By the end of Saturday, May 4th, three of the four major middleweight titles in boxing will (barring a draw or no contest) be possessed by either Canelo Alvarez or Daniel Jacobs. It’s the biggest, most lucrative fight in the sport this year, and we can only hope it’s a high-quality, fan-friendly spectacle.
Ordinarily, a fight of this magnitude would be on pay-per-view. It’s Cinco de Mayo weekend with one of the biggest draws in boxing as the A-side. Instead of a $75 or $85 PPV price tag, Canelo vs. Jacobs will be streamed live on over-the-top sports subscription service DAZN — pronounced “Da-Zone,” subject to much ridicule — for either $19.99 per month or $99.99 if you sign up for the whole year.
Make no mistake about it, this is DAZN’s biggest and most important event to date as they try to make headway in the United States. While they lack the major team sports rights that they otherwise do have in other countries, Perform Group has marketed DAZN US heavily towards combat sports fans, with an aggressive stance that pay-per-view is on its deathbed.
Truth be told, DAZN did not have anything resembling a “PPV caliber” fight since last September’s launch, whether boxing or Bellator MMA. Canelo vs. Jacobs represents its breakthrough moment to significantly increase its subscriber base. Alvarez is guaranteed a minimum of $350 million over his next ten fights, and DAZN surely wants to see immediate returns in the form of at least one million new customers this weekend. Their aggressive advertising campaign has seen them have ads placed during NBA playoff games, as well as running a promotion where subscribers can watch the fight at Angels Stadium.
Unlike MMA, the boxing free agent market is much more robust and competitive. DAZN has shown themselves as having the money and ability to sign up familiar names such as Canelo or Gennady Golovkin, with Anthony Joshua essentially under the DAZN umbrella without having signed an exclusive agreement (at least not yet). Those are the fighters they’re banking on to attract subscribers, and it’s no coincidence that all three men are fighting in a five-week span on the platform. “Tentpole” shows, if you will, are what DAZN is looking for. The rest of the year is then filled out with enough content — “Over 100 fight nights a year” is the current tagline — to keep subscribers/hardcore fans satisfied. Whether it’s actually consistently good content is up to each individual, but you get the idea.
As for the notion that pay-per-view is dying, we know there’s zero evidence that’s the case for the UFC, so let’s focus on the boxing side. Only two PPVs were run in 2018, and one of them was Canelo vs. Gennady Golovkin 2, which eclipsed the 1 million mark. In fact, Alvarez has topped that milestone in his last three fights. Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury did 325,000 buys, getting past the break-even point in a show that marked the PPV debut for both men.
In 2019, the three boxing pay-per-views we’ve been treated to have been mostly duds. In January, Manny Pacquiao embarrassed Adrien Broner in a non-competitive decision back. Two months later, Errol Spence Jr outclassed Mikey Garcia in a champ vs. champ “superfight” that was absolutely a mismatch. Last month, Terence Crawford got the rare (but legal in New York!) low-blow TKO vs. Amir Khan that provided an anti-climactic ending and led to belief that Khan quit. In all honesty, Crawford vs. Khan was also a mismatch.
If you legally purchased all three events, you
need to hire a financial planner ASAP spent a whopping $220 for not even a combined decent night of entertainment. The buyrates for Pacquiao-Broner and Spence-Garcia both did well to exceed the 350,000 mark, while Crawford-Khan appears to have flopped at a reported 150,000. DAZN is targeting those who are tired of forking over $70+ for supposedly high-profile boxing matches and feeling ripped off.
Frankly speaking — let’s for just one moment remove the legitimate questions about how financially viable DAZN can actually be in the United States — wouldn’t you want this as a fight fan? Why would you keep feeding this beast? The UFC is asking for at least $720 plus an ESPN+ subscription if you want to watch every pay-per-view in a calendar year. Boxing runs far fewer PPVs than the UFC, mind you, but not only do they tend not to be the main events that the general public wants, they charge more than the UFC does to help cover the massive purses the headliners will receive.
The system undeniably sucks and has been sustained for several decades, even as television and the way we consume media in general has evolved and expanded. That doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, nor does it mean a service like DAZN can’t “disrupt” the market as we know it and become something akin to WWE Network for boxing fans.
DAZN US chairman John Skipper clearly stepped in to make Canelo vs. Jacobs happen ASAP, squashing whatever plans Oscar De La Hoya had that didn’t involve Jacobs as Canelo’s opponent for May 4th. It’s telling that DAZN doesn’t want to waste any time “marinating” big fights when they need to generate considerable revenue right away. They made an aggressive offer to Deontay Wilder to have him fight Anthony Joshua twice over, but it didn’t pan out.
This is a pivotal point in time for DAZN. They can’t control how Canelo vs. Jacobs plays out, but they are responsible for making sure the production values are high, streaming quality is on point, casting to multiple devices is seamless, and ordering DAZN isn’t a glitch-filled hassle in the first place (as we saw with new ESPN+ customers for UFC 236). If this is not a knockout for them on Saturday, it’s almost certainly going to set them back significantly in the long-term, and fans may end up with that familiar feeling of getting screwed over yet again.