DAZN Confused: Eddie Hearn comes to America
If there were a cultural classification for the current time period in the sport of boxing, it might be postmodern. The old stalwart of HBO Boxing finds itself in stagnation and decay, while new and innovative platforms arise untethered to the ideas and notions of the past. Top Rank and ESPN have debuted their ESPN+ platform, which serves as a Netflix-type streaming service, generating revenue through subscribers. The initial live fight offering on the platform was former world junior welterweight champion Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco, which was a bit odd due to the poor quality of the match-up. Yet it seems ESPN’s general sports content, Top Rank’s plans for future fights and the low price point (4.99 a month) have piqued the interest of potential subscribers.
While ESPN+ seems content to grow and build at a steady pace (from a boxing standpoint), another recently announced boxing streaming partnership looks to explode from the onset. On May 10, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, in the United Kingdom, announced a one billion-dollar, eight-year boxing promotional deal with Perform Group’s streaming service, DAZN. The deal calls for 16 cards a year in the United States, along with the 16 cards Hearn already promotes in the United Kingdom with Sky Sports. There was much fanfare and buzz around Hearn’s announcement, especially his Austin Powers/Dr. Evil-ish “one billion-dollar” emphasis:
— Eddie Hearn (@EddieHearn) May 26, 2018
Yet as the announcement high began to fade, a certain reality began to set in. The cold truth remained that Mr. Hearn was (for now) a king without a kingdom.
In war, a general can have all the planes, tanks and ingenious battle plans he wants but without an army, he will never take an inch of ground. On the other hand, a general who has a surplus of manpower, yet overruns his supply lines constantly, and positions his men in a state of perpetual disadvantage, will see his efforts turn to ruin as well. Eddie Hearn presently finds himself in the first position, while a man by the name of Al Haymon vividly illustrated the second. Hearn presently has a plan but no fighters. Haymon had fighters but no real plan.
Stephen Espinoza and Showtime Boxing have done their best to fuse the old ways of boxing programming with the new “postmodern” distribution age. Swooping in on the rich resources of Haymon’s fighter stable, Espinoza has been able to capitalize on the failure of Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. His efforts have made Showtime Boxing a far superior entity than its counterparts at HBO Boxing. Yet the irony of all this is Espinoza’s opportunistic efforts might serve as a template for Eddie Hearn to add substance to his billion-dollar deal.
It would only make sense for Hearn to look in Haymon’s direction in his search for American boxing talent. After all, the sheer number of fighters associated with Haymon, along with their murky promotional status, makes them enticing targets for promotional poaching. However it seems Hearn’s earliest efforts toward making inroads with Haymon’s fighters have been a bit naive and misguided.
Around Wednesday, May 23, Showtime/Haymon fighter and former four-division world champion Adrien Broner posted a supposed promotional offer from Hearn on his Instagram account:
The offer (seemingly confirmed by Hearn via Twitter) was a three-fight deal worth 6.5 million dollars. It wasn’t enough that Broner decided to detonate any spirit of ethical business dealing by posting Hearn’s outreach; he would decry the offer as “slave wages.” One day later, Broner would post a photo on Instagram that read:
About two days later, Broner would post a screenshot on Instagram of a Twitter interaction between boxing writer Adam Abramowitz and Stephen Espinoza. Abramowitz would write, “I guess it was silly of Eddie to think that Broner would even want to fight three times a year.” Espinoza responded by saying, It was silly of him to think that AB isn’t already making more than $2.5mil a fight.” Broner would caption the post by saying, “I will never cross Stephen and Al, that’s why I’m PAID.”
