- How DAZN coped with a pandemic and came out stronger
- The race to sign soon-to-be free agent Anthony Joshua
- DAZN’s relationship with P4P king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez
- The future of boxing in the UK, and where PPV fits in that
- The incredible collapse of Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March 2020, many boxing experts were already penning their obituaries for streaming platform DAZN.
The self-styled ‘Netflix of sports’ had already invested fortunes into building its platform with boxing at the forefront. And now that live sports platform had no live sports to stream.
A blockbusting $1billion deal with Hearn in the United States and a similarly spectacular $365million pact with ‘Canelo’ were just the tip of the iceberg in an unprecedented spending spree which followed DAZN’s US launch in 2018.
But against all odds, DAZN appears to have reset, retooled and emerged from the other side stronger. It launched a global platform in December 2020 at a rock-bottom price of £1.99 per month, subscribers are growing fast and the relationship with ‘Canelo’ is strong.
The icing on the cake though was that landmark UK pact with Hearn, which means the promoter will end his long association with Sky Sports in July and go all in with DAZN globally.
DAZN is now unquestionably the big dog in UK boxing, and arguably in world boxing. It’s a scenario which a year ago seemed unthinkable.
The situation was likely mitigated by the deep pockets of DAZN owner Sir Leonard Blavatnik – the UK’s richest man with a wealth of £23billion per the recent Sunday Times rich List.
Markowski though admits it took change at DAZN for this stunning turnaround to happen.
He explained: “We used the opportunity well and it could have gone one of two ways. It’s definitely trending in the right direction – it feels like a good place to be.”
Joe Markowski on Hearn’s DAZN deal
Last week’s Hearn deal is symptomatic of a stunning year for DAZN – last summer it had seemed highly unlikely.
“This time last year, no way would I have thought this deal was gonna happen,” admitted Markowski.
“I think we then reset a few bits, we rearranged how we are using our money in boxing generally. By December we were in a good place on all of that.
“The final proof point needed was whether or not the international DAZN offer into the UK would be well received, and it really has been. The numbers we’re stepping into the UK with already from a subscription point of view are really, really strong.
“Then it’s been a case of stepping through the numbers, which needed to be sensible from our perspective, and gave them what they (Matchroom) needed to step away from Sky. It’s not really a leap of faith, but I think it’s reflective of how bullish they are on the DAZN business.
“The conversation really got going this side of New Year and probably concluded about six weeks ago. So it’s been good.”
Hearn had been open in recent months about how big this next TV deal was for him and Matchroom. And crucially he stated constantly his desire to have control over all facets of production – including fight night. Something Sky would likely find difficult to give up.
DAZN, Hearn and production values
Markowski reasoned: “The quality of the end product is so important, because there is so much that goes into the promotion of an event and the spectacle of the actual show is the crescendo of that.
“I think candidly, Matchroom saw an opportunity to grow a new division of their business (Matchroom Media) – one they’re very passionate about. Eddie is extremely passionate about everything from ring walks through to analysis. He’s very close to that.
“I think also he’s extremely clued up on the requirements of the UK boxing consumer and lives and breathes that conversation on a day to-day basis. So he wanted that responsibility – it’s obviously something we’re going to do in close collaboration with them.
“I also think the blend of new breed, engaging new audiences, which we’ll bring with an understanding of what hardcore boxing fans want, will mean that there’s a solution from a production perspective that meets those two briefs.
“There’s an opportunity as well to engage new fans. I think Eddie has made boxing slightly cool again – helped by the likes of AJ – and Canelo is coming into his own in the US, particularly exposing his personality, which is great.
“For our business to keep growing – and we’re sort of forecasting this – we feel there’s an opportunity to engage a new segment of fans. How we stitch lifestyle and music and urban culture into the whole experience around DAZN and Matchroom Boxing is gonna be interesting.”
Markowski on celebrity fights
Last weekend’s Floyd Mayweather vs Logan Paul exhibition in Miami divided opinion massively, and DAZN was one of the first platforms to buy into celebrities fighting when it broadcast the Logan vs KSI rematch at Staples Center, Los Angeles in late 2019.
Markowski takes a balanced view on events like that, but says whatever boxing puts in front of consumers, it must take the opportunity to reach new audiences.
“We feel there’s an opportunity to reach new fans and I think we’re starting to see that already. People will rightly in some cases roll their eyes at the circus of a celebrity boxing event. But you can’t deny that it is exposing boxing to a new breed of fans.
“I’m not saying that justifies every single event that’s been put on in that world, but tactics that ultimately engage a new audience of fans and bring new fans into the sport is good for the sport.
“That can be as subtle as a production treatment and it can be as big as a celebrity boxing event – there’s different ways of doing it. We’re committed to a sensible and sustainable long-term solution that will gradually grow and grow the number of people watching boxing.”
DAZN will bid for Joshua
Now Hearn is locked up for the next five years, the next hot commodity to hit the boxing broadcast market in the UK will be world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
Joshua has one fight remaining on his current deal with Sky – that is likely to be a September title defence against former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk. After that, likely comes a huge bidding war for his services.
