The DAZN dilemma: The high-stakes gamble on PPV boxing

Boxing not unlike business changes quickly. 

It was announced this week that Devin Haney will move up to the junior welterweight division to face Regis Prograis for Prograis' WBC junior welterweight world title. This comes after months of speculation as the undisputed lightweight champion will target the best fighter at junior welterweight, or so it seems to many, in his first weight class. Yet, it was three words that caught people's eye the most - PAY-PER-VIEW. The bout will be occurring in San Francisco, California, on December 9th, running against an ESPN Top Rank show that traditionally has had Teofimo Lopez as the main event. 

How did we get to this world of seemingly every even and competitive fight ending up on pay-per-view?

At first, we saw the Premier Boxing Champions or PBC start their company with the moniker ‘Free Boxing For All’. After the COVID-19 pandemic, seemingly a lot of their best fighters now are on pay-per-view. 

That moniker has been dropped - as a lot of fight fans probably didn't even watch boxing when that phrase was muttered. 

DAZN started its upstart endeavor in sports streaming by targeting boxing as a way to make inroads in the sports rights landscape. When it comes to sports distribution the holy grail is landing the rights to a major sport such as the NBA, the NFL, or even MLB. Boxing is a fringe sport, one that has a loyal base, but also is severed to the point in which the same funds thrown should attract a solid base. 

So armed with a war chest and aligned with a charismatic promoter in Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, the network began to sign up fighters who had good followings and analytics to back them up. First, it was Canelo, then Anthony Joshua, the World Boxing Super Series (a boxing tournament filled with interesting names and good fighters) which was featured on the network, Ryan Garcia, Gennadiy Golovkin, and many more. 

DAZN would find itself having two powerful promoters after the Canelo Alvarez signing in Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, and Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. 

The network was offering essentially weekly fights for a set price point with ads running that stated the demise of pay-per-view not unlike what Premier Boxing Champions had done prior, and even picked up the rights to Bellator MMA along the way. It was seemingly a great deal if you liked fighting.

With the former head of ESPN, John Skipper running the show, it looked as though DAZN was here to usher in the new era of boxing and fill the void that HBO Boxing left from the sport of boxing. Important note, that Skipper has now left DAZN. 

So what went wrong…

In short, DAZN lost the trust of the consumer. Boxing is a weird sport in which the business model is the opposite of any other successful business. Essentially boxing has been running as a dictatorship in which the promoters often tell the fans the fights that they should see rather than letting the demand for fights dictate what comes next. 

Why is that? So promoters and at times networks can elongate capital and make more money off the fighters they have signed as in the modern era. After Floyd Mayweather, fighters and fight fans have now devalued fighters after a single loss, which isn't right.

Though we do get good fights yearly, oddly we often don’t get the ones we want as regularly as we probably should - a major issue is that each promoter wants full control of their fighters and the best fighting the best often means cross-promotion. 

That means one company will lose out on a valuable asset, as explained above. So, we often see a good fight here and there, and some fights that pass the time as we wait for a good one.

Where DAZN went wrong was simple - its customer service was unhelpful and put a large burden and responsibility on the consumer. This is best seen by their rating on the Better Business Bureau being a D- and given one star out of five in 39 reviews. To put it bluntly, this is atrocious for a business of any standard. Maybe some will put up with this if the fights are solid or above average, but put a very mediocre customer service paired with big fights behind pay-per-view paywalls with a subscription service on top of that and simply not enough big fights occurring monthly. This is a recipe for discontent from the consumer, who remembers the glory days of a great product of years past. 

The larger predicament lies in DAZN's journey since its inception, initially promoting an anti-PPV model with promises of affordable pricing is seemingly gone. DAZN is now $19.99 a month in terms of a price point. They are offering niche fights at a premium price point above popular subscription services such as Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Max, and others, but offering a limited variety of live sporting options.

It is clear as day the COVID-19 pandemic caused financial constraints that have forced DAZN to rework their models and subscription fees. This inevitably led to them introducing PPV events along with their subscription service. The service isn’t cheap and now the best fights they offer are behind yet another paywall. 

So in short, they have gone against their mission statement after the COVID-19 pandemic. The move to pay-per-view which started with Canelo vs. Dmitry Bivol along with recent price hikes has strained a loyal boxing fanbase that now seems discontent. 

Bloomberg reported that DAZN has lost 6 BILLION, and 2.3 billion in 2021. This was the year prior to the network's change.

Even more curious is the investment in Misfits Boxing, which is run by KSI, a YouTuber and influencer, which is now getting a solid amount of dates on the network which seemingly states they are looking for subscribers, and Misfits Boxing is filling that void. 

Now to the the further dismay, DAZN’s customer service is essentially non-existent as promises of a response within 24 hours, far too often go unfulfilled. It has left the consumer confused.  This was best seen when Gervonta Davis versus Ryan Garcia was available for purchase from DAZN and Showtime PPV, but DAZN had issues in which many consumers couldn't watch it through the app, and the frustrations echoed through social media.

DAZN was once a great network for boxing, but now it is seemingly struggling to figure out how to be a sustainable company - one might observe from the outside looking in, and now budget cuts, as well as fewer marquee events have dwindled DAZN’s reach in the sport. The future of DAZN is unclear.

2024 is a big year for DAZN. They no longer have Canelo Alvarez, who fights this week against Jermell Charlo on Showtime pay-per-view. Anthony Joshua is near the end of his career. Gennadiy Golovkin is seemingly retired, and Katie Taylor is close to being done as well. 

They need to drive up subscribers and you do that through great fighters. They need new stars. Whether it is Diego Pacheco, Conor Benn, Ryan Garcia, Vergil Ortiz, or someone else. DAZN needs to find some fighters who make fight fans want to tune in and stay loyal in down times in the fight calendar, given the excitement of said fighters' fighting style. 

The fact that Canelo Alvarez vs. John Ryder was on pay-per-view explains where they are at as a company, as just two years ago, they put a great fight on - Canelo vs. Billy Joe Saunders, which was free with a yearly subscription. 

It seems clear at least to some degree that pay-per-view works in boxing as a model to sustain, but the deeper issue is it doesn't grow the sport. Boxing stays stagnant when the best fights become a pick-and-choose ordeal. So as we take one step forward, we take another one backward. 

DAZN still serves a great need in the sport of boxing - but it is not what it once was, and sadly it is going against what it initially stood for. DAZN was a hope to bring fight fans big fights at reasonable prices and now are sadly moving in the opposite direction.