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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: DAZN PONDERS PPV, SCREWING FANS

By Paul Magno | October 18, 2021
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: DAZN PONDERS PPV, SCREWING FANS

Back in May, of 2018 UK promoter Eddie Hearn stood before the international media in New York, basking in triumphant glory. The Matchroom Boxing bossman, placed by streaming service DAZN as the frontman of a billion-dollar project aimed at taking over the American boxing scene, was front and center at the press conference to officially announce the launch of the “groundbreaking” effort.

“I needed artillery and we’re dangerous with artillery, let me tell you,” Hearn said with swagger. “And now we’ve got it, $1 billion over eight years. We have by far the biggest rights budget in the sport of boxing and we’re going to be ultra-competitive. We’re going to put on the greatest shows with the greatest talent. This is a brand new era for boxing in the U.S. We’re here and we mean business.”

“We’re going to have a lot of fun and we have money never seen before in the sport of boxing,” Hearn added. “I can’t fail. If I fail here, I’m a disgrace.”

Well, Hearn failed. 

This past Tuesday, select DAZN subscribers were sent a survey, testing the waters for the future launch of a pay-per-view option to be tacked on to their existing subscription-only service. Fans rightfully took this as a punch in the gut from the company that proudly pushed a “PPV is Dead” tagline to their early advertising campaigns. 

“Access the biggest fights in boxing with pay-per-view (PPV) events on DAZN,” the mailing told customers. “You can continue to watch the majority of fights with a monthly or annual subscription, including some of the best-known names in boxing. PPV events will only be for the biggest fights and can be added on top of your subscription with one-time purchases.”

Although this survey was light on specifics and, apparently, more focused on the UK market, floating something like this out there is very telling. It’s especially telling in the face of the reality that DAZN, at least as a boxing entity, has failed miserably in just about all of its stated goals and missions. Several price changes and business model tweaks attest to a steady recognition from the suits that, “oh, fuck...this isn’t working out as we’d hoped it would.” An overall DAZN loss of $1.4 billion in 2019, per sportsbusiness.com, and a COVID-ravaged 2020, could also be pushing them to stop the hemorrhaging of money with some good, ol’ fashioned passing of the hat to the suckers, er, subscribers. 

Not surprisingly, Hearn, who gobbled up the glowing praise at the very beginning of the DAZN boxing effort and proudly attached his name to the company at its highest points, has been not-so-subtly distancing himself from this DAZN courting of pay-per-view bucks.

While saving face with “I never said pay-per-view is dead...I don’t work for DAZN” comments in recent interviews, Hearn clearly supports the idea of the streaming service launching a pay-per-view option, which he’s referred to as “good news” for fans. 

“AJ [for instance] will always be [PPV],” Hearn told fawningly-friendly YouTube channel iFL TV. “You can't get into a correct modeling system with Anthony Joshua where a small monthly subscription makes sense for one of his fights when someone else can charge 24.95 and do a million buys. It doesn't work like that. You need to be competitive in that space to bring those one-off mega-stars or one-off mega-fights to the platform.”

All any reasonably intelligent boxing person can say to that is: Duh...No Shit. 

They could also ask why, exactly, it took three years of hopeless, helpless flailing around for the brain trust at DAZN, Hearn included, to figure that out. 

Another question is why these people started their “groundbreaking,” billion-dollar, “game-changing” conquest of the boxing scene without ever undertaking any effort, at any point, to grow the dwindling fan base and create new fans. Even the dimmest of dimwits could do the math and figure out that, given the raw number of available hardcore fans willing to make a long-haul, monthly committment to such a channel, there were never going to be enough subscribers to push the channel into the black. 

This would especially be the case when they started throwing money around like a horny, middle-aged divorcee at a Tijuana strip club. Hell, back when Canelo Alvarez was still a contract player, they would’ve needed more than 600,000 year-long monthly subscribers just to break even on his two fights a year. And let’s not even talk about water-headed business decisions like paying Jessie Vargas $1.2 million to fight Humberto Soto in an undercard bout. 

The perpetually clueless and chronically compliant boxing media never thought to ask any questions about the errant math or faulty logic in DAZN’s strategies. They were too busy being wined and dined by Hearn/DAZN and/or lining up to be “affiliates” and “partners.” 

Done right, and with proper attention paid to outreach and growth, this could’ve been a real benefit to the sport and to the beleaguered fans who are being asked to pay more and more for less and less. Instead, DAZN is just one more business entity in boxing, muddying up the matchmaking waters and passing the hat to fans because they just weren’t bright enough or industrious enough to turn a profit on their own. 

Given the lack of insight and foresight by the suits in charge of the business end of DAZN, one has to wonder if boxing was ever all that important to the wannabe Netflix of Sports. Maybe it was just a quick, easy way to get their foot in the door of a North American market where all other major sports were bound to other networks. Maybe the idea was to prey on a boxing fanbase, conditioned to pay and pay for content, and bide their time until they could snatch up a “real” sport. 

As for Hearn...well, he’s a boxing guy and he should’ve known all along that DAZN’s business model was doomed to failure. He sure seems to understand NOW why it’s been doomed to failure all along.

Hearn’s biggest personal failure in all of this, though, is not necessarily in running with a bad business model for a company cramming cash into his pockets. It’s a hustler’s dream to come across money marks who are equal parts clueless and blindly trusting in your hustle. No, his biggest personal failure is that, as a promoter, he just couldn’t fucking promote the damn product. He managed to impress the boxing media with his big talk and parlay Canelo Alvarez’s name into some temporary returns, but he never could figure out how to sell his product to the masses (specifically in the US, not in the UK where he, literally, inherited an established fan base and the tools of the promotional trade) and, honestly, never even tried that hard. That puts him right alongside just about every other major American promoter in the sport these days.

And, like most of the other major promoters, Hearn is now embracing a PPV passing of the hat to fans to make up for the fact that he failed in his job to turn a profit in any other way. 

At some point, DAZN will push a pay-per-view option for the vaguely-worded “biggest fights” because, really, they wouldn’t be asking about it if they weren’t planning for it. Boxing’s most loyal fans will then be left with yet another option where they have to pay twice and thrice for something that should be free. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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