As Anthony Joshua fights Oleksandr Usyk in White Hart Lane on Saturday night tensions will be high, not just in the ring, but also in the corporate boxes and UK sport’s corridors of power.
Saturday’s fight is Joshua’s final contracted bout with Sky Sports, and, on the fringes of the prestige event will be the looming presence of online streaming firm DAZN.
The undercard to the main event will be stacked with fighters promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, who would otherwise be fighting exclusively under the DAZN banner.
While you’re quite unlikely to hear the ‘da zone’ phonetic ushered by anyone on the Sky pay-per-view broadcast, DAZN’s digital fingerprints will likely be across the event as the streamer’s rapid-fire social media team will most probably live tweet much of the event. – as it retains US and international rights to the fight.
Whether Joshua wins or loses on Saturday, he will wake up on Sunday free to negotiate a new deal with Sky or DAZN – where he eventually signs on the dotted line may say a lot about the state of UK broadcast media.
Hearn already made the switch from Sky to DAZN earlier this year in a reported eight-year, GBP100mln a year deal. It is possibly only because Anthony Joshua has a standalone broadcast deal with Sky that this weekend’s bout isn’t already on the streaming platform.
It will be a rich contract for Joshua if it is agreed.
Mexican boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez in 2018 inked an eleven fight US$365mln deal with DAZN, which was subsequently revised to a US$20mln fight-by-fight arrangement last year.
Such is the disruptive force of online streaming, somehow (quite simply through low-cost high-volume international distribution) a deal could be lucrative and also massively save consumers money.
Sky customers will have to pay GBP24.95 to watch Saturday’s fight via the Sky Box Office pay-per-view service, whereas – like other streaming platforms including Netflix – DAZN is broadcast to an online audience at a monthly subscription of GBP7.99.
If DAZN lands Joshua in a lucrative deal it has the potential to damage if not break the pay-per-view model for boxing in the UK and Ireland.
More significantly for Sky and consumers, DAZN may make an even bigger commercial breakthrough in the coming weeks if it can capture the rights to Premier League and European football.
DAZN was this week reported, by the FT, to be in advanced talks with BT Group PLC (LSE:BT.A) to acquire the BT Sports broadcasting operation for ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’.
BT shares were bumped higher on Tuesday following the report.
Acquiring BT will significantly enhance DAZN’s position in the UK market by giving it the rights to broadcast both Premier League and Champions League football, which will be key in attracting UK subscribers.
Such a deal has been rumoured for some time after BT in April said it was having early-stage discussions over potential partnerships or investments, and at the same time hired City advisors.
Reacting to the report, London based analysts of UBS said the windfall from a DAZN deal for BT Sport promises some upside to BT shareholders, but cautioned that a pre-existing content sharing pact with Sky would be a complication.
Moreover, that Sky’s broadband business is the largest customer for BT’s Open Reach telecoms infrastructure unit adds another layer of possible friction.
On top of that, if you gaze deeper into the deal rumour tea leaves, there’s the curious scenario whereby both Anthony Joshua and heavyweight rival Tyson Fury may share the same broadcaster in the not very distant future – as all the Manchester-born champion’s fights have been on BT since his 2018 comeback from inactivity and depression.
Anthony Joshua and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk will leave it all in the ring on Saturday night in front of 60,000 fans (“and the millions around the world”), but, behind the scenes the battle between TV’s corporate heavyweights is just getting warmed-up.