Lou DiBella says streaming platform DAZN will have to make changes as it grapples with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he doesn’t see it going under right now.
A Financial Times report 10 days ago claimed the global broadcaster, which airs Anthony Joshua fights in the United States, is looking for cash to secure its future as the lack of live sport hits subscription-based platforms hard. The report said billionaire owner Len Blavatnik was looking ideally for investment into the business, but would even consider an outright sale.
DAZN launched to huge fanfare in 2016 in Germany, and made a massive entry into the United States in 2018 with boxing at the forefront of its strategy to become ‘the Netflix of sports’. It signed a reported $1bn pact with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, and also signed massive deals with superstar fighters Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (to the tune of $365m) and Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin among others.
Respected promoter and former HBO executive DiBella told Seconds Out: “Put everything aside about the rumours and articles you are reading and whatever. You’re a subscriber-based business, there’s been no sports for months. You were already a loss leader, losing a lot of money attempting to build a subscribership. You can’t build anything in a pandemic when no-one is fighting and no-one is performing in any sport.
“They had to stop paying rights holders because they weren’t getting product, and they never even got to do the launch of the international app (DAZN had been planning a global rollout, again with boxing at the forefront). And look, they are owned primarily by one guy, who is a multi-billionaire, but has to decide what his tolerance for pain is.”
While the rumours right now – and the short-term future of major live sports events – suggest the future may be bleak for DAZN, DiBella stresses its success would be good for boxing, and he doesn’t fear it is in danger of immediate demise.
“Look I need DAZN to succeed, I am rooting heavily for DAZN to come back and come back with a plan and come back strong. But they certainly have business issues they are gonna have to confront, and decisions they are gonna have to make. I don’t think it’s foolish of them to take their time, because you wanna come back the right way, not in their situation.
“For them to come back and bleed more money, bleed more money and put on programming that is not gonna bring subscribers, doesn’t make any sense. I do believe that they will come back in some form, I do believe DAZN is not going to go down right now, that is my personal belief. I think you’ll see changes and adjustments.”
DiBella says he is not the least bit surprised by DAZN’s reported issues, instead he feels the pandemic has merely hastened a much-needed reset of boxing’s financial marketplace.
“I’ve been saying for months that there was gonna be an adjustment in the marketplace without a pandemic. Because boxing has been in a bubble of big spending that hasn’t really seen commensurate results. And that’s been from everybody.
“Eddie’s been spending big, big, big without the events in the States bringing huge subscribership. The ratings haven’t been astronomical on any of the networks doing boxing – some of them have been solid but haven’t really justified the bubble of big spending. So I think we were heading towards an adjustment without a pandemic, and the pandemic is certainly gonna lead to changes and adjustments.”
DAZN made a reported $100m offer to then-WBC heavyweight king Deontay Wilder in March 2019 in a bid to match him against Joshua for the undisputed titles. But Wilder turned it down and subsequently lost his belt to Joshua’s fellow Briton Tyson Fury.
Meanwhile the strategy of contracting Golovkin to go along with the Canelo deal was ostensibly with a view to the pair meeting in a third fight. But this has yet to materialise and is unlikely to do so until big crowds are allowed back into arenas. The rematch between Fury and Wilder in Las Vegas in February for example drew a live gate of almost $17m – a tough gap to fill for any promotion if events have to take place behind closed doors.