Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing in the DAZN
What had been rumored for a few weeks was formally unveiled, last Thursday, at a swanky New York City hotel, where Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing announced the formation of Matchroom Boxing USA and an eight-year, one billion-dollar deal to stream boxing on DAZN (the sports streaming service of the Perform Group), beginning this September.
This may not be the Beatles but it’s a British invasion of sorts.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us. I mean, I never dreamed, even in my wildest dreams, that I would get this volume, this amount of money and this support from a platform,” said Hearn, who has no shortage of bombast when necessary. “So when we came to the U.S. and we signed (middleweight contender) Danny Jacobs and we were talking to HBO, it was very clear we were never going to get the volume of dates that we needed to build an unbelievable stable of fighters.
“Showtime obviously has their commitments, so this came along and it was an absolute blessing, a wonderful opportunity and now we’re sitting there with the biggest rights deal in the history of the sport and, more importantly, a bigger budget than HBO and Showtime put together annually. So we shouldn’t fail.”
Hearn, who is already one of the most powerful and influential figures in the sport, having guided IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua to stardom and having an exclusive output deal with SKY Sports, made it clear that he will be looking to sign boxers from the States.
However it’s one thing to have all the fighters but can one make significant fights that will hold the public’s interest and create new fans?
To this point, Hearn stated to a group of reporters, “I have a history of working with other promoters and other networks, so my ego is not yet out of control. I haven’t been stabbed by the bitterness knife of boxing yet, which will happen in years to come but, at the moment, I like to work with everybody. I just love to make great fights, so here, you have a platform that is built by a fan for the fans and the difference is we’re not coming on air at 10 p.m. because there’s a film on at 8 p.m.”
That last line is obviously a shot at major premium cable networks in the States. With DAZN, boxing will have prime real estate on its programming schedule.
“We can do a build-up show; we can show the entire card,” Hearn continued. “This is 16 live events from the U.S. This is 16 massive shows from the U.K., as well. Other big announcements coming from a boxing content perspective over the next few weeks on this platform, as well. But this isn’t just a boxing platform – this is a sports platform. Wait till you see the other sports. So that will come in time but, thankfully, they’ve identified boxing as a sport with serious potential and that’s why they’ve given the eight-year commitment and a lot of money, as well.”
As you read the fine print, you’ll see that it’s a two-year agreement with a six-year option. So it will be paramount to come out of the gate strongly. It’s not clear how much the DAZN will cost on a monthly basis for American subscribers. Top Rank has a similar arrangement with ESPN, in which it streams select fight cards and boxing content on ESPN+, at a cost of $4.99 a month.
So yes, there is a bit of Stream Wars going on. Moving forward, the question is, can these entities work with one another to make the biggest and best fights boxing has to offer? However it’s clear that there is a major paradigm shift in the boxing industry and how boxing is presented. It certainly doesn’t look like a “dead sport” currently.
Hearn stated, “I think the American boxing market is in great shape; I really do. You know why? Everybody is competitive right now. So you’ve got Showtime winning, at the moment, over HBO. You’ve got HBO, who’s got no choice, at some point, to fight back. You’ve got ESPN; they’re doing a great job. Top Rank is doing a great job. Now you have us coming in. So this is great news for the fighters. Imagine being a fighter right now. If you don’t have a promotional deal, you can come to me, get my offer. Y’ know what? Go back to your network or your manager and say, ‘I’ve got this offer – match it.’
“This is a brilliant time for fighters and I have to say, you look at the job proactive people are doing in the sport, there’s some really good people out there. The Barclays Center – not just saying it because we go there – but those people, they’re working and they’re grafting for the sport, trying to make it bigger and bigger. Showtime’s doing a great job, HBO still; ESPN doing a great job. You guys, the media, there are more internet reporters than ever. I think boxing’s in a really good state.”
Yeah, Hearn is bullish on the state of affairs but then, if you were given this cache, you’d probably feel the same way. But there are natural comparisons to Premier Boxing Champions, which was launched in 2015, and, to be charitable, had mixed results, as it invaded a multitude of networks (and, quite frankly, tried to drive everyone else out of the business). However Hearn points out that a major difference is they are not participating in time-buys but getting a rights fee for their product.
“We just have to keep making the big fights. Unfortunately the purses have gotten out of control – not unfortunately for the fighters and the PBC did that. They did that and that changed the way everybody was paid and we had to start paying fighters more money,” said Hearn. “And now we’re coming with even more money than the PBC. So what a great time to be a fighter. But we’ve got to be sensible; we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to get the right fighters. I’m looking forward to building the future, as well as signing the elite names.”
As for signing up more boxers, Hearn says, with unbridled confidence, “When you got those rights fees – Matchroom Boxing is a place you should be, anyways – there’s nowhere else to be. But we understand fighters are under contract. Already I have a half-a-dozen fighters ready to go that I believe will be excellent for this platform. After this presentation, we’re going to get a helluva lot of other fighters, as well. We’ve also got an unbelievable stable of fighters in the U.K.: Amir Khan, Kell Brook, Dillian Whyte, Anthony Joshua, Tony Bellew, Katie Taylor. But you’re going to see these guys in the U.S. Most of them will stay in U.K. but, again, it’s just a great opportunity.
“I want to see, in these cards, three or four young guys coming through from the national championships, from the Olympics. It’s not just about signing world champions. I expect to sign multiple world champions but really growing the fighters. This is an eight-year deal, so this is about building boxing. The model has to be exactly the same as it was in the U.K. and. if we can do that with the money we have, we should be unbeatable.”
Hearn also made it clear that those who appear on DAZN don’t necessarily have to be under the Matchroom Boxing banner. “We’re going to be working with all kinds of different guys. This isn’t just about, ‘You must sign with Matchroom to be on this platform.’ Again, this is what I said about HBO and that kind of situation, where there are fighters. Let’s look at examples: Demetrius Andrade or (WBA light heavyweight titlist) Dmitry Bivol, who are co-features, so you don’t necessarily have to sign with us. You can have one fight with us and go back to HBO, no problem.
“It’s just not about control, control, control or ‘Sign this. if you’re not with us, you’re not on our platform.’ We’re going to be working with loads of guys.”
According to Hearn, the goal is to have his fighters at the world-class championship level performing three to four times a year in significant events. There will be no pay-per-view element on DAZN, Hearn says, “The aim here is 12 big fight nights and four absolute monsters,” said Hearn, who explained, “The monster nights signify the pay-per-view numbers – they just wont be pay-per-view. They will be the nights that used to be $99, $69. For example (Andre) Ward-(Sergey) Kovalev, it would’ve been easy for us to put on our platform with the money I’ve got. Not for pay-per-view, just for subscribers.(Gennady) Golovkin-(Danny) Jacobs, no problem.”
Over-the-top streaming is the future of boxing programming and DAZN is the newest player.
“The naysayers will say, ‘Oh, it’s a new platform and the numbers aren’t very good at the moment, etc., etc.’ Quick, right. Watch how clever they are; watch how they co-promote with other networks. Look at the money they’re investing. This content on this channel will be second to none,” promises Hearn.
“So I’m very confident; we have a big job to do but I’m up for it. It’s going to be a lot fun.”
In this week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” Mario Lopez and I look back at Vasiliy Lomachenko-Jorge Linares and you’ll hear from Joe Tessitore of ESPN.
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