AJ is of course promoted by Hearn, his bouts since 2018 have all aired on DAZN outside the UK and Markowski makes no secret of the desire to acquire his domestic rights as well.
Joshua fights in the UK have though been pay-per-view years in recent years, so how would a platform philosophically opposed to PPV make that work?
“We’re looking at a business globally of different ways of interacting with consumers, always with a commitment to the vision on which we started DAZN, which was democratising sport and making it more accessible.
“So as and when Freddie Cunningham and 258 (Joshua’s management company) and AJ are ready to have a conversation about his domestic UK rights, I think we’ll be stepping into that conversation with a broader range of proposition options.
“Of course we’re going to be an interested party in those conversations, and we’ll be flexible and consumer friendly as we think about how we would conceptually monetise something like that.”
DAZN and PPV
Markowski points to the current glut of highly-priced pay-per-view shows in the US as something which cannot be good for the sport.
“I think there’s a place for pay-per-view in boxing, but there’s an over-reliance previously in the UK on it – Eddie has said that himself. It’s definitely a problem in the US.
“If you looked starting this last Sunday for the next 12 weeks, you’ve got Mayweather/Logan Paul, you’ve got Pacquiao, you’ve got Jake Paul, Fury vs Wilder, Teofimo – five or six, maybe more, pay-per-view events on top of an already very, very highly-priced cable TV environment.
“So to be a boxing fan is a very expensive thing, and ultimately that has served over a long period of time to reduce the number of people who can afford to watch boxing regularly. That’s not good for the sport.
“Big fights going behind pay-per-view barriers too often, it just dilutes the interest in the sport. So is there a place for pay-per-view and similar models? Yes, I think it’s always gonna have a place in boxing. But it shouldn’t happen as often as it does. I think there’s a commitment from DAZN to address that globally.”
New DAZN price will surprise – Markowski
That £1.99 per month price point in the UK has been a big factor in DAZN’s domestic success so far. Markowski and Hearn both admit that will rise, but not just yet, and crucially not by as much as people think.
“We’re not ready to announce it yet but when we do I think people will be very positively surprised by the price point we go with longer-term in the UK.
“I think we’ve been successful employing the £1.99 introductory price point thus far and we’re going to continue that through to the end of August.
“Looking at the speculation in the last week on where we take our price to longer term, all of it is above where we’ll end up.”
Boxing has a history of shooting itself in the foot and not delivering the fights which the public desperately craves.
It happened again recently when the eagerly-awaited Fury vs Joshua heavyweight unification was scuppered just 24 hours after Fury had announced an August 14 date for Saudi Arabia.
Fury vs Joshua collapse ‘disappointing’
DAZN was in strong position to stream that fight – outside the UK and the US at the very least. Markowski says the way it fell apart was “disappoininting”, and believes there are lessons to be learned for the sport.
“I think we’re all pretty disappointed with how boxing has allowed the Fury fight to fall apart. I just think it’s very disappointing and I don’t think we’re shy in saying that.
“It’s the fight that everyone wants to see – the speed at which that changed is surprising. We were all locked in on AJ/Fury – as a fan first and foremost I very much hope that fight can happen before the end of the year.
“But they’ve now both got to step through challenging fights to allow that to happen and then obviously a deal’s got to get done.
“I’m not going to sit here and criticise any individuals and offer an opinion on who is at fault, but boxing needs to get around itself better to make sure that fans are given the fights they want to happen.
“If boxing doesn’t put on the fights that beyond hardcore, casual fans want to see, it’s never going to establish itself as a major sport on a consistent basis.
“It needs to learn a lesson from this experience and I hope that going forward we can be a contributing factor to a solution for that.”
While DAZN was already set to be a part of any Fury vs Joshua story, its part could now grow much bigger due to Joshua’s impending free agency.
“Internationally we’re in a really strong relationship with AJ already, so we’ll be involved in that fight if it happens in a material way. It’s the domestic situation, there’s conversations to come on that once AJ and his management team are ready to come to market at the conclusion of their existing deal.”
DAZN and ‘Canelo’ relationship strong – Markowski
While the relationship with Joshua remains strong, DAZN also appears to be in perfect harmony with ‘Canelo’ right now.
That $365million pact ended last year at the same time the fighter excited his promotional contract with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy.
Since then though Hearn has built a strong bond with the Mexican megastar, promoting his last three bouts which have all aired on DAZN.
Next up is likely to be a super-middleweight unification against Caleb Plant in September, and Markowski is relaxed going into negotiations which will likely include a massive counter offer from FOX.
“We’re in a great position with Canelo. We’re on a fight-by-fight deal with Canelo at the moment. I think he’s been enjoying his honeymoon at the moment but when he’s ready to have that conversation we’re ready but it’s fight-by-fight for now.
“We’re in a really happy position with our relationship with Canelo. He’s really happy with Matchroom. Our relationship’s in a good place.”