Eddie Hearn referred to it as a “badly kept secret”. But the eventual announcement confirming sports streaming subscription service DAZN as the global home of Matchroom Boxing marks another milestone in sport’s continued shift to over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting.
Signed in early June, the five-year contract – reportedly worth well into nine figures – sees boxing bouts staged by Hearn’s Matchroom switch from UK broadcaster Sky Sports after nearly a decade with the pay-TV network. At least 16 Matchroom fights annually will now be made available exclusively to DAZN subscribers in the UK and Ireland for the first time. It also strengthens ties between two parties who first partnered back in 2018, when DAZN and Matchroom agreed a US$1 billion joint venture for the promotional company’s US division to stage fights in the country for the next eight years.
So while this deal may have been inevitable, it didn’t arrive without considerable forethought.
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“DAZN and Matchroom have had a long, very healthy relationship,” Joe Markowski, DAZN’s executive vice president, global platform and revenue innovation, tells SportsPro. “We've ridden the waves of the boxing journey together. We've come through the pandemic together and we've come through it very strongly.
“It's been a conversation over a number of months. The final proof point we needed as a business was with the launch of our global platform at the start of December last year. Just to introduce DAZN for the first time to consumers and sports fans in the UK, obviously carrying a lot of that international US led boxing schedule that Eddie put together with us. The reception from UK sports fans, and boxing fans in particular, to that offer has been tremendous.
“It surprised us very positively and that, I think, was the final proof point we needed to validate and justify what we believe is a game-changing deal, a ground-breaking deal for British sport. That led us into the last stage of negotiations.
“Over the last few months we've put together a deal that will deliver tremendous value for sports fans. It will give Matchroom what they need to deliver an unrivalled, unprecedented schedule for British sports fans. It gives us a platform to launch into a new market, which is something we're always keen to do – one that we have been keenly following as a British business since we launched DAZN.”
Markowski believes the deal with Matchroom further establishes DAZN as the leading light in sports streaming
Matchroom’s stable comprises several fighters from the UK and Ireland, including world champions Katie Taylor and Lawrence Okolie, who will now fight on DAZN. The notable exception is heavyweight star Anthony Joshua, who remains contracted to fight one more time on Sky Sports – although Hearn says the unified champion’s future will be announced “in due course”.
Even with the absence of Joshua, at least for the moment, DAZN’s expanded tie-up with Matchroom means it boasts access to an even richer roster of fighters, ranging from headliners Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Dillian Whyte to exciting up-and-comers like Conor Benn and Filip Hrgovic.
The first event under the pair’s new deal is set for 31st July, the first of three back-to-back weekends of the Matchroom Fight Camp series. Those will be a precursor for a global approach both parties hope will affirm DAZN as the undisputed home of boxing worldwide. The fact that ambition means doing away with decades of boxing tradition – namely distribution via a linear, pay-per-view (PPV) TV model – should not come as a surprise, according to Markowski.
The likes of Katie Taylor and Conor Benn will now fight on DAZN in the UK and Ireland
“Streaming being the future of sports broadcasting is obviously right,” he insists. “But I think we're now in a way that we weren't two or three years ago, we're past a tipping point on this.
“Sport has caught up with Netflix and entertainment television in the move to streaming. It's caught up with Spotify and music's move to streaming. Streaming is now consistently winning the rights to major domestic properties in major established media markets and obviously we at DAZN are leading that.
“Yes, the future clearly is in streaming. This deal further cements that and cements our position as the leader of that trend.”
Clearly, the success of this new alliance will be largely dependent on the matchups DAZN is able to offer. After more than a year of disruption, the boxing merry-go-round looks to be on the cusp of getting back to full speed. The inactivity has meant fans and fighters alike are itching to make up for lost time. It is a prospect that seemingly tees up DAZN and Matchroom to make an early statement with their partnership.
Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn (right) has been tasked by Markowski and DAZN to deliver top fights
“Covid's accelerated many things in everyone's lives and our industry as well,” says Markowski. “A major thing that I've noticed in the last 12 months is fighters and managers have realised, as we've come out of the pandemic and shows have become available, they don't really have the luxury of saying, ‘Coast through that fight, I'm going to push off this fight further and further into the future’.
“People were worried that they weren't going to fight for two years because no one knew what was going to happen with sport. Fighters have reacted by saying, ‘Right, if I'm going to fight maybe only once or twice this year, I want to take the biggest fight I can, the biggest opportunity I can to further my career’.
“This contract is very clear, this deal is very clear. We want to see top class fights week in, week out, and that's what Eddie’s brief is from DAZN to go and deliver.”