Eddie Hearn’s decision to agree broadcast deal with DAZN in the UK and break with Sky Sports could lead to the biggest shake-up in British boxing in years.
Hearn is expected to launch his new five-year deal with another series of Fight Camp shows in the back garden of his old home in Essex this summer – this time with paying fans in attendance. But having ended one of the longest broadcasting partnerships in the sport, his decision potentially gives an opening to rival promoters keen to make an impact.
Matchroom has been promoting boxing on Sky since the mid-Nineties, when Eddie Hearn’s father, Barry, moved his star Chris Eubank to the channel with the plan of a world tour of fights, which started in west London against a little-known Brazilian, Mauricio Amaral, took in Cardiff and Manchester, with brief sojourn in South Africa, before he lost his world title to Steve Collins in Ireland.
This week Barry Hearn stood down as the group chairman of Matchroom Sports – including the jobs of chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation and the PGA EuroPro Tour – handing the roles to Eddie. It really is the end of an era.
Hearn had said it would be a difficult decision, but if rumours are correct, Sky made it reasonably easy for him. Hearn had always declared his intention to stay with Sky, but after negotiations with DAZN, when he returned for a final round of talks with Sky, it is understood that they decided against increasing their previous offer.
It will have been a tough call for Hearn. He had talked down BoxNation when Frank Warren walked away from Sky to set up his own television channel a decade ago, but now he will be moving away from the huge reach of Sky and their marketing powerhouse, to strike out on a service that very few people subscribe to or have even heard of.
But Sky have slowly cut back their boxing budget over the past two decades, from the days when the likes of Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe would feature in their regular Fight Night programmes without viewers needing to top up their subscription with pay-per-view.
Over the years, more and more of the Sky budget has been gobbled up by football, programming has been slimmed down outside pay-per-view events. Boxing has been hit far less than other sports. But it has been pay-per-view that has subsidised the rest of their boxing shows. With the pandemic having a savage impact on advertising revenue and plenty of long-term rights deals in place, money for new deals is tight.
Some could say that it is rich of Hearn to complain, having effectively dreamt up the business plan when he talked Sky into making him their exclusive promoter in 2012, ending the TV deals of Ricky Hatton and Frank Maloney, but he will have felt that Sky should have backed his vision.
DAZN certainly have. Having given him a reported $1 billion to launch his business in the United States, it is suggested that he will have a nine-figure purse for a five-year deal in the UK. Hearn declared this was the year they would go global – Uzbekistan is the latest country to see Matchroom shows, following, Italy, Spain, Mexico and, of course, Saudi Arabia.
Matchroom will still be doing business with Sky. In darts, the contract with Sky goes on to 2025. They have also promoted a wide variety of sports to be screened by Sky, including, pool, bowling, ping-pong, gymnastics and even fishing. Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte are understood not to be part of any deal, leaving them free to remain on pay-per-view. That could be with Sky – or ITV, or BT Sport.
But there is a risk. Having increased the spotlight on the sport, switching to a platform with barely any profile will be a serious test of Hearn’s plan to concentrate on social media to promote his fights. It is also likely that Sky will turn to another promoter – possibly Wasserman, which has just taken over Sauerland Event – to fill the gap. With Hearn not in the habit of signing boxers to long-term contracts, he might find some competition to re-sign some of his stars, although he is unlikely to be outbid purely on price.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.