Hearn focusing on Sky renewal despite DAZN's UK launch
By Jonathan Rest at Sportel Miami
Eddie Hearn, head of Matchroom Boxing, has told Sportcal he is prioritising a renewal with Sky, the UK pay-television operator, whose future in the sport has been thrown into doubt by international over-the-top streaming platform DAZN’s plans to launch a global service.
Matchroom Boxing has an exclusive five-year rights deal in place with Sky for the UK and Ireland that runs to 2021, while its biggest fighter, world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, is also tied to Sky until 2021.
DAZN this week announced it will roll out its English-language offering in more than 200 countries, including in the UK, beginning with a 2 May fight involving Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican boxing star, against either Callum Smith or Billy Joe Saunders.
Both those UK boxers are in Matchroom’s stable, but the fight will only be available in the UK and Ireland on DAZN.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Sportel Miami convention, Hearn told Sportcal: “We still have just over a year left on our Sky Sports contract, which we are discussing about extending now. Our UK shows remain on Sky Sports Box Office and Sky Sports, and will be global on DAZN, and our international shows in America will be on DAZN UK.
“Our next big decision is do we extend our Sky deal, or do we entertain conversations with DAZN? The focus for me right now is to extend the Sky deal, because the growth of boxing in the UK has been a wonderful partnership between us and Sky.”
Hearn admitted, however, he will be under “big pressure” from DAZN to sign with them after 2021.
He continued: “Sometimes a deal is too good to turn down, not just for me but for the fighters as well, because if the rights fees are higher, the fighters are getting paid more money. I have a responsibility to them as well.
“But we are very happy with Sky, the relationship is excellent and we are talking.”
On the future of Joshua, who fights Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev in London on 20 June, Hearn said: “Joshua’s exclusive deal with Sky expires at the same time as ours. It’s a case of where he goes, we go, and where we go, he goes.”
DAZN made a big play for USA, and boxing, in May 2018 when it signed an eight-year, $1-billion deal with Matchroom Boxing, committing, through the Matchroom Boxing USA joint venture, to stage 16 major fight nights per year featuring top boxers in the country.
The pair then teamed up on Matchroom Boxing Italy and Matchroom Boxing Spain, organising local fights broadcast by DAZN, which already operates in the two countries, as well as USA, Canada, Japan, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil.
Hearn said similar launches were already planned for Germany, Japan and Canada before DAZN's announcement, but that the OTT firm's global platform could be the catalyst for significant growth of Matchroom Boxing.
He continued: “It is such an amazing opportunity for us as a business to become a UFC brand in boxing. No boxer is promoting internationally. Top Rank only promote in America. If they do it in the UK, they do it via [Frank] Warren or us. Warren in the UK don’t have a deal with any other territory so if he does a show in America, it’s basically a Top Rank show.
“So we are the only ones that are doing our own individual shows in these territories, and now we have an opportunity to go into Australia, Scandinavia, India, the Middle East and all the others in 2020.
“Then we go from a situation of being a little British promoter to having offices in London, New York, Sydney, Toronto, Milan. That’s not an ego thing. That’s about creating a global business. No promoter has done that before. We want to be a carbon copy of UFC. What they have done is incredible, not just making fights, but the brand and presence internationally.
“The difference now is DAZN will be looking to create content in those territories that work. When they say to us you are doing eight [shows] in Spain, eight in Italy and we now want eight in Australia, six in Japan, six in Canada, then we become a huge global business. We start really controlling the sport like we want to. In boxing you can never fully control the sport, but we will be in a really dominant position.”
Hearn last year found himself at the centre of a media storm after taking Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz to Saudi Arabia, with the location widely criticised because of the Kingdom’s record on human rights.
Joshua could return to fight in Saudi Arabia in December (Las Vegas, USA and Cardiff, Wales are also in contention) for a potential match-up against UK rival Tyson Fury, should the new WBC champion defeat Deontay Wilder in a scheduled rematch in July.
Hearn said: “If it wasn’t a good experience, I wouldn’t go back. I mean the money is great, but we were promised certain things logistically, and they delivered on every single one of them.
“I don’t mind about the negative press, because it’s prize fighting. No-one has got the right to tell a fighter where they can or can’t go in a sport where you could lose your life or become injured. From that point of view, the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular have the right to bring any fight they want. It’s easy for them. It’s just a case of which fight, and who’s going to agree to it. Because of the success of Joshua-Ruiz, there’s no-one now that is nervous about going there.
“They will always have to pay a premium to begin with until it becomes a recognised boxing destination. The credibility of the first fight has already brought the price down, because they’ve done it and it was a success.”