The only thing we know for certain about Canelo Alvarez’s supposed record-setting deal with DAZN is that a lot fewer people are going to see him fight Rocky Fielding on Dec. 15 in New York than saw him win the WBA-WBC middleweight titles from Gennady Golovkin on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
As for issues like whether Alvarez is actually the highest-paid athlete in sports, as Golden Boy touted in press releases, there is not enough publicly available information to know for certain. It is also still open for debate whether taking the biggest stars in the sport off of free television, where they’d have the broadest possible audience, and putting them onto a streaming service, where they have the most narrow audience, is good for boxing.
Let’s start with this, though: If you are a diehard Alvarez fan, this is a good financial deal for you. Golden Boy announced Wednesday that Alvarez had signed an 11-fight, five-year deal that it says will pay him $365 million. If that is true, Alvarez will make an average of $33.1M per fight.
Pay-per-view prices have skyrocketed recently, though at $84.99, an Alvarez-Fielding pay-per-view might have sold 10 total, if they got lucky. Fielding isn’t very good and it’s an extraordinarily poor way to open the Alvarez-DAZN era with a blowout match like this: Alvarez is a minus-2000 favorite.
But let’s stick with the diehard fan theme and assume one would buy each of Alvarez’s next 11 fights at the going PPV rate. Even if we don’t consider they’ll raise PPV prices, at 11 fights, the diehard fan would spend $934.89 to watch him. But at DAZN’s $9.99 monthly subscription fee, that’s reduced to $109.89, or a savings of $825.
That, though, is assuming a fan only pays the $9.99 DAZN subscription fee in the months Alvarez fights, which is the way it works on pay-per-view. But DAZN doesn’t want you to subscribe only in the months Alvarez fights. It wants you to be a year-round subscriber. So over the 61 months of Alvarez’s deal (December 2018 and then five full years form 2019 through 2023), that $9.99 a month becomes $609.39.
It’s still less than the $934.89 you’d have paid to see Alvarez on PPV and you’ll get other fights every month, including those of IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. So all-in-all, if you’re a diehard fan, the math works out in your favor.
At issue, really, is whether DAZN grows the game. The complaint that promoters had about HBO and Showtime when boxing telecasts were dominated by those premium cable networks is that they had significantly smaller audiences than a broadcast network or a basic cable channel did.
For the last several years, HBO and Showtime each have had between 20 and 30 million subscribers. DAZN hasn’t released any subscription figures – and won’t, you can be certain – but it’s pie-in-the-sky thinking to believe they are anywhere near 1 million U.S. subscribers at this point.
WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford headlined a card on ESPN in Omaha, Nebraska, last week that averaged 2.245 million for the entire 131-minute broadcast. But in the time Crawford was in the ring vs. Jose Benavidez Jr., the show had more viewers. It peaked at 2.708 million in the latter stages of the fight.
That is vastly more U.S. viewers than those who will see a DAZN fight at this stage, and it’s probably going to be that way well into the future. It’s a good bet that DAZN doesn’t yet have 100,000 U.S. subscribers, let alone a million, but if, for the sake of argument, we say it has 1 million by the time Alvarez steps into the ring to bludgeon Fielding on Dec. 15, even if they get a 100 percent viewership rate, he’d be seen by 1.7 million fewer viewers than Crawford-Benavidez on ESPN.
Under that scenario, Alvarez would be seen by 100,000 fewer viewers than his fight with Golovkin on Sept. 15, which sold 1.1 million at $84.99 on pay-per-view.
ESPN’s model is infinitely better at this point. It has fights on basic cable and its ESPN+ app, which is only $4.99 a month and includes far more content than is available on DAZN.
Even worse for those who want to grow the sport is the fracture that is developing. Eddie Hearn of Matchroom USA has an exclusive deal with DAZN and has been offering fighters massive sums of money to sign with DAZN, driving up the cost of business for all.
“It’s crazy how much they’re offering,” one manager told Yahoo Sports about DAZN. “It would be malpractice to say no given how much better the money is, but how can they sustain that?”
The real issue is that once a promoter makes a heavy investment in a fighter, they aren’t going to allow that fighter to compete on another network.
Take Crawford, as an example. He recently re-signed with Top Rank and is regarded as no worse than the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. For my money, he’s No. 1 at this point. But Errol Spence, the IBF welterweight champion, is also one of the best in the world, and in my rating, he’s No. 3.
A Crawford-Spence fight would be the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns of the modern age. But I’ll bet against it happening, because Spence is with the Premier Boxing Champions, which has TV deals with Fox and Showtime.
How does the PBC possibly tell Fox, with which it begins its new deal on Dec. 22, that it is going to send Spence to ESPN, one of its most significant rivals, to fight Crawford?
So fighters who sign with DAZN are probably going to stay in that lane, and those who are with Top Rank are going to stay with it, and those who are with the PBC will jump between Fox and Showtime. Though the promoters say otherwise, boxing history (and logic) tell you that it’s not going to be a common occurrence to see the PBC work with Top Rank, or with DAZN.
So there will be many great matches – Joshua versus WBC champion Deontay Wilder, lightweights Mikey Garcia and Vasiliy Lomachenko, Crawford-Spence and many others – that may not occur because of the way the broadcast space is playing out.
You can’t blame Alvarez for taking the money. Is he going to make all $365 million? Well, all we have for that is Golden Boy’s word, and their track record with the truth hasn’t always been great. But we don’t know many contract details.
What if Alvarez loses back-to-back fights? Is his contract terminated or does he take a cut? What if the subscriptions don’t increase as quickly as DAZN and Golden Boy hope? Would Alvarez be forced to take less?
We don’t know Joshua’s deal, but it’s safe to assume it’s not less than Alvarez’s. So, if Joshua makes at least the $33.1M per fight that Alvarez makes, DAZN is on the hook for $132.7M a year just to pay Alvarez and Joshua to fight twice a year each.
That doesn’t count the cost of opponents for them or for other cards or for production or marketing or legal fees or all sorts of other expenses. But $132.7M a year going out means they need a lot of subscribers paying that $9.99 a month to cover it.
Time will tell if the Alvarez deal will be beneficial for the sport in the long run, but it’s a challenge the likes of running a marathon up the side of the steepest mountain.
It isn’t impossible, but neither does it seem terribly likely.
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