Matchroom’s DAZN deal and iFL TV’s irreverent style reanimate the noble art

“Someone like you, with access to all this extra money, can only mean you are going to be an even bigger prick, right?”

Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn creased up laughing at the question, but then he is used to such friendly barbs from the interviewers at iFL TV.

There has been a revolution going on in the UK’s boxing media over the past few years and this interview in mid-May was an illustration.

Hearn was discussing the eight-year, $1bn (€0.849m) deal his Matchroom Sport organisation had just inked with the Perform agency. Perform’s OTT platform, DAZN, would launch in the US with 16 boxing shows in addition to another 16 to 20 in the UK.

All Hearn needs now is the boxers. Matchroom have established a New York-base in recent months and have started promoting high-profile US world champions like Danny Jacobs. But to fill those bills they will need more and Hearn used his press conference to appeal to fighters of a similar calibre, declaring it “open season” in the US. He broadcast that the deal meant his budget would be more than HBO and Showtime, US boxing’s traditional TV paymasters, combined.

He has a little time until the launch of the channel in September but his British stable is already strong. The prize asset, Anthony Joshua, was not specifically committed in the deal, despite huge interest in the US, and there is a suggestion that Hearn will use this new deal to re-sign the high-profile heavyweight.

All this information came from the press conference held to announce the deal.

But a few days later Hearn was sitting in his office talking to iFL TV about the same subject – but using entirely different words and revealing much more.

The YouTube channel is one of many that have emerged to cover boxing in recent years. Similar in look, feel and rawness to football fan channels like ArsenalFanTV, they aspire to be everywhere – in the gym in preparation for a fight, in the media scrum at the press conference and in the dressing room after the bout. This is blood, sweat, tears and f*****g swearing. It’s not politically correct or even that well-produced, but it is utterly compelling for boxing fans.

Effectively, we are seeing old friends banter. These authentic, funny and informative qualities are crucial in creating appealing content these days.

For example, after regaining his composure after the initial barb (which came after Hearn had described himself as a “borderline prick” on a previous interview), the promoter effed and jeffed through an explanation of the DAZN deal. He described it as “12 bumper shows, four orgasmic” and revealed that conversations had started almost a year ago.

He discussed DAZN’s strategy in launching in the US, saying they were “looking to bid for all the major sports when those deals expire but boxing was a good place to start”.

And he outlined all the details surrounding Joshua’s proposed unification with Deontay Wilder, which is expected to be one of the richest fights in history.

It was the inside track on everything. And this is where channels like iFL TV, FightHype and Behind the Gloves differ from ArsenalFanTV. The latter reacts to news whereas these can make it.

All these channels have been slogging their way to gyms up and down the country for years so now they have the audience to justify going Stateside for fights. iFL TV has 300,000 subscribers, enough to secure some sponsorship revenue, and the video with Hearn received 150,000 views in a day.

No major football club would entertain citizen journalists armed with handheld cameras into the inner sanctum, neither would they expect their fans to digest hour-long headshot interviews laced with swear words and suffering from tinny sound.

But then boxing has often had to sell itself on an event-by-event basis in ways that clubs, leagues and tournaments do not. Perhaps this is why pay-per-view has worked in boxing but not in football. You are simply more likely to watch when it is all on the line.

Of course, the subscription model of DAZN sets out to damage the concept of PPV and the relatively short-term nature of boxing’s rights deals have allowed them to gatecrash the party. US sport should certainly view it as a statement of intent. While DAZN had been developing nicely before announcing their

Matchroom deal, they will benefit from Perform’s recent acquisition of ESPN veteran John Skipper.

This is also an attack on US boxing, which has been overtaken by Eastern European fighters and now, dare I say, the Brits.

In December 2016, Britain had 17 world champions, more than any other country. Froch-Groves, Joshua-Klitschko and Joshua-Parker have all sold out 80,000 stadiums in the UK in recent years, something no fighter is doing in the US.

Eddie Hearn taking control of Matchroom from his father Barry has fired up the sport once more and social/digital media has been a crucial tool. It has pulled along veteran promoters such as Frank Warren, who is also displaying a new sense of openness on iFL TV et al.

The circumstances are quite specific to boxing. But the ‘noble art’, which has been pronounced near-dead on numerous occasions in the past, has been revived by some of the most modern methods in digital and social media.

Richard Clarke is a digital and social media consultant. He holds the distinction of having run the social media accounts at major football clubs in the Premier League and MLS, having worked for EPL club Arsenal and MLS club the Colorado Rapids.


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