DAZN’s commitment to boxing should be obvious by now.
The streaming service is shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to some of the best fighters in the sport to perform exclusively on its airwaves.
In less than a month perhaps the most anticipated fight of the year will take place on DAZN: Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title rematch with champ Andy Ruiz.
In around a year, DAZN has already established itself as one of the sport’s pillars with a number of fantastic fights, a worthy substitute to HBO boxing.
It’s been a boon for fans, who have more choices than ever to pick from.
But the lengths that DAZN has gone to boost subscriptions is also pretty clear and has raised a number of questions about how the company views the sport.
The decision to put two YouTube stars KSI and Jake Paul in the main event of last Saturday’s show while putting two talents like Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders on the undercard in separate bouts was a remarkably bold play.
And the move to make the biggest star in boxing, Canelo Alvarez (and the rest of us) endure a 90-minute delay until he could step into the ring to face Sergey Kovalev so that a UFC main event could finish in another state was the equivalent of erecting a neon billboard in Times Square with the words: BOXING IS SECOND FIDDLE TO UFC!
The image of Kovalev lying on a couch in his dressing room, shirtless, eyes shuttered, fully gloved, waiting for the UFC match to end, was, what’s the proper word? Astonishing? Not to be outdone, Canelo was straddling a sofa in his dressing room like he was watching the PPV from someone’s living room.
Those optics told the story of how we all felt that long and weird night: puzzled, frustrated, dumbfounded. Why was this happening?
In both cases, DAZN said the ends justified the means, rationalizing the moves by saying subscriptions went up as a result of the risky decisions, so don’t be mad. There was a method to the madness. It was business, not personal.
Look, it’s hard to argue with the rational of last Saturday’s bout: DAZN was trying to broaden the sport’s appeal by streaming KSI-Paul, drawing in a younger and more diverse audience with other reality stars and “influencers” in attendance. The returns seem to validate the decision: DAZN said that subscriptions increased, though it didn’t release any numbers to support the statement but hey, we’ll take them at their word.
“It was a big success,” a DAZN spokesperson told BoxingScene of KSI-Paul, “and did what we set out to do: generate a significant boost in subscriptions, catch the attention of mainstream media and introduce the sport of boxing to a completely new audience.”
The idea that boxing has to bring in new fans is a good one. It does. The sport needs to broaden its base beyond the hardcore faction. But putting two YouTubers in a main event while burying two potential stars on the undercard was a curious decision.
By putting two beginners in a main event, DAZN was basically sending the message that being famous is more valuable than being good at boxing.
This isn’t to diminish the in-ring action, which was actually good – KSI and Paul were evenly matched, took the fight seriously, apparently trained hard and fought hard. It was fun, entertaining. Even the decision by referee Jack Reiss to deduct two points from Paul in the fourth round stood up to scrutiny. Upon watching the replay, Reiss got it right! Paul held KSI’s head down and landed an uppercut and then hit him when he was on the canvas. So what took place in the ring that night was actually fun stuff devoid of controversy.
But why make KSI-Paul the main event of an actual boxing card? Why demean the serious professionals on the undercard by putting two reality stars who have absolutely no long-term prospects in the sport in the featured bout? Why pretend this was an actual main event?
Why not make it the co-main event? Or even put it further down the undercard? Did it necessarily matter where the fight landed on the show for it to have an impact? To draw more fans?
What type of message does this send to other fighters on where DAZN’s priorities are when it comes to programming?
And what of making Canelo, Kovalev, the fans in the arena and at home wait for the UFC match to end before they were allowed to start? How could the executives not foresee the bad optics potentially involved here? Unless they felt it was worth a few critical tweets in favor of gaining new subscribers? Ryan Garcia’s first-round knockout in the co-feature obviously exacerbated the situation. A DAZN spokesperson said that research indicated there was a “portion of our existing and potential audience that wanted to see both fights,” referencing the UFC and boxing bouts.
What’s clear in DAZN’s short time in boxing is that it’s willing to take risks to increase subscribers. Whether these decisions were borne of desperation is anyone’s guess.
But there is evidence that DAZN likely doesn’t consider KSI-Paul a one-off: the company sent out a survey following the fight asking if subscribers would be interested in seeing more reality stars duke it out again. A source said another fight between reality stars is definitely under consideration.
So get ready for the new reality.