By Cliff Rold
This weekend is only the beginning, a toe in the water.
No one expects world middleweight champion Saul Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KO) to lose this weekend in a sojourn to super middleweight. WBA secondary titlist Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KO) is a respectable professional with the chance of a lifetime. If things play out to the tune of the odds, even in defeat he walks away with more name recognition than he’d garner fighting anyone else near his weight.
If Fielding makes a fight of it, his value can improve that much more. Whenever two men lace them up, anything can happen. Big upsets stand out because they don’t happen all that often. Off a win over Gennady Golovkin, and making his debut in Madison Square Garden, Alvarez hasn’t been put into position to lose.
Alvarez’s first trip to the Garden isn’t his only debut.
Saturday, with a long undercard kicking off at 6 PM EST, is Alvarez’s debut over the top on the DAZN app. The nine-figure deal made headlines in the fall and was an investment not just in the Alvarez brand but in the future sustainability of a still developing delivery platform for the sport.
So far, DAZN has been a must for hardcore fight fans. It is the home of the World Boxing Super Series, heavyweight Anthony Joshua, and several other noteworthy contests like the recent Oleksandr Usyk-Tony Bellew cruiserweight clash and the upcoming heavyweight rematch between Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora. It’s been as strong a lineup as any boxing outlet has provided in the second half of 2018.
Hardcore fight fans can only deliver so much. Attractions that can drive subscriptions among more casual viewers are what the investment in Alvarez is all about. Joshua is big business, but he hasn’t crossed into the American mainstream just yet. Alvarez is the biggest US market force in terms of dollars right now and, still only 28, can be expected to remain a star for several more years.
For fans with a calculator handy, the value argument is easy. Pay-per-view in 2018 for a big fight typically costs between $70-80 dollars. Alvarez fights 2-3 times a year as an exclusive pay-per-view fighter since his last HBO appearance against James Kirkland in 2015. At a subscription price of right around $10 dollars a month, fans who buy any show headline by Alvarez will spend less than they have been and get a slew of other content.
But not every fan buys every Alvarez fight. That’s what makes Fielding a toe in the water more for DAZN than Alvarez.
At his financial peak, Alvarez’s promoter could fight almost anyone and sell. Oscar De La Hoya did big business with the shell of Yori Boy Campas and better-than-most business for a perceived tune-up with Felix Sturm on the eve of a fight with Bernard Hopkins. This weekend, DAZN will find out how much Alvarez against anyone drives subscriptions.
Sometime in 2019, they’re likely to find out how much their investment will pay off against tougher tests. A third fight with Golovkin or clash with Daniel Jacobs will be the real test. If DAZN can deliver a fight that encourages a million people to sign up the way a million and change bought the last Alvarez-Golovkin fight, and keep a sizable chunk of them for the long run, the investment will pay off. In the long term it will multiply.
If that doesn’t happen, the streaming revolution some anticipate for boxing could be cloudier.
It is ironic that in many ways, DAZN’s approach isn’t much different than what HBO employed early on. Let’s hope they learn some of the lessons HBO left in its wake. The recently departed one-time flagship of boxing built its empire by signing elite talent and keeping them largely exclusive. If one wanted to watch Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Marvin Hagler, or Sugar Ray Leonard for big chunks of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, they needed HBO.
Later they were replaced by Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather…the list went on. Many of those fighters became worthy of exclusivity by taking on big names in big fights; Mayweather became the sports biggest draw since Tyson even before a move to Showtime. They were supported over the years by interesting undercard fights or additional coming attractions in ads that organically built new stars, as was the case with the best years of Boxing After Dark.
Eventually, that gave way too often to emptier attempts at star building in matches that weren’t as consistently compelling. To be sure, HBO always had less than stellar main events. Even at their peak, they had nights like Terry Norris-Brett Lally. No network serves steak and lobster every time out.
DAZN isn’t this weekend.
For now, they are resting on the allure of seeing a superstar on a new platform and surely hoping the buzz spills onto the more savory parts of the menu they already have in place. Assuming the WBSS is saved, following Ring’s Mike Coppinger reporting recently that there are struggles, the chance for the sort of organic future creation B.A.D. once provided in proxy to bigger names in there.
The more successful Alvarez is on DAZN, the more successful everyone else aired on the app is likely to be as well. Beginning Saturday night, fingers will be crossed by the folks behind the app that their investment in Alvarez will deliver.
Their hopes are just clicks away.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]