Promoter Bob Arum is all ears as it pertains to working with Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez on a potential fight, but the 90-year-old veteran also knows that any negotiations will heavily depend on figuring out one of boxing’s chronic, cardinal problems: who gets the broadcast rights?
Top Rank Inc., Arum’s company, currently promotes two light heavyweight champions: WBC and IBF titlist Artur Beterbiev and WBO titlist Joe Smith Jr. Both fighters are reportedly en route to facing each other this summer in a unification bout at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The winner of that fight will hold three of the four major light heavyweight titles.
Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs), the current undisputed champion at 168, could end up with the last piece of the 175-pound crown, in the event he defeats WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs) May 7 in Las Vegas. At that point the public desire for an undisputed title bout at 175 figures to be considerable, notwithstanding Alvarez’s own apparent insatiable desire for unifying weight classes.
Of course, Alvarez also needs to get past Gennadiy Golovkin in their trilogy bout in the fall, per the terms of Alvarez’s recently signed multi-fight deal with the streaming platform DAZN.
So long as Alvarez manages to come out victorious against Bivol and Golovkin, Arum sees no reason why he cannot hold discussions with Alvarez and his longtime manager-trainer Eddy Reynoso about a 175-pound unification bout, possibly next year.
“I’ve never discussed it with Canelo or Eddy Reynoso,” Arum said in an interview with FightHubTV. “I’m friendly with both of them. But I never thought to discuss it at this particular point. Maybe next year or the latter part of this year, if Golovkin gets himself beat, I’m happy to discuss it.
The choice of the network will be a paramount issue in negotiations. Arum’s Top Rank has an exclusive output deal with ESPN, meaning it is contractually beholden to showcase its fighters solely on the ESPN platform. Alvarez, who has been something of a network free agent in recent years, is not tied to a long-term deal with any one outlet and has shown as of late a propensity for hand-picking different networks to work with. For his last bout, Alvarez signed a one-fight deal to appear on Showtime Pay-Per-View to face Caleb Plant in a 168-pound title unification bout, which Alvarez won by 11th-round technical knockout.
There has been talk that Alvarez may extend his current two-fight deal with DAZN with a third fight. After that, if Alvarez somehow decides he wants to maintain relations with DAZN beyond a short one-or-two-fight window, Arum sees trouble. For one, a potential light heavyweight unification bout involving Alvarez would obviously land on pay-per-view and Arum does not have a particularly high opinion of DAZN’s ability to properly market a top-tier fight, given what he feels is their low visibility with consumers.
DAZN, which aggressively touted itself as an alternative to the pay-per-view model when it entered the U.S. market in 2018, recently announced that it would enter the pay-per-view realm. The first DAZN pay-per-view card will be the Alvarez-Bivol match on May 7. DAZN is charging subscribers $59.99, on top of their monthly fee, while non-subscribers are required to pay $79.99.
“But, again, [in order to make a light heavyweight unification bout with Alvarez] you’d have to figure out how the signal for the fight is going to be distributed because to lock it (the fight) up with DAZN – which nobody watches, no place in the world really – seems counterproductive,” Arum said. “I don’t understand what their model is. In the United States they’re doing pay-per-view $80 dollars.”
Boxing routinely sees notable fights fail to materialize because of promoters' network exclusivity contracts. Most recently, a proposed middleweight title bout between WBC titlist Jermall Charlo and Jaime Munguia to take place on Showtime Pay-Per-View quickly collapsed after Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, the co-promoter of Munguia, insisted that his network partner, DAZN, be involved in the event in a kind of joint pay-per-view venture, which was an automatic nonstarter for Showtime.
Arum fears that putting an Alvarez card on DAZN would be to hem in its rich marketing potential.
“What’s in it for them to do it?” Arum posed. “Yeah, they get the rights for Germany, Italy, but they can’t be worth very much. Because the fight comes over at 4 or 5 (over there) in the morning. UK, they’ve invested a lot of money in the UK. According to the UK, they don’t have 40,000 subscribers. So where are they going? I tell people, obviously, [founder Len] Blavatnik, the man who’s the back of the company, has put enormous sums in, maybe as much as $3 billion. How he’s gonna get it back, I don’t know. Let me tell ya, people say look at his success in music. He’s smarter than you. And I would agree, I’m sure he’s smarter than me. Maybe he’s figured it out.”
While ESPN boasts a considerable subscriber base across its linear and over-the-top platforms and is owned by an entertainment conglomerate in Disney, DAZN presumably does not have a similar reach. (A private company, DAZN does not share subscriber figures and rarely releases viewership totals). What hurts DAZN the most, Arum said, is the fact that its content offerings are slim in comparison to that of ESPN+, ESPN’s version of an OTT streaming platform. Whereas boxing is merely one of countless sports featured on the ESPN app, on DAZN, the sport is one of its marquee attractions.
“I think the subscription model is not viable if all you’re offering a subscriber is boxing,” Arum said. “You have to combine it with other sports and other serious things, which ESPN+, which has 22 million subscribers, has done. You go to ESPN+ you can barely find anything because there’s so much on at one time.
"Yeah, you can have a streaming service for sports, but you got to have content. In other words, if DAZN, say, for the UK, also had premier league soccer, hey, that would be pretty good. That would be a reason to get it…you gotta have other content. You can’t do it with boxing alone.”