Matchroom Boxing’s decision to leave the success and security of their long relationship with the SKY Sports broadcasting machine back in July for a more collaborative partnership with DAZN was a significant one.
‘Game Changed’ was Matchroom Boxing’s mission statement and things have changed, that’s for sure, as they seek a UFC-style oligarchy over their fighters, pay structures, brand integrity, and most significantly, a 360º control of the broadcast output.
The attractive DAZN/Matchroom £1.99 price point for UK subscribers was always touted as an introductory offer, and even the most frugal sports consumer acknowledged that £1.99 wouldn’t fund too many domestic title fights, let alone global unifications for long.
So, the announcement on Tuesday (31st August) in a statement via the DAZN website that the monthly subscription fee for new and existing customers in the UK would be rising to £7.99 per month was no surprise, especially with the first solid card from the new partnership set for the weekend.
The £1.99 introductory offer covered the three Fight Camp events, which probably were worth around £1.99. As it was more an opportunity for the Matchroom Media dramatis personae of Maya Jama and Laura Woods on front vox, Tony Bellew, Andy Lee, Darren Barker, and Chris Lloyd on lead, rhythm, and bass guitars, and latterly BBC veteran Mike Costello adding guest vocals before leading the supergroup from then on, to find their feet.
The Fight Camp trilogy was a surreal blend of decent domestic level fights that even Eddie Barnum would admit had no real centerpiece. Combined with drone footage of the Palace of Hearn, rendered gables, Essex columns, and landscaped gardens punctuated by artisan food stands, roving reporters, and kaleidoscopic lighting sequences.
It was all very David Haye knocking out Vince Winn back in 2003 as a smoking-jacketed Hugh Hefner watched on under a Californian summer dusk in the gardens of the Playboy mansion, but with more stone-baked pizza stalls and less in the way of after-party grottos.
But now the Fight Camp back-slapping festival and a few weeks of £1.99 is officially over, work really begins to see if the game can actually be changed, other than in financial terms for the Hearn family reserves.
It starts this Saturday (4th September) but with a card that feels very much like a Sky Sports fight night with different presenters. So for now, at least, it’s more the same game different channel, live from Headingley Stadium where Josh Warrington looks to avenge his shock defeat to the little-known but obviously dangerous Mexican, Mauricio Lara, right in the middle of Leeds – admirable.
Core support comes in the shape of Katie Taylor, Conor Benn, and the very digital-friendly Ebanie Bridges against assorted, selected opposition.
With lead commentary from Mike Costello, analysis from Tony Bellew, studio anchorage by Maya Jama, and roving reportage from Laura Woods, let’s see if the game begins to change in percentages commensurate with the subscription fee hike.
Matchroom Boxing’s real challenge in this new partnership with DAZN is that it comes at a time when the established pugilistic personalities that helped establish them as one of the leading boxing promotional organizations in the world are now several years retired.
To make matters worse, Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, who currently remain cryptically outside the Matchroom stable in terms of DAZN exclusivity, surely have no more than four or five fights left in them either.
So this could be the very point where the reach of Matchroom Boxing’s well-deserved reputation for largely putting on the biggest and best boxing events over the past decade could exceed their grasp as they look to build the next generation of fighters with the real mainstream appeal but without mainstream media backing.
Will Conor Benn continue to evolve as the competition stiffens? Can Joshua Buatsi continue to get hit more than he should as he moves into the next tier? Is Alen Babic more than a likable novelty, how long can Ebanie Bridges in underwear generate memes, and so on.
Below those easy to caricature lightning rods, there is, of course, a massive depth of real quality in the Matchroom stable, including Kid Galahad, Callum Smith, Joe Cordina, and Lawrence Okolie, to name but a few. Then there’s the international might of relationships with Canelo Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, Oleksander Usyk, Demetrius Andrade, Joseph Parker, and many more.
Great fighters, one and all but outside the established names, building new ones without the 24-hour machinery and cross-platform marketing might that SKY Sports brings will be tough. There will be no Joshua Buatsi taking penalties on Soccer AM or Conor Benn rotating on SKY Sports News with well wishes from his Dad via Zoom in Australia…
So, it will be interesting to see how many subscribers stick with DAZN following the reasonable price hike to £7.99, which you also suspect won’t be the last increase.
How many stick with DAZN when an inevitable PPV tier is introduced for key fights.
And how many sticks with DAZN as they and Matchroom try to build the next generation of boxing stars in a world of spectacularly wide choice and dramatically shorter attention spans.