Boxing: Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez enters post-HBO, pay-per-view world with US$365 million streaming deal

Canelo Alvarez (right) swings a punch against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, on May 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - DAZN Group Executive Chairman John Skipper was in Los Angeles earlier this October when he learned boxing star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez might be willing to sign with the newly launched sports streaming service. Despite having only two pairs of clothes, Skipper said he refused to leave the city until a deal was signed nine days later.

"I wore the same d**n clothes every other day," said Skipper, ESPN's former president, prior to an event at Madison Square Garden announcing the deal.

The Alvarez partnership - US$365 million (S$503 million) for rights to his next 11 fights, according to a person familiar with the agreement - is the richest single-athlete contract in sports history. It is also a testament to the ambitions of DAZN, pronounced "da-zone" and billed as "the Netflix of sports," and another sign that the pay-per-view era of boxing is rapidly waning.

The arrangement is part of a larger deal between DAZN and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, which represents dozens of boxers. In addition to Alvarez's fights, DAZN will stream 10 fight nights a year, starting in 2019. In total, the larger Golden Boy partnership could be worth as much as $500 million, according to another person familiar with the deal.

Boxing is just the beginning for DAZN. Already a major digital network for global soccer, the service is emphasising combat sports in its US debut because fights are major events and the rights to major league team sports are already spoken for.

The deal with Alvarez also marks a shift in the future of major boxing broadcasts. HBO announced last month that it was getting out of boxing, leaving Showtime as the biggest traditional pay-per-view outlet. Alvarez's last six fights were all HBO pay-per-view events, including his September win over Gennady Golovkin, for which viewers paid $85.

DAZN's offering is cheaper. Alvarez plans to fight twice a year, and the service will include those bouts as part of its $9.99 monthly fee. Even if they never watch anything else on the service, fans will pay $120 a year, or the equivalent of $60 a fight.

"A pay-per-view fight is basically a one-time subscription," Skipper said. "We are in the subscription business. We are in the direct-to-consumer business. So there can be no better place to start a subscription over the top business than with the money that people already pay to watch pay-per-view."

The Alvarez deal follows DAZN's first major US agreement, an eight-year, $1 billion joint venture with UK promotion Matchroom Boxing. DAZN is now the home of perhaps boxing's two biggest stars, Alvarez and heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who is promoted by Matchroom.

ESPN's new ESPN+ service, which is $4.99 a month, is also expanding its boxing selection, most recently in a seven-year deal with Bob Arum's Top Rank promotions, which reps Manny Pacquiao, Jose Benavidez and Terence Crawford.

Canelo's first fight on DAZN will be Dec 15 at Madison Square Garden against Rocky Fielding, who is part of Matchroom's promotion.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.