If you want evidence that DAZN is a disruptor, you need only look at two big plays it has made in recent months. In March, the global sports streaming platform unseated Comcast-owned Sky as the home of Serie A soccer in Italy. A couple of months later, DAZN repeated the trick, outpunching Sky again to land a “game-changing” five-year pact with Eddie Hearn’s boxing juggernaut Matchroom for “at least” 16 fights a year in the UK and Ireland.
They are deals ripped straight from the Sky playbook, given the pay-TV operator used major events like the Premier League as a battering ram to establish itself as a market leader. Then owned by Rupert Murdoch, Sky was itself a disruptor. DAZN’s Serie A and Matchroom agreements also highlight shifting sands in an industry that is rapidly lurching towards streaming. Backed by billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, DAZN thinks it is well placed to capitalize on this momentum and live up to its moniker of the Netflix of sports.
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To borrow a soccer analogy, the coach masterminding DAZN’s tactics is co-CEO James Rushton. His chairman is Kevin Mayer, a man who will need little introduction after launching Disney+ during a decorated career at Disney. Mayer also had a brief spell as the boss of TikTok last year before Donald Trump tried, but ultimately failed, to block the social media app in America. He joined DAZN after a spell as an advisor to Access Industries, during which time he became convinced that the streamer was “onto something really substantial”.
Both Rushton and Mayer acknowledge that DAZN has grown in maturity since 2020, emerging from the sticky, sport-free months of the pandemic with a clearer vision and greater determination to dominate. “We are a more mature, more focused, more intelligent business than we were a couple of years ago,” Rushton reflects. Elevated to acting CEO last year, he says the pandemic has given DAZN the opportunity to reset and focus on its “key drivers”. Central to this was radically expanding DAZN’s footprint from a handful of territories, including the U.S., to more than 200 markets last December after “a few false starts” because of coronavirus.
Piggybacking on its boxing rights, including Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev and, more recently, Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders, DAZN has used the global rollout to hoover up user data and build a greater understanding of audience demand in different locations. Rushton says this has allowed the company to look at global rights plays in other sports that match the universal appeal of boxing. The data is also enabling DAZN to place smarter local bets, such as the five-year Matchroom deal in the UK, which gets the streamer access to fighters including Conor Benn and Katie Taylor.
Rushton is coy about what rights the company will be pursuing next, but Mayer is a bit more forthcoming, pointing to the likes of mixed martial arts, golf, and tennis as potential areas of interest. Both say there is no secret in soccer’s global appeal. DAZN reportedly paid €2.5 billion ($3 billion) for Serie A rights, meaning it will be home to stars including Juventus icon Cristiano Ronaldo. “It’s a watershed moment that, in 20 years’ time, MBA textbooks will be talking about as being one of the key indicators of a paradigm shift in consumer habits,” Rushton says of the pact.
There were reports that DAZN was interested in making a bid for English Premier League rights in the UK before organizers decided to roll over existing deals with Sky, BT Sport, and Amazon in May. “Would domestic football enhance our U.K. offering? Of course, you would be naive to think otherwise,” says Rushton. “Does that mean we’d have partaken in a tender if one would have happened? No idea.” So, was DAZN frustrated that it didn’t even get a look in? “You have to play the cards that you are dealt,” says Mayer. “If you get emotional and frustrated, that’s when you make poor decisions. We’re going to take things one rights auction at a time.”
The Premier League is not completely off the table, and Mayer admits it would be “nice to have”. DAZN has been linked with a bid to acquire current rights holder BT Sport, which was put up for sale in April. Rushton declines to comment on such speculation but says it’s “flattering” that DAZN is considered part of the conversation. Premier League rights are also due for renewal in the U.S., where NBC is the current home of the competition. Mayer acknowledges that European soccer is popular in America, but Rushton says boxing is DAZN’s current priority in the country.
The broader aim is to build a diversified portfolio of rights, meaning the streamer is protected even if it loses contracts or misses out during auctions. Former ESPN+ leader Mayer explains: “We need to put ourselves in a position that would allow us to transcend any turbulence in the business model and technology. And you do that by owning the best content. We need to have the wherewithal to own the best rights in meaningful territories. By virtue of our business model and our spinning flywheel, it gives us momentum and provides us with some degree of protection from incursions from competitors.”
And it’s not just sports rights. DAZN plans to evolve its offering to include gambling (Rushton’s co-CEO is Shay Segev, the former boss of major U.K. betting firm Entain), merchandise, gifting, and original content. It’s already dabbling in the latter through brands including The Boxing Show and The Last Dance-style documentaries like Ronaldo: El Presidente, which follows the work of Ronaldo Nazário, the Brazilian former soccer star.
DAZN is “very close” to turning a profit, Rushton says. The streamer’s most recent accounts for 2019 show it made a loss of £1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) on revenues of £440 million, though this was during a period of investment and growth. It does not disclose user numbers. DAZN is open-minded about a future IPO, but Rushton stresses that Access has backed the company and takes a “long-term view” of its value, unlike private equity houses. DAZN’s vision is simple, he says become the largest and most important sports streaming platform around the world. “We’re disrupting in spirit, but in terms of our proposition [as a streaming service], the disruption has happened. Now it’s time to provide our service to the best of our abilities.”