Combat Sports

Zuhosky’s Take #2: Was DAZN’s US Expansion a Flop?

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Was the expansion to the United States for the DAZN subscription-based streaming platform a flop? It’s definitely a fair question to ask, given that we’re now nearly three years into the platform being available to American subscribers.

DAZN first launched inside the United States on Sept. 10, 2018. It cost $9.99 per month at the outset, and new subscribers would obtain a one-month free trial of the service upon the subscription going live. One issue was debuting roughly five months after cable giant ESPN’s own such service, ESPN+, launched on April 12 the same year.

A major sticking point for fans of combat sports was the fact that DAZN would feature cards from several mixed martial arts promotions, notably Bellator MMA, at launch in 2018, in addition to showcasing live events from Russian-based Fight Nights Global and what is now Combate Global on the service.

Boxing played a prominent role on DAZN from its launch, a fixture that remains to this day, including events from Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy promotion, along with an exclusive 11-fight deal to show cards headlined by Canelo Alvarez, a deal that would eventually crumble.

The Winds of Change Begin to Gust

In late 2019, the dominoes started to fall for MMA on DAZN. Combate Americas CEO Campbell McLaren announced that his promotion would sign a United States English-language television contract with AXS TV. Initially, the deal was to start with Combate’s 2020 schedule of events, later revised to begin Dec. 13, 2019. They received the timeslot formerly occupied by the AXS TV Fights programming block on Friday evenings.

Fight Nights Global events began to appear more sporadically on the streaming platform until that promotion’s catalog disappeared from the schedule of events on DAZN following a Sept. 9, 2020 event dedicated to the memory of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s late father, Abdulmanap, who passed away last summer following complications from the coronavirus.

DAZN continued to show live Bellator MMA events throughout most of 2020, both simulcast with Paramount Network and exclusive to the platform, including Bellator’s first live event back from its COVID-19 induced hiatus, Bellator 242 event from Mohegan Sun Arena on July 23rd, 2020.

Before its cancellation in the final hours leading up to the show, DAZN had been scheduled to stream March 13, 2020, Bellator 241. The event was to have featured quarterfinal action in the promotions Featherweight Grand Prix.

Bellator President Scott Coker announced that the event would be canceled that afternoon, citing growing concerns over impending travel bans related to the virus.

COVID-19 Impacts on DAZN

Because of the sports shut down a year ago, organizations in sports began to feel the pinch from the dearth of live-action. DAZN being forced to issue layoff notices to a number of its employees and cancel the rights fees owed to the leagues and promotions tied to DAZN throughout the world as no events were being held.

In May of 2020, it was announced that Bellator MMA looked to end its streaming partnership with DAZN after two years, with the promotion and the streaming platform eventually splitting company that December ahead of Bellator 254 on CBS Sports Network.

Not only that, the US edition of DAZN only contains a slight trace of MMA content, as all of its archived MMA fights have been removed from the platform altogether. DAZN did, however, feature last Saturday’s EFC 86 card. With that being said 2020 was, to put it kindly, not a day at the picnic for anybody, but DAZN had troubles before last year.

What Went Wrong?

Figures indicate that during 2019, DAZN reported losses totaling north of $1 billion inside the United States before COVID-19 forcing all sports to go on pause.

Also not helping matters for DAZN was the fact that ESPN+ had a five-month jump on the platform in getting started, with ESPN+ going live on the morning of April 12, 2018, inside the United States– and since launching, ESPN+ has already welcomed more than 10 million paid subscribers, a feat that DAZN has not yet achieved, having only welcomed eight million paid viewers to the service as of late 2019– a number that dropped as sports shut down a year ago.

Another misstep for the platform was its price hike to $19.99 per month or $99.99 per calendar year, and although ESPN+ had a price increase of its own, it wasn’t nearly as steep, only costing $59.99 annually or $5.99 monthly.

From the start, DAZN hasn’t been able to adequately challenge ESPN+ for control of the streaming hierarchy when it comes to subscription-based sports packages, certainly not with steep price increases. They might end up losing Canelo to Showtime Boxing when all is said and done, as his most recent bouts have been on the subscription-based streamer under the Matchroom Boxing signature.

At this point, there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not the American expansion of the DAZN platform was a flop– but only time will tell, as it always does.


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Featured Image Credits to: Embed from Getty Images

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