Blavatnik’s Netflix of Sports Is Said to Target Canada Expansion

Updated on
  • Sports platform DAZN already in Germany, Japan and Switzerland
  • Company has committed more than $2 billion to sports rights

The push into Canada comes two months after DAZN’s immediate parent, Access unit Perform Group, agreed to market the National Football League’s television rights, including a digital offering known as NFL Game Pass, in 100 countries outside of the U.S, including Canada and Japan.

Photographer: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Billionaire Len Blavatnik’s year-old quest to build the Netflix of sports will take its first step into North America with the introduction of his DAZN streaming platform in Canada, according to people familiar with the matter.

DAZN, backed by Blavatnik’s Access Industries Holdings LLC, may announce the Canadian expansion this month, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans. The London-based company has been competing with established broadcasters to buy premium sports rights in countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where it has operated since August 2016. In Japan it paid 210 billion yen ($1.9 billion) for a 10-year deal to show J.League soccer.

Len Blavatnik

Photographer: Rick Maiman/Bloomberg

DAZN wouldn’t confirm or deny its Canadian plans. “It’s no secret that DAZN has big ambitions for global expansion,” the company said in an email. “We’ll have more details to announce in the coming weeks, so stay tuned."

The push into Canada comes two months after DAZN’s immediate parent, Access unit Perform Group, agreed to market the National Football League’s television rights, including a digital offering known as NFL Game Pass, in 100 countries outside of the U.S, including Canada and Japan. Perform has been posting a number of recruitment advertisements for staff focusing on the Canada operation, including for commentators and producers.

“Obviously DAZN is trying to use premium content to drive subscription numbers and audience,” said Andrew Georgiou, chief executive officer of Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, one of the world’s largest sports agencies. “They are no different than other broadcasters in doing that.”

DAZN’s arrival could create pressure on BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., which own wireless and cable networks, TV stations and the country’s major sports teams, including Toronto’s major league hockey, basketball and baseball teams. Both companies offer sports content online but generally require customers to have a cable subscription to access it.

It’s DAZN’s rights to stream NFL games that could have the biggest impact on Canada’s sports broadcasting landscape. Football is popular in Canada -- nearly one in five Canadians tuned in to watch the 2015 Super Bowl. Montreal-based BCE holds TV rights to the Superbowl.

Last month, Perform secured rights to live Champions League soccer through a sub-licensing deal with Sky Deutschland. While it’s spent heavily on sports -- DAZN also secured English Premier League soccer for its German offering -- the platform’s start has at times been rocky. On the opening day of the Japanese soccer season viewers were frustrated by time lags and pauses in game coverage, and one game wasn’t shown at all until 10 minutes into the second half.

DAZN’s pitch to customers is that they can watch premium sport for lower prices than they would pay television companies. Access to the platform typically costs between $11-$15 a month, and customers have the flexibility to cancel their subscriptions whenever they like.

— With assistance by Gerrit De Vynck

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