LAS VEGAS – At their final news conference on Thursday, Saul Álvarez, known as Canelo, glared up at Dmitry Bivol, who was posing for a routine prefight photo.
For Saturday’s bout at the T-Mobile Arena, Elvarez, the undisputed world champion at 168 pounds, will jump to the 175-pound weight class to challenge Bivol. The matchup has excited avid boxing fans curious to see if the 5-foot-8 Elvarez’s skill and strength will translate to a higher weight class against the 6-foot Bivol. And it has a built-in audience with Elvarez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, headlining a fight card on the Cinco de Mayo later this week.
The event will stream to DAZN, a service that recently signed Álvarez to a two-fight deal. Only, DAZN subscribers will have to pay an additional $ 60 for Saturday’s card. Nonsubscribers will be charged $ 80 for the fight, which comes with a one-month subscription.
DAZN is selling Saturday’s fight card as a pay-per-view, a major strategic shift for a company that positioned itself as a sports-centric version of Netflix, where subscribers pay a monthly fee to access the company’s entire content library. When DAZN began its boxing operation in 2018, its then-CEO, James Rushton, called the pay-per-view model overpriced and inefficient.
The pivot to pay-per-view suggests DAZN’s critics and competitors that the high-level boxing of financial reality has hit the streaming service like an Elvarez uppercut.
“Calling for the end of pay-per-view is a nice marketing angle, but the reality is very different,” said Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports. “They didn’t have the volume to have a consistent subscriber base.”
But Joe Markowski, DAZN’s executive vice president, called the move to pay-per-view a natural response to an evolving market.
“It’s not a case we miscalculated,” Markowski said. “This is about the DAZN stepping into a new phase of its growth in the US. If we want to continue delivering fights like this to fight fans, we need to take some decisions like this now and again.”
At its launch, DAZN entered the boxing market with two major transactions. First, it signed an eight-year, $ 1 billion contract with Matchroom Sports, to provide a steady supply of quality fights that would justify consumers’ decision to subscribe. Then it announced a $ 365 million deal with Golden Boy, Elvarez’s then-promoter, that would deliver 11 of his bouts to the streaming service, securing the presence of boxing’s biggest individual attraction on DAZN’s platform.
DAZN had hoped the deal would culminate in a third bout between Elvarez and Gennady Golovkin, who was also partnered with the streaming service. The first two Elvarez-Golovkin bouts totaled 2.4 million pay-per-view buys, a huge number in a sport where 300,000 is considered a success.
But since those blockbuster contracts, Alvarez’s relationship with Golden Boy fizzled in a series of lawsuits. As a promotional free-agent, Alvarez is battling a series of bouts under Matchroom and DAZN, one of which attracted 73,126 spectators to the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Last November, Álvarez jumped to Showtime and knocked out Caleb Plant to win the undisputed super-middleweight title and collected a reported $ 40 million payout. Those big guarantees made Elvarez’s return to pay-per-view inevitable, regardless of the platform, said Matchroom chairman Eddie Hearn.
“It’s impossible to do canelo Álvarez fights as part of a small subscription without hemorrhaging millions and millions of dollars,” Hearn said. “Times evolve. Things change. The market’s changed. If you want to do a canelo fight, this is how you have to do it. “
There is no team-sports analogue for boxing’s pay-per-view model. The NFL doesn’t put a paywall behind the Super Bowl, nor does Netflix charge extra for the new season of “Ozark.” But subscriptions, sponsors and rights fees do not generate enough revenue to support the eight-figure guarantees Álvarez commands.
Espinoza suggests thinking of pay-per-view as a crowdfunding program, financed by fight fans.
Elvarez, 31, reported a 800,000 pay-per-view buys for the November bout in which he dismantled the plant, which expects a more complicated challenge this Saturday. In his first fight at light heavyweight, a knockout win over Sergey Kovalev in November 2019, Elvarez, who stands 5-foot-8, needed several rounds to adjust to 6-foot-tall Kovalev’s size. Bivol shares Kovalev’s height, but is a better tactical boxer, with a longer, well-timed jab that could disrupt Álvarez.
“He’s a light heavyweight, and one of the best in the division. A great fighter, “Álvarez said in a Zoom interview. “It opens the possibility of maybe being the undisputed champion at 175, too.”
Bivol, who is undefeated in 19 pro fights, also enters Saturday’s bout with bulletproof confidence.
“I believe in me,” Bivol said at a news conference. “I had a long trip to this moment, and now I have to do my job.”
Boxing aficionados may find the matchup’s styles intriguing, but selling a bout to a wider audience still depends on Elvarez’s star power. His $ 15 million guarantee is a fraction of his upfront pay for the Plant bout, but also hints that Alvarez expects a windfall when he receives his cut-off pay-per-view revenue.
After Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano drew 1.5 million viewers for their main event on DAZN a week ago, Markowski expects robust sales for Elvarez and Bivol.
“We’ve got to hit targets,” Markowski said. “We’ll be tracking Saturday and the days to follow.”
The evolving market has changed the definition of pay-per-view success. In 2015, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao’s long-awaited showdown drew 4.6 million buys; Before that, each fighter routinely drew more than 1 million pay-per-view buys. But Mayweather and Pacquiao were generational stars with mainstream fame. For most other headliners, Espinoza said 100,000 buys is respectable, and 300,000 is impressive.
Espinoza and Markowski both say pay-per-view is best used as an occasional supplement to programming, leasing broadcasters or insult customers charging a premium for lackluster events.
“As long as we charge filet mignon prices, we’re delivering filet mignon content, then I think it’s OK,” Espinoza said. “The problem is when you’re charging filet mignon prices and delivering ground beef.”