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Why the ‘Netflix of sports’ is focusing on boxing and MMA for its US launch

Live sports subscription platform DAZN announced this week a nine-figure, multi-year deal with MMA promoter Bellator to stream all 22 Bellator fights per year on DAZN, including seven exclusively on DAZN.

The news came just one month after DAZN cut a $1 billion deal with British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn to stream 32 Matchroom Boxing fights per year, all of them exclusive to DAZN.

Taken together, the deals make it clear that DAZN, which is currently live in Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, has chosen combat sports as its avenue for entry into the American sports media market.

“We don’t think the Pay-Per-View ecosystem is working,” DAZN CEO James Rushton says.

‘Fight fans, mixed martial arts fans, come and try us’

Indeed, he’s stating the obvious: Big boxing bouts or MMA fights come at a high price to fans, who usually have to shell out upwards of $99 to watch a single event. On top of that, there are outages and stream failures.

DAZN’s proposition is simple: Pay for an annual subscription, and get all-you-can-eat from our buffet of sports, rather than having to decide whether to pay every time there’s a fight on. The service has been called a “Netflix of sports,” and it will launch in the U.S. on September 29 for Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva, a highly-anticipated Bellator bout. “Fight fans, mixed martial arts fans,” Rushton says, “come and try us.” (DAZN is not yet sharing its U.S. subscription price.)

Of course, much of the reason DAZN is starting with combat sports is because it can’t get the rights to bigger attractions like NFL, NBA, or MLB games in the U.S. (It does stream NFL games in Canada, making it a very attractive service there.) “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got an unlimited checkbook,” Rushton says. “You can’t just walk into a rights holder and say, ‘Hey, give me the rights,’ because they’re in long-term broadcast contracts with other parties.”

Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi will defend against Rory MacDonald on Sept. 29 in a bout streamed on DAZN. (Getty Images)
Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi will defend against Rory MacDonald on Sept. 29 in a bout streamed on DAZN. (Getty Images)

The parent company of DAZN is Perform Group, which is headquartered in London and owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik. Perform’s media division has extensive digital media holdings, including Goal.com and Sporting News, and it has been quietly using those news sites to promote DAZN aggressively for over a year.

I guess for lack of a better word, we mortgaged the house on the two existing businesses to launch this OTT business,” Perform Media CEO Juan Delgado told Yahoo Finance last year.

A crowded market for live sports streaming

As for the name, some fans may scratch their heads. Is it pronounced “Day-zen?” “Dah-zen?” The answer is “Da Zone,” but Rushton says, “We recognize it’s a little bit difficult to pronounce… We quite like that, it’s a talking point, it’s a conversation point. We love the name, and I think it’s a name that will stick.”

Of course, DAZN is about to enter an extremely crowded market for live sports streaming. Tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Google have all paid up for the right to stream live sports. Rushton shrugs it off: “I don’t think any of these companies are trying to become what we are, which is a global, multi-sport, live broadcaster.”

Come September, fight fans will be the ones to decide whether a DAZN subscription is worth it.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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