When streaming service DAZN signed a deal back in November 2018 for 11 fights from Saul “Canelo” Alvarez for a minimum of $365 million over five years, it looked like a logical move for both parties. DAZN desperately needed big-ticket U.S. rights and most outside combat sports weren’t available, and signing Alvarez made them an important service for boxing fans. And Alvarez (seen above with his title belts after a Nov. 2019 knockout of Sergey Kovalev, his last fight until now) was able to lock in a very lucrative deal (at the time, the richest athlete contract in sports history in total value; it’s since been passed by the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Mike Trout, but their total values come on longer deals) that seemed to provide him some guaranteed stability. That didn’t actually happen, though, and now the sides are fully parting ways, with Alvarez’s manager Eddie Reynoso announcing Friday that Alvarez is a free agent:
by far the biggest news you will read today pic.twitter.com/CNmovPBA5H
— Dan Canobbio (@DanCanobbio) November 6, 2020
How did we get here? Well, Alvarez was scheduled to fight Billy Joe Saunders in May, but that fight was canceled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to DAZN announcing in April that they were calling off all their boxing events until July. (They made other big moves around the pandemic, too, including not paying rights fees, canceling MLB ChangeUp, and laying off dozens of people.) Reports then came out in July that DAZN wanted Alvarez to take a major pay cut for a scheduled September fight against WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith and Alvarez refused. And in September, Alvarez sued DAZN and Golden Boy Promotions (his DAZN deal is part of Golden Boy’s overall deal with DAZN) for breach of contract. And as per Mike Coppinger of The Athletic, Alvarez and Golden Boy are now “finalizing a complete severing of the longtime relationship that has been strained for some time.”
While this means that Alvarez likely won’t get a lot of the money he was originally scheduled to make from the DAZN deal, he’s still a very in-demand fighter, and there should be some big opportunities ahead for him. This seems like perhaps a larger problem for DAZN, as Alvarez’s exit takes away their biggest-ticket U.S. content. This deal was huge for establishing DAZN in the U.S., and it led to them creating shoulder programming around his fights and even putting one fight head-to-head with a UFC event.
However, the wider DAZN strategy at this point appears to be shifting to global expansion rather than continuing to try for a U.S. breakthrough. And this does perhaps free up some money for them to pursue other rights deals (something they’ve been searching for). And they had reportedly been unhappy with some of Alvarez’s early matchups in this deal, so there was discontent on their side as well. But Alvarez’s departure is certainly a large blow to DAZN’s profile in the U.S. in particular, and it takes away one of the things they’d been known for. We’ll see where they go from here.