One of the biggest stories in combat sports right now is the emergence of digital streaming services and their desire to throw big money at promotions and fighters.
Last month, DAZN signed boxer Canelo Alvarez to an 11-fight, five-year deal worth at least $365 million. That’s upwards of $33 million per fight at a minimum for Alvarez to compete exclusively on the platform. DAZN has also signed on MMA promotions like Bellator, KSW and Combate Americas and boxer Anthony Joshua.
Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez’s promoter with Golden Boy, told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that the fight MMA fighters, if they functioned the way boxers did rather than being locked into a UFC contract, could command big money from one of these up-and-coming streaming services.
“That’s the beauty of being free agents,” said De La Hoya, who is promoting the Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 3 card Nov. 24, his first foray into MMA in earnest. “If you have somebody behind you who’s looking out for your best interests individually, absolutely — why not? There’s guys out there who are phenomenal, phenomenal fighters. That can have those types of deal. You take a look at Conor McGregor or you take a look at these fighters who are big, household names. Imagine if Conor McGregor was an independent contractor. He can easily get a deal like that on a DAZN or an ESPN+. But obviously they’re with UFC and UFC just works differently.”
De La Hoya, who was one of the biggest stars in boxing before becoming a promoter, did caution that streaming services cannot be the end all, be all. There is still a place for more traditional vehicles for combat sports and they are necessary for the growth of MMA and boxing, he said.
“As it moves into the age of streaming, it could be very dangerous for a fighter who’s not known,” De La Hoya said. “For the fighter who the fan doesn’t recognize. Yeah, you can get buried on all these different platforms. I strongly feel that we still need linear TV in order to identity these young fighters, in order to build these young fighters into household names. You still need that linear TV, but these deals are incredible, what’s taking place with ESPN+, with DAZN.
“Somebody like Canelo, who is probably the biggest star globally in boxing, is gonna be OK on DAZN’s platform, because Canelo moves the needle. DAZN forked over tons of money, because they know Canelo can bring in thousands and hundreds of thousands of subscribers for them, which means big business for DAZN.”
The UFC’s deal with ESPN, built mostly around the ESPN+ subscription service, debuts in January. There are many reasons why it’s unlikely for McGregor or someone like him to leave the UFC and try to chase money from one of these new platforms on their own. There is inherent risk, though it is no surprise that most of the UFC’s offerings in 2019 and beyond will be behind that ESPN+ paywall, whereas over the past near-decade cable has been the home for UFC fights.
“I think we still need linear TV, but we are moving toward the digital platform and that’s where it’s heading, especially with the younger generation not wanting to be told what to watch, where to watch, when to watch it,” De La Hoya said. “They want to watch it on their cell phones, they want to watch it on their tablets. I think that Canelo Alvarez is a guy that can fight anywhere he wants to and people will watch.”