Irregardless of what Broner, or other Showtime/Haymon fighters actually make per fight (even though the IRS might have an interest in any differences between actual versus declared payouts), Hearn would do well to learn a lesson from this embarrassment. Hopefully he starts to realize that Haymon fighters are more like captains in an organized crime family rather than free agents looking for different arenas to apply their talents. This is not to say that the Haymon universe is a criminal one; it is simply to say that the loyalty that exists between Haymon and his most visible fighters resembles that which requires an oath of allegiance. Adrien Broner saying he will “never cross Stephen and Al” is analogous to Michael Corleone telling Fredo Corleone in “The Godfather” to “never take sides against the family again.” It’s almost as if those who have their names on a Haymon “adviser” contract have signed it not with ink but with their own blood.
Speaking of The Godfather, Hearn going directly to Broner with an offer is a little like another crime family asking Luca Brasi (a Corleone family enforcer) to come work for them. This would be a laughable proposition, as Brasi’s loyalty to his don was so profound, it precipitated his own demise. A more realistic example might have been seen in another fictional depiction of the Italian mafia. In season two of the HBO classic series “The Sopranos,” Tony Soprano (the boss of North Jersey) makes a trip to Italy to secure business deals with another crime family. After admiring the capabilities of one of the Italian mob boss’ main enforcers (Furio Giunta), Soprano decides he’d like to bring him back to New Jersey and put him to work. In order to achieve his desires, Soprano didn’t speak to Furio about his intentions; he cut a deal with his boss.
This would seem like the appropriate way for Hearn to go about getting Haymon fighters on his DAZN platform. Haymon doesn’t appear to have any real incentive to help Hearn (and burn Showtime in the process), other than receiving “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” And even if Hearn did begin to negotiate some kind of arrangement with Haymon, one has to believe Haymon’s asking price would be hard to meet. After all, if you were Haymon, how much would you demand for the right to promote young world champions like Errol Spence Jr., the Charlo brothers, Jarrett Hurd or Deontay Wilder?
And herein lies the conundrum for Hearn and his DAZN venture in the United States. Its success seems to depend on either Hearn’s ability to woo fighters away from their American promoters or his ability to sit down and negotiate a mutually beneficial deal with his competitors. One could see fighters like WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev or WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol showing up on a DAZN stream one day, as it might be in the interest of their promoter Main Events to make a deal with Hearn. Even current unified middleweight champion and superstar Gennady Golovkin could conceivably be brought into the DAZN fold, if a substantial offer was thrown his way. Look at it this way: If Adrien Broner is worth 6.5 million to Hearn, what would securing the stretch run of Golovkin’s career be worth?
As for promotional companies like Top Rank or Golden Boy Promotions, it’s hard to see any way they would allow their top fighters to be featured on DAZN. This reality, plus the Haymon/Showtime situation discussed earlier, leaves Hearn in a rather ominous situation. He wants to take a huge bite out of the American boxing market but he probably needs the help of American promoters to do so.
Hearn seemed aware of his business contradiction when speaking with UCNLive’s Steve Kim and Mario Lopez on their “The 3 Knockdown Rule” podcast. On the subject of promoter/network allegiances and competing entities working together, Hearn would say:
“Networks need to align with one promoter. Sometimes fans don’t like it but all the promoters, whether you like it or not, are in some way working against each other. So to be working on the same platform, it just doesn’t work. You know, Showtime has got their affiliation with Al Haymon. You know, HBO are doing a bit of everything at the moment. DAZN are exclusive with us. ESPN+ are exclusive with Top Rank and I think that’s the way to go; you know? Everyone is armed with their artillery; they’ve all got a plan and a strategy and may the best man win. But we’ve showed time and time again, (we have) no problem working with all the different platforms, all the different networks, and I think you’ll see our particular platform in DAZN willing to do that.”
Hearn sounds like a man who is ready to vanquish his competitors during the day, yet invite them to dinner afterward. He might soon find this position rather untenable, like a king who can’t decide between benevolent generosity and despotic rule. For if he wishes to conquer the American boxing market, he should probably choose a path onn which to do so. Otherwise he might end up trying to sell American sports fans a product that sounds a lot better than it actually is.
And thanks to Al Haymon, we’ve already seen how that turns out.
You can follow The President on Twitter @PrezAVK.