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DAZN exec Joe Markowski explains what went wrong with Bellator broadcast deal

Back in 2018, it looked as if Bellator and DAZN were going to be the answer to each other’s problems.

That summer, Bellator inked a five-year distribution deal with the streaming service that was reportedly worth a nine-figure sum. The deal was supposed to give DAZN exclusive broadcast rights to seven Bellator events per year, as well as the rights to an additional 15 events per year that would simulcast in the U.S. on Paramount Network. In return, DAZN provided Bellator a platform through which fans could live stream events that were otherwise being aired via tape delay through traditional television means.

As it turned out, the partnership barely lasted more than two years. By late 2020, Bellator pivoted to a short-lived broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network before ultimately landing on Showtime in February 2021, the same network it still resides on today.

So what happened between Bellator and DAZN, and why was the five-year deal cut short? DAZN executive Joe Markowski addressed the question Wednesday on The MMA Hour.

“We had a great relationship,” Markowski said of the Bellator partnership. “I think Scott Coker is one of the best promoters that we’ve worked with in any fight sport. We have a great relationship with him personally. Without wanting to go into any specific contractual stuff, it was a consequence of COVID that that came to an end. We were disappointed it did. But it ultimately we agreed between us and Bellator that we’d step away from that.”

DAZN’s split with Bellator didn’t signal an end to its participation in the combat sports space. The streaming service remains a major player in the boxing world and is set to broadcast the historic boxing match between Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor, a fight many have called the biggest women’s bout of all time, in over 200 countries on Saturday.

DAZN also has working deals with boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing promotions.

And in the eyes of Markowski, the pivot to a focus solely on boxing was the right move.

“We’re playing a very niche game now in the U.S.,” Markowski said. “Like I mentioned, Japan and Germany and Italy, we’re playing multi-sport broadcast games, we’re buying rights to various sports. Our strategy with good reason in the U.S. is to focus specifically on one significant carved-out niche, which is boxing, and that’s what we’ve chosen to do. I think Bellator are in great hands. They’ve obviously got a parent company [Viacom] that can give them a great distribution on broadcasts and give them space to grow in a way that maybe we were not going to give them. So I think for both sides, it was the right deal, and we agreed on that and sort of shook hands and wished each other well.

“That’s where we’re at, and I think we’re very happy in the U.S. for the next sort of medium term, call it three or four years, to focus on boxing.”

MMA programming has been absent from DAZN since the partnership with Bellator came to a premature end. And though Markowski indicated that DAZN doesn’t have any immediate plans to reinvest back into MMA for the foreseeable future, he’s not against the idea either.

“The door is open, but I think ... the crossover between MMA fans and boxing fans sometimes gets slightly exaggerated. I think they’re separate audiences,” Markowski said.

“Look, we’ve still got work to do to reach out, to make ourselves known to boxing fans in the U.S. We’re only four or five years old — this takes a long time in this country. It’s a big old country with a lot of going on. So we’re going to focus on continuing to do that. And look, the door’s always open for new content opportunities, but we’re going to put the majority of our resources toward boxing in the medium term, because we think there’s a good business opportunity there.”