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September 15, 2019

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Can Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez help topple pay-per-view?

Canelo

John Locher / AP

Canelo Alvarez, left, and Daniel Jacobs pose for photographers at a news conference for their middleweight title boxing match Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Las Vegas. The two are scheduled to fight Saturday in Las Vegas.

Tracy Morgan laughs maniacally as the commercial ends, promising, "Bye bye, pay-per-view." The comedian is a pitchman for DAZN (pronounced Da-Zone)—a sports streaming service determined to revolutionize the way boxing fans view marquee matches, many of which are staged in Las Vegas.

Ordering a pay-per-view telecast through your cable provider—standard protocol since the 1980s, when Mike Tyson was flooring opponents in the early rounds—suddenly has competition. And it has the sport's most notable fighter, Mexican heartthrob Saúl "Canelo" Alvarez, leading its push in the United States.

SAUL “CANELO” ALVAREZ VS. DANIEL JACOBS

• When: May 4, doors open 2 p.m.; Undercard 2:15 p.m., main card 5:30 p.m.; Main event 8:30 p.m.

• Cost: $205-$1,505

• Where: T-Mobile Arena

• For more information: 702-692-1600

• Odds: Alvarez minus-400; Jacobs plus-300

On May 4 at T-Mobile Arena, Alvarez will fight Daniel Jacobs for the WBC and WBA middleweight titles—the second bout of Alvarez’s 11-fight, five-year, $365 million contract with DAZN.

That new digital platform is “blowing up the fight game,” Morgan proclaims in the spot. “Stream over 100 fight nights a year without the pain of pay-per-view.” The service costs $19.99 a month or $99.99 per year, a significant bargain compared with pay-per-view prices that have ballooned as high as $100 for one fight card in recent years. Also of note: The fights on DAZN are archived.

"Viewers won’t have a pay-per-view bill for a one-off event that is over," says Joe Markowski, DAZN’s executive vice president in North America. "That moment will be transformational for us."

DAZN launched in 2016 in Austria, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and will soon be available in 11 countries. DAZN owns the broadcasting rights for several sports, including Premier League soccer for the European audience and the NFL in Canada. In the U.S., the offerings are boxing, Bellator mixed martial arts (the sport’s No. 2 promotion behind UFC) and a Major League Baseball live look-in show, ChangeUp. The agreement with Bellator calls for seven exclusive-rights events each year. “We needed to sign the biggest names in the sports,” Markowski says. "You can’t shy away from that."

Enter Alvarez. While DAZN doesn’t release viewership totals, Alvarez’s first fight in the arrangement—a third-round TKO win against no-name Rocky Fielding in New York City—appears to have been a hit. During the fight, the streaming service’s app was the No. 1 most downloaded at Apple’s app store.

Alvarez’s deal could be considered risky for both parties. DAZN isn’t a known commodity in the U.S.—hence the heavy flood of commercials—and might not be a platform worthy of the sport’s most sought-after participant. Also, shelling out more than $30 million per fight might sound like a flimsy business model, but DAZN officials say it’s a calculated risk. The company was privy to pay-per-view receipts from Alvarez’s previous fights on HBO in gaining some knowledge of his revenue potential. Golden Boy Promotions, Alvarez’s promoter, also gave DAZN rights to his past fights—along with fights by promotion head Oscar De La Hoya—to be stored in the streaming service’s archives.

“I am humbled to be selected to lead this new vision for the sport of boxing, which will without a doubt be for the benefit of the fans,” Alvarez said in a statement last fall when the deal was announced. He isn’t the only fighter of significance in the DAZN stable. British promotion Matchroom Boxing, which includes heavyweight Anthony Joshua, signed an eight-year, $1 billion contract with the service last year.

That gives DAZN a formidable one-two punch, considering Joshua fought in front of a crowd of 80,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium in September. “We want to create those cultural moments when you have a lot of people talking,” Markowski says.

HBO, after more than 40 years and some of boxing’s greatest events, got out of the fight game at the end of 2018, putting an end to Saturday nights with Jim Lampley on the call and Harold Lederman offering often-baffling ringside scores.

And DAZN isn’t alone with plans to make a splash in boxing’s streaming market. ESPN, as part of its seven-year deal with Top Rank, will broadcast 54 total cards, with many airing on the ESPN Plus subscription service. Las Vegas-based Premier Boxing Champions, which features notables such as Adrien Broner, Deontay Wilder, Keith Thurman and Jarrett Hurd, has multiyear deals with Fox Sports and Showtime. “The pay-per-view model has reduced the audience,” Markowski says. “We are here to correct that.”

May 4 in Las Vegas will mark the next step in the process. Boxing thrives when it’s on the radar of the general fan—like fights involving Tyson, De La Hoya or, most recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. That’s when the public is talking about and anticipating the fight. More important, it’s when you have a fight worthy of being talked about.

That’s what Alvarez—and that $365 million contract—brings to DAZN, according to Markowski. “Canelo is a huge brand.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.