United Kingdom-based DAZN expects to be an aggressive player when rights to several of the top U.S. sports leagues enter the negotiating cycle over the next couple of years.
Joe Markowski, DAZN executive vice president for North America, speaking at sports industry conference in New York on Dec. 17, said the streaming proponent plans on being in the mix as rights negotiations face off over the next 18 months.
In the U.S., DAZN Group, formerly known as Perform Group Ltd., has made its mark via boxing programming, including a deal with Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican pugilist who is regarded by many as the best in the world. It also added "ChangeUp," a highlights, wrap-up around show, to its lineup before the start of the 2019 MLB season.
Markowski noted that the U.S. is the "exception" as DAZN holds multiple live sports rights in eight of the nine countries where it operates, including Canada where it is the streaming home to the NFL, as well as the Premier League and UEFA Champions League soccer, among other properties.
Markowski said there are more players in the U.S. and the stakes are higher, but he expects DAZN will be competitive. The executive confirmed that "the flirting season" is already underway, with executives from both sides meeting over drinks and dinners in the courtship process for upcoming rights deals.
After the conference session, Markowski said the NHL will be the first property that will become available and that will "help them in the market." The national NHL rights deal with NBC Sports Group expires after the 2020-21 season.
Markowski noted that DAZN already has established its relationship with MLB through "ChangeUp." MLB's national rights deals with TBS (US) and ESPN (US) end with the 2021 season.
The NFL, he said, is "obviously the biggest player" with its out-of-market Sunday Ticket package; the NBA will come after that. The NFL's deal with ESPN ends after the 2021 season, while pacts with FOX (US), NBC (US), CBS (US) and DIRECTV's Sunday Ticket expire following the next campaign. The NBA's national rights deals with ESPN, TNT (US) and Turner Sports conclude at the end of the 2024-25 season.
Asked about DAZN's interest in collegiate sports, Markowski said it holds NCAA rights in several countries, including Canada.
He said it is unclear at this stage as to how the negotiations with the pro sports leagues will play out, pointing to questions around whether there will be an open bidding process, if incumbents holders will negotiate first, how packages might be carved out and if there will be licensing opportunities.
When DAZN made plans for its U.S. entry in September 2018, it was entering a dead zone of rights as all of the league's deals were tied up into next decade. Boxing, and to a lesser extent mixed martial arts, provided it with an opening to crack the U.S market because those sports did not have long-term deals with the networks.
Markowski said DAZN knew if it were to be successful in bidding for rights to the domestic pro league properties it had to demonstrate that it has the technical infrastructure and the quality of its production to service sports fans here in the U.S., plus the ability to market directly to them.
Looking ahead to 2020, Markowski said DAZN is looking to firm up its tent-pole boxing schedule, with the expectation that Alvarez will fight twice, once in May and once in September. It will look to bolster its heavyweight division match-ups, while maintaining its "Fight Season" strategy, which capped 2019 with a number of big bouts.