In just one year, DAZN has grown into a must-have for boxing fans

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
(L-R) Manny Robles, Andy Ruiz Sr, Andy Ruiz Jr, Eddie Hearn, Omar Khalil and Anthony Joshua during the press conference for the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ at the Hilton Syon Park on Sept. 6, 2019 in London. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Boxing is in a dramatically different, and better, place on Sept. 20, 2019, than it was exactly one year earlier.

Much of that is due to DAZN, the streaming service that did not exist in the U.S. until Sept. 22, 2018, when it streamed Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defense against Alexander Povetkin for free on a trial basis to an American audience.

A year later, DAZN has Canelo AlvarezGennadiy Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs under contract and it’s on a fight-by-fight deal with Joshua. It’s presented a slew of compelling bouts and its end-of-the-year schedule is remarkably deep and compelling.

There were plenty of bumps along the way, with the failure to get a third fight between Alvarez and Golovkin made chief among them, but DAZN deserves no worse than an A- for its first year effort.

DAZN’s entrance into the business in North America coincided with HBO’s departure. And while for several decades, HBO was the leader in boxing programming, DAZN has assumed that mantle in a more crowded space than there has ever been.

Showtime is still doing fights, and it has a long and deep commitment to the sport. Top Rank has a deal with ESPN in which some of its events are on the linear television network and others which are on its streaming service, ESPN+. Fox is airing fights on its over-the-air broadcast network as well as on Fox Sports 1.

Boxing was free before the advent of cable television, when ABC, CBS and NBC were the only choices for American consumers. And while there were major fights on television — in 1978, ABC had an audience of over 90 million for the rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks — there weren’t the sheer number of shows, nor was the broadcast quality as good or as innovative.

There is a cost associated with watching boxing that didn’t exist in the so-called old days, but there is so much more and much more varied content available for that money.

Boxing fans became used to paying monthly fees for HBO and Showtime to watch fights, and then to shell out a pay-per-view fee several times a year when a fight went in that direction.

That model is still in use. On Sept. 28, IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. will meet WBC champion Shawn Porter on pay-per-view. The price of that card, and for that card only, is $74.99.

For an annual fee of $99.99, or $19.99 a month on an a la carte basis, DAZN is an incredible value. For $25 more than one would pay for the Spence-Porter pay-per-view, DAZN provides a wealth of options, nearly weekly cards, and the schedule it has put together for the conclusion of 2019 is jaw-droppingly good.

Canelo Alvarez punches Daniel Jacobs during their middleweight unification fight at T-Mobile Arena on May 4, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

It includes Alvarez against Sergey Kovalev for the WBO light heavyweight title on Nov. 2Andy Ruiz versus Joshua for the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles on Dec. 7; pound-for-pound contender Naoya Inoue against Nonito Donaire on Nov. 7 and another pound-for-pound contender, Oleksandr Usyk against Tyrone Spong, on Oct. 12.

Its lineup of fights is as good as it gets, even though DAZN executive vice president Joe Markowski was more than a little over the top when he gushed about it during an interview with Yahoo Sports.

“We believe we have the greatest schedule in boxing history to close out 2019,” Markowski said.

That’s hyperbole of the highest order, but his basic point is accurate: DAZN’s closing schedule is highly attractive and filled with must-see bouts.

DAZN’s streams have been good and largely without incident. There is a dearth of quality play-by-play men in boxing, and no one has taken the mantle that Jim Lampley held while at HBO as the best in the business. Brian Kenny is DAZN’s play-by-play man and while he’s professional, he’s no Lampley. This is DAZN’s biggest weakness on its announce team.

Former world champion Sergio Mora has been a revelation as a ringside analyst; he is bright and perceptive and makes good points succinctly. He also helps viewers get insight to the boxers’ minds. Chris Mannix is the third man on DAZN’s crew and is a budding star. He’s great as an interviewer, uses his reporting skills to bring information to the viewer and he is perceptive in uncovering trends watching fights. (Full disclosure: Mannix is a personal friend and former colleague.)

Give DAZN credit for recognizing that the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard is not a fit at ringside in an analyst’s role. It moved him into a host’s position and DAZN is able to use him to discuss fights from a historical perspective.

DAZN turned a lot of its program over to Eddie Hearn, who was largely unknown in the U.S. prior to the last year. The head of Matchroom Sport in the U.K., Hearn came to the U.S. armed with DAZN’s mega-budget and tirelessly promoted the sport.

While he has had his missteps along the way, he’s a bright and perceptive guy who loves the fights and is always down to talk boxing. He’s almost single-handedly helped raise the profile of boxing in the U.S.

He’s feuded with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who has said Hearn knows nothing about boxing and even less about promoting in the U.S, but Hearn has been a quick study.

“It’s been a great learning curve in which I’ve seen and digested a lot over the last 12 months,” Hearn said of promoting in the U.S.” The response to our entry from the boxing fans had been great and the growth of DAZN from a standing start quite remarkable. I cannot see how anyone, even with agenda, cannot say that DAZN has the best schedule in boxing and the talented roster they have amassed is staggering.

“In terms of what I’ve learned, that’s everything from understanding different markets in different cities to which fighters put bums in seats and drive subscriptions. Year 2 is going to be a lot of fun. It’s a war of attrition out there so buckle up!”

Markowski said DAZN’s budget for fighters isn’t going to be as large as it was in the beginning when it was trying to establish itself in the marketplace.

It paid overwhelming amounts of money to fighters, in some cases 10 and 20 times what they were offered elsewhere. Alvarez signed a 10-fight, $365 million contract that has largely been a blessing for the network, though it needs to figure out how to make him take the fights which make sense, like the one against Golovkin.

Gennadiy Golovkin trades punches with Steve Rolls during their fight at Madison Square Garden on June 8, 2019 in New York City. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

DAZN also gave Golovkin a deal that exceeds $100 million, and that contract is something of an anchor if Alvarez won’t fight him. Golovkin has fought Steve Rolls on the DAZN banner so far, and is scheduled to meet Sergiy Derevyanchenko next month. Neither are going to be the kind of subscription driver DAZN imagined.

If Golovkin doesn’t fight Alvarez again down the road, they may regret talking him out of a deal that Golovkin had reached with ESPN. Golovkin shook hands with ESPN executives on a contract, only to change his mind and go to DAZN.

But the misses have been far less than the hits for DAZN, and it’s positioned well for the future.

Few had ever heard of it at this time last year. The fact that it’s a must-have for the boxing fan speaks to the job that was done in 12 short months.

It needs to do better going forward, and land even more of the compelling fights like Alvarez-Kovalev than it did in its first year.

But DAZN gets no worse than an A- for Year 1 and it’s positioned itself well to be the biggest player in the sport for years.

Looked at from that perspective, it’s been an incredible 12 months.

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