U.K.-based sports media company Perform Group is betting $1 billion that it can revive boxing in North America.
“The U.S. boxing market has almost eaten itself alive,” said Chief Executive Officer Simon Denyer. “It’s pushed anything compelling to pay-per-view, and the pricing is now around $100, which is insane. It needs to be blown up. The whole thing needs to be rethought.”
Perform is entering an eight-year partnership with U.K.-based promoter Matchroom Boxing, launching a joint venture that will organize and execute fights in the U.S. The $1 billion investment creates a hefty war chest for Matchroom Boxing USA—the name of the new endeavor—to lure elite fighters, secure top-flight venues and reimagine the boxing experience for fans in the arena and those watching at home.
Perform will own a little less than half of the joint venture. Most important for the company, it will broadcast the events in the U.S. through its DAZN platform, a digital streaming service similar to ESPN+ that will launch in the U.S. this summer. Already available in five other countries, DAZN (pronounced “da-zone”) will use the boxing deal as its entry into a U.S. market in which no other major rights are available.
It’s a sizable investment—the biggest in boxing history, according to the companies—in a sport that’s seen declining interest in the U.S. over the past few decades. Once situated at the nexus of professional sports and culture, boxing has receded into the background as mega-fights become less frequent, and more expensive, to watch. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the sport’s biggest stars of the past 15 years, are both retired, and younger fighters have yet to make an impact beyond avid fight fans.
Denyer said boxing’s decline is due to a stale business model, one in which any U.S. fight worth watching is shown only on pay-per-view, often for upward of $100 per order. At the most elite level, U.S. boxing is controlled by a small group of promoters and media executives, while in-arena undercards are generally an afterthought.
Matchroom, which represents heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, probably isn’t as well known as Bob Arum’s Top Rank or Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, but it does plan to outspend them. Matchroom will also offer a different type of fan experience: Its 16 U.S. fights per year will never be on pay-per-view, and the undercard will be filled with a long list of fights, a strategy the company uses in the U.K. to make live attendance more appealing.
Perform Group, meanwhile, has three main businesses—a content group that buys and distributes data and media rights, a media group that operates websites such as Goal.com and SportingNews.com and DAZN, which bills itself as the Netflix of live sports. As it prepares to bring DAZN to America, Perform this week named former ESPN President John Skipper its new executive chairman. Skipper unexpectedly resigned from ESPN in December, citing substance abuse.
When in 2016, Perform launched DAZN in Japan, it did so by buying up rights as fast as it could. In two years, it amassed streaming rights to Japan’s soccer leagues, its baseball league, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, all five major European soccer leagues and the Champions League. That’s roughly $3 billion in media rights to fully dominate a new market.
That option wasn’t available in the U.S., where most major leagues are already in the middle of long-term media deals. Instead, Perform figured it needed a single sport to take over.
“Boxing stuck out like a sore thumb,” Denyer said. “We could be the home of boxing in the U.S. That’s the one thing we can do right now.”