DAZN received tremendous backlash for its decision to begin #CaneloKovalev following #UFC244, meaning the bout didn’t begin until after 1 a.m ET, but it appears the move paid off. Told DAZN subscription sign-ups and audience surged immediately following the end of Masvidal-Diaz— Mike Coppinger (@MikeCoppinger) November 3, 2019
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s return to Madison Square Garden in New York City this year was anything but your typical mixed martial arts pay-per-view. Having no divisional titles on the line, the promotion opted instead to pit fan-favorites Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal against each other for the “BMF” belt in the main event of UFC 244, a supposed one-time championship that signified the “Baddest MotherFuc*er” in the organization. In addition to the normal theatrics and trash talk that accompany an exciting fight, the promotion brought in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to present the winner of the matchup with the “BMF” belt, and partnered with Buffalo Wild Wings to create special “BMF” wings for the occasion. UFC President Dana White was even able to get long-time friend President Donald Trump to attend the event, making the whole card seem more like a WWE pay-per-view from 2007 than a UFC pay-per-view in 2019.
The “BMF” championship wasn’t the only title on the line Nov. 2, however, as some 2,500 miles away another highly anticipated fight was scheduled to take place in the world of boxing. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez moved up in weight to take on defending champion Sergey Kovalev for the WBO light heavyweight championship, giving Alvarez a chance to hold a belt in four different weight classes. In a close back-and-forth fight, Alvarez managed to land a brutal combination in round 11 that put the former Top 3 pound-for-pound Kovalev out cold, adding another belt to Canelo’s ever-expanding legacy. Despite the exciting finish, those in the MGM Grand Garden Arena had to wait over an hour and a half after the co-main event to watch it.
The reason for the delay? Dazn opted to wait until after the UFC 244 main event was over to start the fight.
As you might expect, many within the boxing community were less than thrilled about the decision. President of Showtime Sports Stephen Espinoza, who helped arranged the three-highest grossing PPV television boxing events of all time, stated that the delay was, “An insult to the sport of boxing in general & to Canelo & Kovalev in particular.” Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, took to social media to voice his displeasure, tweeting that such a delay would never have occurred during a Showtime/Mayweather event and that the whole situation was “really embarrassing.” According to UFC President Dana White, fans in attendance of Canelo vs. Kovalev were so irate that the MGM Grand called him during the delay to ask him for permission to show the main event of UFC 244 in the arena, which he agreed to.
While those who strictly follow pugilism echoed these sentiments, for fight fans that enjoy both combat sports from the comfort of their own home, the arrangement was ideal. Rather than having to watch competing main events simultaneously or order the UFC 244 pay-per-view after Canelo vs. Kovalev was over, they could go straight from one of the most anticipated MMA bouts of the year to a must-see bout in boxing with ease. According to Mike Coppinger from the Athletic, following the end of the Diaz vs. Masvidal fight, Dazn subscription sign-ups surged, adding further credence to the idea that a portion of the boxing event’s audience appreciated the postponement of its main event.
Ultimately, that was what the decision to delay the main event of Canelo vs. Kovalev was all about -- maximizing viewership and gaining new subscribers. Dazn signed Canelo to a five-year, 11-fight deal for $365 million back in October of last year and is focused on getting every penny that can out of the now four-weight class champion. While the backlash from the decision was to be expected, especially given the particularly long wait between the co-main and main events, the move still gave the over-the-top streaming service the boost in consumers it was looking for by deciding not to compete directly with the UFC. Had the two main events gone head-to-head, it’s unlikely that Daznwould have seen the same type of increase in new subscribers and live viewership that they did.
The fact of the matter is that what is best for fans isn’t always what is best for business, and in such cases companies will almost always favor what is best for business. While some fans may indeed cancel their subscription due to the events of Nov. 2, Dazn is banking on their content being too valuable for the majority of their consumers to terminate the service. Instead they expect many of them to voice their grievances through various social media platforms and remain paying customers, as there is no other (legal) way to watch superstar boxers like Canelo that they have under contract. Even if live attendance for future events suffers as a result of the delay, it would take a massive drop-off in order for those numbers to have the same impact as total subscribers, a crucial part of Dazn’s long-term strategy.
Despite the outrage and increase in viewership, the true impact of Dazn’s deferment on the organization’s bottom line is still unknown. While it’s unlikely to become a trend, it is possible that coordination between MMA and boxing promoters increases moving forward, in order to avoid a similar situation in the future. While both Canelo vs. Kovalev and UFC 244’s main event gave the fans what they wanted (sort of), it’s important to remember that promotions will always look for a way to maximize their profits where they can -- even at the expense of their customers.