As MMA and boxing increasingly shift to online streaming, price fans pay isn't always worth it

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Bellator events will be among those streamed on DAZN’s service. (AP)
Bellator events will be among those streamed on DAZN’s service. (AP)

It is getting increasingly expensive to be a fight fan.

In the U.S., the majority of boxing and MMA content requires a cable or satellite subscription, high-speed internet access and subscriptions to multiple streaming services.

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Showtime currently has the best boxing content regularly available on television in the U.S. It’s a premium cable network, meaning it doesn’t come with basic cable. It is at additional cost, and can be discounted by bundling other premium cable networks, but is roughly $13 a month on its own on most services (more on that in a bit).

ESPN has recently signed a deal with Top Rank for boxing through 2025, and Top Rank is trying to enhance its roster. UFC is currently on the Fox networks, but will switch to ESPN next year. ESPN is by far the most expensive basic cable channel.

HBO isn’t the mega-player it once was, but it still occasionally shows boxing. Despite the completion of the acquisition by AT&T, HBO officials aren’t certain what the future holds for boxing on the network.

There are three streaming services that cater to fight fans. UFC Fight Pass, which is $9.99 a month, shows UFC and other MMA fight cards. ESPN+ has deals with Top Rank and UFC and is $4.99 monthly or $50 if one subscribes for a full year. And DAZN (pronounced DUH-zone) announced Tuesday at a news conference in New York it will be $9.99 a month.

DAZN, which is headed by ex-ESPN president John Skipper, has deals with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sports, the World Boxing Super Series and Bellator, giving it a full lineup of boxing and MMA content. It offers a one-month free trial, so fans who want to give it a try can see its first month, which will feature a heavyweight title fight on Sept. 22 from London between Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin; Bellator matches featuring Rory MacDonald against Gegard Mousasi and Rampage Jackson versus Wanderlei Silva, and boxing that will have Jessie Vargas, Katie Taylor and Danny Roman in separate bouts.

To get all that is going to cost a considerable amount. One will need internet access, and at a level that will be fast enough for live streaming. Prices differ all over the country, but let’s estimate the minimum cost for access fast enough to support streaming would be $30 a month.

Add DAZN ($9.99), UFC Fight Pass ($9.99) and ESPN+ ($4.99) and you add another $24.97 onto your bill. A cable or satellite package will cost at least $35 a month. One could get DirecTV Now’s cheapest package, which is called “Live a Little,” for $35 a month. That includes ESPN and Fox Sports 1, as well as NBCSN (where the Professional Fighters League is), Paramount Network (which has Bellator) and the over-the-air networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, each of which occasionally has shown fights.

On top of that, it would cost $5 a month to add HBO and $8 a month to get Showtime on DirecTV Now, meaning the TV bill would be a minimum of $48.

At this point, we’re at $102.97 for the internet access, the streaming services and a cable or satellite subscription with premium channels. That is the minimum required, and it doesn’t include ANY pay-per-views. UFC shows at least one pay-per-view a month and that adds another $64.99, bringing our monthly cost to a minimum of $167.96. Because HBO and Showtime are now sporadically showing pay-per-view, we’re not including them in the cost, but if you want to buy the rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin in September, that’s going to cost, as well.

Canelo Alvarez and GGG will have their rematch broadcast as a pay-per-view in September. (Getty)
Canelo Alvarez and GGG will have their rematch broadcast as a pay-per-view in September. (Getty)

The sad part is there is no way to easily get all of the content. On the major team sports, one can buy season subscriptions to the NFL (NFL Sunday Ticket); NBA (NBA League Pass); Major League Baseball (MLB Extra Innings) and NHL (NHL Center Ice) and be guaranteed of receiving every game. The fight fan doesn’t have that luxury.

This will be perceived, though, as a battle for the fight fan’s heart between Skipper’s current company, DAZN, and the company he used to lead, ESPN+.

DAZN officials would point to the fact that all of its content is available for its $9.99 monthly fee, while in order to get all of the ESPN content, it would require both a cable subscription to get ESPN and a streaming subscription to ESPN+.

The future is unquestionably streaming, but it’s not going to come without problems. I had issues with the Manny Pacquiao fight on ESPN+ on Saturday, even though I have extraordinarily fast gigabit internet service from Cox in Las Vegas.

In the past since I’ve subscribed to ESPN+, I have watched on an iPad Pro or an iPhone. On Saturday, I wanted to watch on my 4K television that has an Apple TV. In the afternoon before the fight, I tested by streaming a PGA Tour golf event. A golfer was in the woods and the stream was so great and the picture so perfect I felt like I was in the woods with him.

But no such luck when the Pacquiao fight card began at 6 p.m. PT. I got a message on the TV screen that said, “Event About to Begin,” well after the start of the card. The audio was on, but no picture. At about 6:20 p.m., the picture came on, but wasn’t nearly 4K content and was significantly out-of-sync with the audio. I tried to log in on my iPhone X and my iPad Pro and it wouldn’t log me in.

Eventually, the problems lessened, but never completely resolved. I had an HD picture that was a bit choppy, but not a 4K one, and the audio sync issue got far less worse. Notably, during one of the undercard fights, I switched to Netflix and briefly watched a movie in 4K that streamed perfectly.

If people have issues with the stream or lose the fight for a period of time, they’re going to leave the service. I reported my troubles via text message to Top Rank president Todd duBoef, who said he hadn’t heard of similar issues, but it’s something that is inevitable, at least in the short run.

DAZN doesn’t yet have the kind of content that makes it a must-have for a budget-conscious fan. The Joshua-Povetkin fight on Sept. 22 is a good one, but it’s hardly a can’t miss. Right now, they don’t have a Canelo-GGG or Cormier-Miocic-type matchup available for their subscribers.

Given Hearn is a U.K.-based promoter, many of his shows will be in the U.K., which will put them at odd times for U.S. viewers.

DAZN has a supposedly hefty budget and will be bidding for higher quality talent, both in MMA and in boxing. That will be an imperative to make it a long-term option.

At the start, though, it’s a luxury more than a necessity.

It’s going to need a serious infusion of talent, and preferably talent that is more familiar to the U.S. audience.

Streaming is the way of the future, but it’s still far too early to determine which of these services is the best or will even survive for the long haul.

Each has some great things, but there are plenty of questions, too.

Streaming is the future, but the future isn’t fully here yet.

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