This past week we've seen a lot of announcements regarding fighters, including confirmation of bouts for the likes of Naoya Inoue, Vasyl Lomachenko, Hiroto Kyoguchi, and Daigo Higa. Sadly however the big talking point hasn't been these fighters. Instead it's been the on going saga between Saul Canelo Alvarez, DAZN and Golden Boy Promotions. A saga that went legal this week with Canelo filing a suit against his broadcaster partner and promoter.
We're not too interested in the legal side of things as such, though we are concerned in seeing how it plays out and how long it will essentially prevent the face of boxing from being in the ring.
We are, however, interested in concept that boxing could ever have been the focal point for a global streaming service, and that it could ever have funded the boxing contracts it was signing up for.
The three big boxing contracts, that have been widely reported, that DAZN have are the Canelo contract, at $365m over 11 fights and 5 years, the Golovkin contract, at $100m over 6 fights and 3 years, and the $1b deal with Matchroom, which was to be spread over 8 years.
Of course it's not as easy as to just blurt figures out, but, for ease of maths, that works out at close to $200m a year on boxing content. And that ignores other boxing deals the service has, for example it's broadcasting of WBSS and WP Boxing events. They may have come much, much cheaper, but together we are looking at an incredible amount being spent on Boxing.
To spearhead a service, like DAZN, on Boxing content seemed a stupid decision at the time. And has proven to be a rather questionable one still, on reflection. Of course the service would have loved to have launched with a league behind it, like they did with the J League in Japan, but those major US league rights were tied up, and boxing was one of the few sports fragmented enough for the service to get into.
With that in mind what they really needed was a smart boxing mind to head the US boxing content. They needed someone who knew the business side of boxing, knew how the sport worked, and the unique, often frustrating, issues with boxing and boxing broadcasting. They needed someone like Ross Greenburg overseeing things, including contracts, promotional deals and other things unique to boxing. Someone who understood the sport, and the nightmare it can be. Instead they went in with the idea of being a disruptor of the industry, going their own way, and throwing money at something in the hope that it would attract the boxing fan base over to the service. And someone who wasn't directly linked to a promotional outfit. They needed someone to be above that level of politics.
One of the first mistakes that they appeared to have made is assuming boxing is like other sports. It's not. Boxing is it's own weird, annoying, frustrating entity. If you're reading this we suspect your relationship with the sport is much like ours. You love it, you hate it, you're indifferent to it, you're angry about it, then you love it again.
Bouts we want aren't made at the right time, people avoid each other and do too much of their fighting on social media, promoters try to steal the attention of the fighters and we get too many meaningless matches. We have too many options for fighters wanting to take a different route to a world title and we have other countless problems. Unlike the UFC, where most of the top fighters are under one banner, or a league system like the NFL, we don't have any idea when the best in boxing will face off, there is no reason them to fight, and we can't, for certain, say they ever will.
Boxing is also a sport that tends to use limited dates, between 1 and 3 a week, not nearly enough to keep fans tuning in and coming back, like a league that will have games on 3 or 4 nights a week. Typically it's a Saturday night sport, and as a result looking for people to subscribe for potentially 5 nights of entertainment a month is somewhat a tricky task.
DAZN needed someone who knew that, in charge.
With someone like that in charge they would likely have gotten clear contracts that made it very obvious what they expected from their partners, Matchroom Sports, Canelo and GGG and how they intended to get there. They wouldn't have made a big song and dance about the money they were spending, and how big the contracts are, as that doesn't help them and makes things harder.
If you know Matchroom Sports have $125m to spend in a year, and they come to you for a fight or multi-fight deal, you bet you're gonna try and get extra from that money. If you know Canelo has $40m to spend on a fight, with $35m going to him, you're going to try and get a nibble at his money. Knowing these figures mean that when Eddie Hearn tried to lure people over they knew what he had in his war chest, and also likely knew what they could get from Al Haymon and Bob Arum.
The plan of Matchroom to get big American Stars completely failed. He went after Adrien Broner, the Charlo's and Deontay Wilder, and instead landed himself fighters like Tevin Farmer and Demetrius Andrade. The plan to throw money at the problem, figuratively and literally, didn't work. He failed to secure the stars he needed to make a mark on the US scene. Lets just be totally honest, the fan bases of Tevin Farmer and Demetrius Andrade aren't ever going to change the fortunes of a Pay Service, like DAZN.
