DAZN The DAZN logo is displayed at the company’s offices in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. DAZN, a UK-owned sports streaming service, rattled Japan’s broadcasting world with an audacious 210 billion yen ($1.9 billion) swoop to stream the nation’s J-League soccer competition, and has snapped up rights for sports from MLB to UFC. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

The sports media industry has been hit hard this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with major layoffs and furloughs taking place across many companies, and the latest ones are at streaming company DAZN. DAZN already furloughed many of their events staff back in March and April, also saying then that they wouldn’t make further rights payments until those events returned. They made further programming and executive changes this summer amidst discussions of various plans to obtain more funding. Now, they’ve laid off dozens of staffers.

Awful Announcing has learned that these latest layoffs primarily involve people in production and marketing, that they’ve hit the U.S. particularly hard, and that they’ve been described as a consolidation towards DAZN’s planned global service rather than the current country-specific model. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal has more on these cuts:

Two percent of global staff would be 52 people, going by the 2,600 number given for DAZN’s global staff back in March, and that fits with what AA has learned about the scale of these layoffs. So this is a pretty big cut. And it’s also interesting to see it affecting the U.S. business so heavily, as that’s once where DAZN had planned on major expansion, with the splashy May 2018 hire of former ESPN president John Skipper and his subsequent “It’s time to bring DAZN to America” remarks illustrating the thinking along those lines.

But while DAZN was able to gain some ground in the U.S. in combat sports, they’ve faced challenges picking up other rights in the U.S., with so many top-tier rights already locked up long term. And that situation has perhaps gotten worse since 2018. The U.S. NFL Sunday Ticket rights, which Skipper confirmed interest in last year, never actually came up (despite a lot of speculation that they would). And the highlypromoted MLB ChangeUp deal (featuring ex-Fox Sports executive Jamie Horowitz as a prominent advisor and later DAZN head of content) may well have “hung up a sign” of DAZN’s interest in U.S. rights beyond combat sports, but that sign was abruptly removed this year when the deal was cancelled after just one season (it had been set to run for three years). So this fits with an apparent larger shift at DAZN, moving away from a focus on U.S. expansion and towards a global push where they’re looking to expand to more than 200 countries.

At the same time, though, just where DAZN is going appears rather uncertain. In August, David Hellier and Crystal Tse of Bloomberg reported that the company was  looking to raise up to $1 billion, and speaking with advisors about “options including a stock-market listing or divestment of assets.” That fits with a May discussion about them looking for a further cash infusion, but also possibly selling the whole company.

While DAZN principal owner Len Blavatnik has quite a bit of money (that Bloomberg report from last month valued his net worth at $33 billion), he’s certainly not committed to fund the company indefinitely (otherwise, they wouldn’t be looking for outside investment). And their overall approach faces even more questions now than the numerous ones that were raised before the pandemic struck. We’ll see what’s ahead for DAZN, but these latest layoffs are definitely another twist to their story, and one that seems to have them moving further away (at least for the moment) from a focus on U.S. expansion.

Update: Tuesday night also saw the news that DAZN’s financial dispute with boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has now escalated into a lawsuit.

That’s likely not directly related to these layoffs, but it’s an interesting part of the overall story of the challenges at DAZN.

[John Ourand on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.