When something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
The promise made by John Skipper when DAZN launched in the United States in September 2018 has turned out to be exactly that, too good to be true.
The premise of DAZN is that it would use the financial muscle of owner Leonard Blavatnik, who is worth roughly $26 billion, to buy the rights to the best boxing matches and make them available to fans at a relatively affordable price.
Prior to DAZN’s launch, boxing fans had gotten used to paying $75 or more to watch the biggest fights on pay-per-view in the U.S. DAZN’s premise was that for roughly $100 a year, a fan would get to see all of the fights.
It made sense in theory, though not in practice.
At least in the U.S., DAZN is on the verge of irrelevance and took a major hit on Tuesday when its biggest star, Canelo Alvarez, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in federal court in California against it, Golden Boy Promotions and Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya.
On Oct. 17, 2018, Alvarez signed a contract worth $365 million for 11 fights. The first of those bouts, against Rocky Fielding in December 2018, was for $15 million. The remaining 10 bouts were to pay him $35 million each.
DAZN later signed a deal with Gennadiy Golovkin, Alvarez’s chief rival. The two had engaged in a pair of compelling bouts on HBO Pay-Per-View, each of which sold in excess of 1 million.
The implication of the DAZN signings were that fans would get to see at least a rubber match between them, as well as other compelling fights.
Instead, what they got was a joke of a bout that pitted Alvarez against Fielding, a compelling match between Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs, and a bout between Alvarez and a well-past-his prime Sergiy Kovalev. It was just as bad with Golovkin. He fought Steve Rolls and Sergiy Derevyanchenko in his two fights under the DAZN deal.
It’s just a guess, but I’d say with some confidence that less than 5 percent of the fans who subscribed to DAZN in the U.S. had ever heard of Fielding and Rolls.
And DAZN and Golden Boy made an absolute farce of the Alvarez-Kovalev fight, holding the start until after 1 a.m. ET to wait until a UFC pay-per-view had ended.
That was only one of the countless ways in which DAZN messed up its U.S. deal. It entered into a partnership with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport in the U.K. and is believed to have purchased an interest in Hearn’s company.
Hearn is one of the best promoters in the sport and actually takes the time to promote, unlike most of his peers who largely hope the media does the job for them. But Hearn was new to the U.S. market and didn’t fully understand it.
DAZN gave him virtually an unlimited budget, and Hearn showered fighters with well-above market deals, but he still struggled to put together the most compelling fights.
The pandemic hit in the U.S. full-force in March and it just about spelled the end for DAZN. It went months without any programming that appealed to fight fans, yet that monthly charge hit the credit cards for those who forgot to cancel.
There was nobody at DAZN with the in-depth boxing knowledge to map out a reasonable plan for Alvarez’s fights, and the contract was written so loosely that DAZN had no control over whom Alvarez would fight. Only Fielding’s name was written into the deal.
When DAZN tried to make Alvarez-Golovkin III, it had no legal muscle to do it. It had to rely only on Alvarez’s good will. According to his suit, Alvarez’s opponents would “be mutually selected by [Alvarez] and [Golden Boy Promotions], subject to [Alvarez’s] final approval, not to be unreasonably withheld.”
Let’s repeat that last part: “subject to [Alvarez’s] final approval, not to be unreasonably withheld.”
That left all of the power in Alvarez’s hands. If he preferred to fight Kovalev rather than Golovkin, he had that right, even if at the end of the day it was to the detriment of Golden Boy, DAZN and, most importantly, the DAZN subscribers.
This is an incomprehensibly bad decision by DAZN.
The pandemic clearly hurt DAZN’s prospects in the U.S., but it had made many fundamental errors long before anyone had ever heard of the coronavirus.
Neither Golden Boy nor DAZN has handled its business well during the pandemic. All one needs to do is to look at Top Rank, which returned to action in June and has put on a series of shows on ESPN since.
And on Oct. 17, perhaps the best fight of the year, a lightweight title unification bout between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez, will be broadcast on ESPN.
Golden Boy and DAZN have done next-to-nothing since the pandemic began, and they have no fight remotely close to the quality of Lomachenko-Lopez in the pipeline.
A jury will decide this suit, and juries are notoriously unpredictable.
But Alvarez isn’t going to be fighting any time soon, and that causes undeniable pain for both Golden Boy and DAZN.
A settlement is usually best whenever lawsuits are filed, and that’s the case here. If the sides are able to clarify the contract and fix their issues without putting their fates in the hands of a jury, that’s what they ought to do.
Alvarez, though, would seem to have the power because they need him more than he needs them.
Whatever the outcome, Alvarez’s actions — his dislike of and disdain for De La Hoya, his anger at DAZN and, ultimately, his lawsuit — are going to change the course of boxing.
At the start, the whole concept of providing PPV quality fights for a nominal monthly fee seemed too good to be true.
This dispute with Alvarez, the source of which seems to be some poorly written contracts, proves that it was.
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