One of the issues that neutralised the money aspect for some fighters was the lack of exposure. A fight on a new platform like DAZN didn't have the strong presence of a show on ESPN, Fox or Showtime. Even linking DAZN bouts to a potential exposure deal in the UK, on Sky Sports, and across the global DAZN platform still doesn't give a huge amount of exposure. A fighter with a big name typically wants to be seen, they to feel famous, and that wasn't really possible on this new platform, with a tiny fan base.
This was the other big problem with DAZN USA being spearheaded by boxing. It lacked the right market place for the sport.
The idea was simple. "These customers paying for PPV fights get better value here paying $10 a month as opposed to $80 for a PPV". They were right. No argument at all, they are right. It is better value, by a country mile. But that's not how things always work.
In 2016 a study by the Magna Global for SportsBusiness Journal found the average age of boxing fans watching the sport on TV was 49, going up from 47 a decade earlier, and 45 years in 2000. That's an old, ageing audience, which is probably now in their 50's.
That audience is a TV audience that has grown up with the sport, followed it and are used to seeing it on TV. A medium they are familiar with. DAZN on the other hand is the new, hip, youth friendly service aimed at streamers. The new generation. That isn't a generation that is typically following boxing. Whilst they may get better value on DAZN they typically aren't big fans of the sport.
We'll admit the Magna Global study is logically flawed. It looks at TV viewers, and sports definitely have a large online streaming audience which aren't accounted for in that study. However that streaming audience are, essentially, not paying to watch things. They are the ones who know where to look to see what they want.
Add all that into the fact DAZN, as a brand, isn't a strong brand, despite what they might think, and they were always going to struggle for market penetration.
They seemingly saw their competition as being sports content providers, and TV networks. For us the rival for DAZN was never the TV and sports channels, it was the streaming services, the Netflix's and the Amazon Prime's. The $20 a month luxury for entertainment. Yes it was cheap, yes it was new, but it was still an online entertainment service, and at the end of the day that was their competition with the same sort of market, the generation X and millennials.
Essentially they were over-paying fighters, making it clear there was a lot of money was in the coffers, didn't understand the intricacies of boxing, and were aimed at the wrong demographic for their service.
They may have seen themselves as a disruptor but the reality is they were trying to interrupt a market that simply wasn't there in the way they thought it was and those that wanted to watch for free knew how to. They were incredibly naive to the sport they were getting themselves involved in.
The long term plan was obviously to tie fighters into long term global contracts, and then launch world wide, at some point. That was the long game, and one where boxing could indeed play a major role. After all it is one of the most global sports. Fighters from around the globe compete against each other and it's a notable sport in places currently without DAZN, like the UK, Mexico, Philippines and Thailand. There was potential for those large contracts to pay off.
That however seemed to be a longer term plan and by the time it seemed ready to come we were already multiple fights into the GGG and Canelo deals, and of course had a global Pandemic. It also ignores the fact that certain global countries may not have the Internet infrastructure needed to provide the service properly.
The 18 or so months that the US market had the service before launching globally almost certainly cost them here. There was no point having global rights but only being able to use them in for 5 or 6 territories. They could sell the rights, sure, but tying people into their service was the key, and was a missed opportunity.
When we look back over DAZN it was mistake after mistake. It was issue after issue. It was bad decision after bad decision.
It was a great idea for boxing fans, but was ran the wrong way around. It was ran with too many loss leaders as the selling points, it's was sold to the wrong audience, it was sold in the wrong way and it wasn't sold to a wider enough fan base. The smarter plan would have been to buy up content, link up with multiple promoters, and tell them to play nice, and tell them to keep their financial dealings quiet. Don't brag about how much you can blow, that will only drive up the price.
Had they gone and opened the doors to multiple smaller promoters on a global basis, managed to secure regular content, had 3 or 4 nights a week with action, even at a smaller level, it would have attracted fans, it would have sold the long term potential, it would have been far cheaper for DAZN themselves, and it would have allowed them to build a core fan base, before throwing open the purse strings. It wouldn't have made a huge splash, but it would have given them a foundation to build the sport, to build their audience, to build their future stars, and to get the bigger stars at the right time.
The SportsBusiness Journal report:
Earlier I mentioned the J-League contract DAZN signed way back when the service launched in Japan. That saw them paying almost $2b for a 10 year deal with the J-League. That works at around $200m a year, for around 300 matches a year, spread over a most of the year. That deal, in recent weeks, has been extended but with a drop in annual cost of 11.1% and maybe that needs to be something boxing needs to look at going forward. It was also a deal that provided 10 months of action and kept subscribers subscribed, rather than having them drop in and out a few times a year, like the boxing lead model did, with people only subscribing when big fights were on.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces