Eddie Hearn says he has had approaches from three broadcasters once his exclusive contract with Sky Sports ends this summer, but he says intention is to negotiate a new deal with Sky.
DAZN and ITV are understood to be among the broadcasters interested in working with Hearn on his UK shows after the Sky deal expires in July. DAZN already has a deal with Hearn covering the United States, Mexico, Italy and Spain, while ITV would raise the prospect of a high-profile terrestrial television showcase, even though it would put big fights on its pay-per-view platform.
Hearn’s Matchroom group have promoted boxing on Sky Sports since the 1990s, when Eddie’s father, Barry, ran the company and Chris Eubank was the headline attraction. But it was in 2012 that Eddie persuaded then Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis to make him their exclusive promoter, squeezing out other promoters Ricky Hatton and Frank Maloney, who both had deals with the network.
“We have got a longstanding relationship with Sky, we are in negotiations with them to extend our deal.,” Hearn said. “We have had three approaches from different broadcasters to try and look at or entertain a longterm deal with them. But we are very happy with where we are.
“We have a fantastic pay-per-view platform, we have a great team of people at Sky who have allowed us to grow and have trust in our vision for the sport, so we will be looking to finalise that over the next 4-6 weeks.
“There is interest from terrestrial TV in boxing and one who can carry a pay-per-view model as well. Everyone knows that DAZN have made a move into the UK in the last couple of weeks with their global platform. And there are a couple of other ones you wouldn’t expect as well.
“We are in a good position but also we appreciate the support of Sky and the relationship we’ve had and the fact that it is very solid. We don’t feel like we need to take a big chance at the moment. We have got a great business and a great position in the market. We will be looking at all situations and making our decision in the next month or so.”
While other offers might be tempting, it seems unlikely that Hearn would willingly walk away from the security Sky provides. Sky Sports is the only broadcaster that has screened boxing without interruption this century and has proved to be a market leader that others have struggled to match.
One of Hearn’s concerns if he walks away would be that a rival promoter could step into his place at Sky, which would effectively give them a foundation to challenge Matchroom.
But renewal at Sky is not necessarily straightforward. Francis, who was a big boxing fan, is no longer at Sky. More importantly, the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge hit on advertising revenue at all broadcasters with all sporting rights fees likely to be hit when new deals are agreed.
Unlike other sports, boxing makes a profit for Sky because it is the only sport that regularly features on their pay-per-view platform and Hearn insists that boxing rights are holding up better than many other sports worldwide.
“Our plan for 2021 is a huge global expansion of the business,” Hearn said. “The interest in boxing from various different genres and broadcasters is very real. There is a lot of aggression for rights in boxing. That shows that people believe in the sport still.
“We have shown that you can make a sustainable TV product behind closed doors.”
Hearn said he often teases his father about boxing’s popularity with broadcasters. Barry is mainly involved in running darts and snooker, which get high viewing figures, but don’t have boxing’s worldwide impact.
“If you look at the viewing figures for the World Darts Championships – the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final were doing over a million a night on Sky,” Hearn said. “Saturday night Fight Night might do 200-300,000. I said to my old man, isn’t it hilarious that boxing is the sexier sport but the numbers on darts are out of control?”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for Boxing Scene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.