fighters, the promoters and DAZN as a whole, not just the Japanese arm, allowing them more content for their various international services, and help entice Japanese fight fans to buy into the service.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).