Streaming Wars: ESPN+ KO’s DAZN

Streaming Wars: ESPN+ KO’s DAZN

Streaming content provider DAZN suffered a knockout over the weekend that may be impossible to come back from.

We are calling it now. The Streaming Wars have suffered the first high profile casualty. DAZN – the nascent streaming network for combat sports – is in the process of raising money. We would love to be in the room when DAZN Chairman John Skipper tries to explain the underlying logic to last Saturday’s DAZN broadcast when the company committed an unforgivable sin – picking a fight only to back down for which customers and the sport of boxing paid a price. DAZN is owned by Russian entrepreneur Len Blavatnik and is led by former ESPN president John Skipper. We were not impressed with Skipper during his time at ESPN for not addressing the cable cord-cutting phenomenon directly.

John Skipper at a 2016 recode media conference

ESPN/Disney eventually entered the streaming sports business earlier this year with ESPN+, which features a variety of sports content including Endeavor-owned UFC. Skipper left ESPN in 2017 to deal with a substance abuse problem.

DAZN suffered a KO over the weekend when it blinked and chose to acquire the rights – in real-time – to broadcast a competing event (UFC 244) to fill a 104-minute lull in live action at DAZN’s MGM Grand event.

To set the stage, earlier this year the UFC and ESPN+ announced that UFC 244 would take place at Madison Square Garden on Saturday November 2nd. This was a highly anticipated event that was sure to be a big draw both to the live event and on pay-per-view (To order the pay-per-view, viewers are first required to subscribe to ESPN+ for $5 per month – a heck of a racket for ESPN/Disney). DAZN hadn’t yet scheduled a date for its championship card featuring Canelo Alvarez – boxing’s largest pay-per-view star. Rather than pick another Saturday evening, DAZN choose to pit its boxing card head-to-head with the UFC/ESPN+ on Saturday November 2nd. The question we have for Skipper and DAZN is: “Why pick a fight with ESPN+ and the UFC if you don’t have to – especially when you are not dealing from a position of strength?

Apparently DAZN’s plan was to run its fight undercard as normal and to then delay its main event bout until the UFC had completed it’s main event – an intentional break in DAZN live action. This begs the question: “Why would DAZN not run its mega star – Canelo – head-to-head with the UFC’s main event? If you are going to choose the same date as the UFC – why not compete directly?” Instead, DAZN blinked and paid dearly for it. DAZN’s co-main event finished early via a first round knockout. DAZN was faced with 90+ minutes of dead space before its main event was scheduled to start. What did DAZN do? In an effort to appease fans in the MGM Grand arena – many of whom paid thousands of dollars per seat – it paid for the rights to broadcast the UFC’s main event to patient fans inside the arena. Thus, not only did DAZN take a step back when it forced its star – Canelo – to the sidelines, it invited the barbarians at the gate inside for a cup of tea – and paid the barbarians to come inside! A strategic blunder of the highest order. DAZN’s featured bout kicked off at 1:18am ET after a 104-minute break in live action. John Skipper has got to go.

Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev forced to wait almost two hours for their main event bout due to DAZN’s mishandling of the November 2nd MGM Grand event.

DAZN’s main event with boxing’s biggest star – Canelo Alvarez – did not kick off until 1:18am ET to avoid a conflict with UFC 244. DAZN and John Skipper blinked. Game over.