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Is Matchroom looking to take a new direction with DAZN?

Eddie Hearn
James Chance/Getty Images
Though neither party will comment at this stage, all signs are pointing to a parting of the ways between Matchroom Boxing and Sky Sports, writes George Gigney

IT appears that Matchroom Boxing’s nine-year exclusive broadcast deal with Sky Sports is at an end.

The Athletic report – via a story that read curiously like a press release written by a British writer (there is nothing in the way of American grammar in it) – that Eddie Hearn’s outfit will sign a new deal with DAZN once their contract with Sky ends in a few months. According to the report, the DAZN deal is worth nine-figures.

The news has not been confirmed on record by Hearn or Sky’s Head of Boxing Adam Smith, who both declined to comment, though The Athletic’s sources are often reputable.

Matchroom’s move – if it does indeed happen – could have a huge impact on boxing, particularly within the UK. Their partnership with Sky has been wildly successful, most notably in recent years with the development of Anthony Joshua from an Olympic gold medallist into a global superstar.

DAZN entered the UK market a few months ago, offering up international cards on the streaming service at a cut-throat monthly price. If Matchroom joins the fold, that price will surely go up – Hearn’s 2015 renewal of the contract with Sky promised 120 fights per year.

Hearn and Matchroom teamed up with DAZN in 2018 for shows in territories outside of the UK, with the streaming service committing an enormous amount of money to the deal, providing Hearn with a war chest to secure fights with. It would be no surprise should this news of a UK broadcast deal turn out to be true.

It will come at a cost, though. Sky is a media juggernaut in the UK, and so provided Matchroom fights and fighters with exposure to an enormous audience. That will now be gone, so Matchroom and DAZN will largely need to rely on paid advertising – both on television and, crucially, online.

According to The Athletic, the deal does not include Anthony Joshua – far and away the jewel in Matchroom’s crown – and heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte. Rights for their bouts will be agreed on a fight-by-fight basis. However, Joshua’s mooted fight with Tyson Fury is apparently confirmed to be a joint pay-per-view between Sky and BT Sport, with each holding their own separate broadcast on the night.

This Matchroom-DAZN deal in the UK seems to go beyond just financial incentives. Hearn has spoken in the past about turning Matchroom into the “UFC of boxing” in an attempt to bring every aspect of the game in-house.

While he would not comment on the DAZN news, he did tell IFL TV that Matchroom Media – the company’s new media arm – will run the production for all of their shows moving forward. That includes commentary, presentation and more. That’s an almost identical setup to UFC’s current partnership with ESPN in the US.

For DAZN, the UK represents a major territory for boxing that they have not yet cracked. Further still, it’s been no secret that they have their sights set on the Premier League, and securing rights to the fights of one of the country’s top boxing promoters would provide them with the foothold they need to make a charge at the football market. The auction for Premier League TV rights takes place this year.

If this news is true, it leaves Sky in a difficult position, though could provide potential opportunities for other promoters in the UK looking for a broadcaster.

While we still await official confirmation of the Fury-Joshua fight, ESPN report that it will have a record-breaking site fee of $150m. Saudi Arabia are reportedly putting up the eye-watering amount with the two protagonists pocketing roughly $75m each, with the rest of the bounty going toward costs like the undercard.

That is a staggering amount of money and a testament to the size of this fight. It’s also not the full extent of Fury and Joshua’s purses, as they will both surely get pieces of the PPV pie after the fight.

Abu Dhabi, however, apparently got cold feet over a proposed fight between Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford, with The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger reporting that financial backing from investors in the region “never came through,” essentially killing the fight.

This is certainly not the first time finance for a fight in the Middle East has failed to appear – it’s not even the first time this has happened for a Pacquiao fight – but this robs Crawford yet again of a fight against an elite opponent. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Another fight that has been scrapped is Ryan Garcia’s lightweight meeting with Javier Fortuna, though for very different reasons. Garcia took to social media to announce that he has withdrawn from the fight to “manage [his] health and wellbeing.”

While he didn’t go into detail, Garcia has been open in the past about the anxiety he sometimes suffers from as a result of his ever-increasing fame. This is no place to speculate over what the issue is, but it’s a mature move from such a young fighter to remove himself from a fight to focus on his own health. Every fighter has the right to do that, but few choose to do so when they need it.

Podcasts

Chris Mannix’s podcast probably isn’t the place you go to get boxing news, or even insightful opinions, and this week’s episode still provided neither of those things but it did reveal that Floyd Mayweather is in fact going to fight a YouTuber on PPV.

Showtime supremo Steven Espinoza joined Mannix and confirmed that the broadcaster is working with Floyd on the exhibition bout, which had previously been reported to be happening on June 5. Espinoza stated a date has not been finalised.

There was talk about weight stipulations but, honestly, does it matter? Mayweather will end the debacle whenever he pleases. What’s worrying is that a major broadcaster is offering this up on PPV, especially off the back of the announcement of Showtime’s solid summer schedule of legitimate boxing.

It also begs another disturbing question: is Mayweather still the biggest name in the sport?

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  • Its amazing how in COVID times, the publicity that promoters have been getting an not the fighters. It seems to me in the last two years the Sky deal with Matchroom has not really fulfilled the subscribers criteria, I should say at this point I cancelled my Sky subscription, the boxing had become less frequent, more one sided, with questionable decisions and one sided commentaries, lets alone the inane interviews with Eddie Heard after every fight, with every novice fighter telling us he is ready for a title fight next fight but he will leave it up to his people to bring him along. I will be glad of the change, I think its an unusual step for Matchroom to take, maybe he will try to licence DAZN back to Sky, if not he allows a rival in through the door, and be in Queeensbury or Kalle, plenty of fighters will leave Matchroom as they will need the work, we may even get some proper fights. Finally I cannot help but mention the PPV, I realise in Covid times, there is no crowd and so somewhat excusable, but really Chisora v Parker, come on, and I can hardly wait for Adam Smith to tell us what a great fight it is, and how the winner is in line for a title shot, at who of course not even boxing fans know, and with the protracted contract signed but no venue found nonsense, I fear people are caring less and less.

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