Almost one year ago to the date, DAZN staged its first ever United States-based card on Oct. 6 when Jessie Vargas fought to a majority draw with Thomas Dulorme.
That fight was the platform’s inaugural stateside show as part of the eight-year, $1 billion deal it signed with Matchroom Boxing. One week later, Golden Boy joined the cash caravan, highlighted by the unprecedented 10-fight, $365-million deal it signed for the star of the sport in Canelo Alvarez. Then, Gennady Golovin followed this March with a three-year, six-fight contract paying him upward of $100 million.
And so, a wild west-like scene began, where boxers broke the bank with exorbitant amounts of cash, all thanks to the digital global sports streaming offering.
According to Joe Markowski, DAZN’s executive vice president of North America, the market and subsequent budgets will return back to a normal state now that they’ve matured past their infancy stage.
“In boxing, we’re learning. I’m starting to see a normalization of the boxing market. We’re not a money tree that you can continue to pluck at,” said Markowski. “In some cases, fighters were in the right place at the right time to strike lucrative deals. We needed to make those deals happen quickly considering our relatively new entry in the boxing landscape. Making fights will be easier going into 2020.”
Markowski said DAZN paid a market-entry premium in some cases, just as any new entrant would within any established business. They made short-term deals that got them through certain fights that otherwise would not have been possible.
“Much was made of the deal Golden Boy struck with Daniel Jacobs this year,” said Markowski. “Chatter and misreporting by various sources in the boxing industry made my job harder in finding Canelo an opponent.”
Some of the figures that were reported indicated that Jacobs would make up to $15 million for the Alvarez fight in May, and a minimum of $4 million in his next two fights should he lose to Alvarez.
Alvarez largely missed out on his traditional Mexican Independence Day weekend fight in September because opponents were seeking eight-figure compensation models much like the one Jacobs was able to secure.
“You have to be relatively agile and adapt to things that are beyond your control,” said Markowski. “Boxing is not the most organized relative to other major sports … Once you do a deal in boxing, that’s when the hard work starts in making fights. We’re a nimble enough business to adjust.”
The hurricane of cash DAZN spent should not come as a surprise. During a news conference last year to announce his unprecedented boxing-rights deal, Matchroom impresario Eddie Hearn stated: “This is open season for fighters in the United States … We've got the dates, the money and the platform to give you regular championship contests.”
“As a boxing-led business, we’re learning how to adapt our subscription-based models to a boxing-focused market and content offer,” said Markowski. “It’s very important to build out a longer-term schedule. We’re not a transactional business relying on singular events.”
DAZN will close the fourth quarter with arguably one of the strongest scheduling slates in recent memory.
Golovkin’s fight of the year candidate against Sergiy Derevyanchenko just concluded. Next, Oleksandr Usyk will make his heavyweight debut this Saturday, followed by Regis Prograis-Josh Taylor (Oct. 26), Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev (Nov. 2), Naoya Inoue-Nonito Doniare (Nov. 7), KSI-Logan Paul (Nov. 9) and the much anticipated heavyweight rematch between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua on Dec. 7.
Markowski would not dive into specifics as to how many subscribers they currently have, but he touted DAZN as the “No. 1 grossing sports app worldwide.”
“We are as a global business in an extremely healthy position,” said Markowski. “Our valuation is at a positive place, and we are happy with our North American and global performance.”
In 2020, Markowski and DAZN have their sights set on continuing to build a credible boxing vertical — only this time, on their terms and not succumbing to the monetary demands coming from the other side of the table.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at [email protected].