Monday, July 26, 2021

Matchroom Should Buy Golden Boy

I. How We Got Here

In May of 2018 Matchroom Boxing and the DAZN streaming service announced an eight-year deal worth a potential billion dollars to enter the United States boxing market. A new entity was created as a result of the deal, Matchroom Boxing USA, a joint venture between Matchroom and DAZN. As part of the deal Eddie Hearn of Matchroom would be the figurehead and de facto leader of the new venture with the goal of signing and promoting top U.S.-based boxers and for them to fight on DAZN.

Just a few months after the original announcement, the initial U.S. boxing framework for DAZN changed as they entered into a long-term agreement with Golden Boy Promotions and with that deal, DAZN gained access to the number-one boxing star in North America, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. Whereas Hearn had originally been the exclusive promoter for DAZN-based events in the U.S., now he had to compete with Golden Boy for dates on the platform. And although Hearn quickly emerged as the lead promoter on DAZN, Golden Boy was able to establish a presence on the streaming service.  

Flash forward three years later and it's safe to say that the three-pronged relationship in the U.S. between DAZN, Matchroom and Golden Boy hasn't cohered smoothly. Golden Boy has often struggled to get commitments and dates from DAZN for their non-Alvarez broadcasts (Canelo has subsequent left Golden Boy). And when they were able to get dates, they were often assigned a lesser broadcast team and the production values on their shows often trailed those that were provided for Matchroom USA's broadcasts. 

Matchroom's Eddie Hearn
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Although armed with a wave of publicity and backed by buckets of money, Hearn has only had mixed results in recruiting American talent to his stable. Throughout the last three years, his roster has included fighters such as Demetrius Andrade, Jessie Vargas, Tevin Farmer (co-promoted with DiBella Entertainment), Danny Roman (co-promoted with Thompson Boxing), Daniel Jacobs, Mikey Garcia (on a short-term deal) and Devin Haney. Hearn was able to sign or co-promote several capable fighters, but few who moved the needle in the North American boxing market.  

In 2019 Gennadiy Golovkin made a deal with DAZN and started working with Hearn. However, that relationship has yet to produce the mega-fights envisioned when the signing was announced. Hearn currently does have a working relationship with Canelo, but his stable of marketable fighters within the U.S. remains thin. 

II. The Current Scenario

Over the last three years DAZN's priorities have shifted. The service was able to survive the pandemic despite burning through loads of cash. They closed their New York offices, leaving behind just a skeleton staff. Among the layoffs in the DAZN/Matchrook USA retraction was matchmaker Eric Bottjer. Public relations guru Greg Domino left to join a position with Showtime. 

The network launched their global service in December of 2020. Earlier this year they announced a new deal with Matchroom for DAZN to become their exclusive provider of boxing content in the U.K and Ireland (the deal didn't include Anthony Joshua or Dillian Whyte). 

But what will become of DAZN's investment in America? 

After the formation of Matchroom USA, Hearn signed a number of North American amateurs, including Diego Pacheco, Austin "Ammo" Williams, Marc Castro, Nakita Ababiy, Raymond Ford and Otha Jones III. Almost all of these fighters still remain singed to the company. 

As of publication, there is not one Matchroom card officially scheduled for the USA. Certainly, there are plans in the works and there was a rumor circulating that Dillian Whyte would headline a U.S. show in August, but still, for a company that had grand designs on conquering the American market, their recent actions demonstrate a retrenchment, or at the very least a recalibration of their efforts.  

Despite losing Canelo, Golden Boy continues to promote shows in the U.S. on DAZN. With emerging stars such as Ryan Garcia and Vergil Ortiz, the company has two eminently promotable figures for the next few years. But still, dates seem hard to come by and from the outside, it still doesn't seem as if Golden Boy has the full weight of DAZN behind them. For now they seem to be tolerated, but I'm not sure if they are thought of us as a long-term strategic partner for the future of DAZN the way that Matchroom is. 

III. A Possible Solution for all Parties

There is no doubt that cracking the American boxing market is an uphill battle for a new company. Top Rank has been at it for over 40 years, Golden Boy for 20 and Al Haymon has been intimately involved in the U.S. boxing scene for 15 or so. The hardest part isn't getting network distribution or even signing fighters, it's creating an infrastructure to succeed. Professional boxing is built on relationships. It's connections with managers, trainers, talent scouts, gyms, amateur coaches and sponsors. The successful company knows that talent can come from anywhere and only by having multiple avenues available can companies acquire and cultivate a collection of fighters that can sustain a company. 

Matchroom USA has only been in the U.S. market for three years. It's unreasonable to suggest that they should have been able to build a sustainable infrastructure in just that short of a time. But still, I'm not sure that the right kind of progress has been made. Yes, Hearn has definitely established a beachhead in America, but I'm sure both he and DAZN expected more by this point. They wanted to dominate, not just be a player.  

Golden Boy's Oscar de la Hoya
Photo Courtesy of Stacey M. Snider

Despite staging several fantastic boxing cards in the U.S. over the past three years, Matchroom has not been able to assemble a roster that has many top attractions. In addition, its pipeline of prospects has been less than advertised. Jones has already lost, Ford has been spotty, Williams has had out-of-the ring difficulties. There doesn't seem to be a next wave coming. And one can't be a long-term player in the U.S. market without a developmental pipeline. It's too difficult and exceedingly expensive to have a long-term business strategy tied to poaching available veteran fighters. 

And while it's clear that DAZN has refocused its priorities on international territories and markets, it seems unlikely that the organization would abandon the U.S. market outright. There's too much money to be made for big fights. In addition, for a company that wants to have a worldwide presence in the sport, the U.S. market can't be ignored. Plus, American boxing fans have been conditioned for generations to pay hefty fees for boxing, whether for pay per views or network subscriptions. There are lots of potential paying customers in the U.S. 

There is a simple solution for the Matchroom USA conundrum: buy Golden Boy.  

For as much drama that occurs within Golden Boy, and let's face it, that organization is one of the best soap operas in the sport, their ability to identify, sign and develop talent is fantastic. With deep connections in the number-one boxing market in the U.S., Southern California, Golden Boy has been able to replenish and restock its roster despite notable defections. And for all of the out-of-the-ring difficulties that Oscar de la Hoya has faced over the past decade, he still retains a significant amount of goodwill. When he's right he's a major asset for the sport of boxing. 

For Matchroom USA to sustain a presence in America, it needs infrastructure and a developmental pipeline for success. Say what you want about Oscar or Eric Gomez, but they continue to sign talented fighters year after year. Roberto Diaz is fantastic at developing fighters. He will know which ones can fight, which ones need time, who are the good "B-sides" to sign, and who should go to the scrap pile. 

I'm sure that there would be significant cultural differences to bridge between Matchroom and Golden Boy, but there could be real areas for synergy. Although Golden Boy can sign and develop fighters, they struggle to promote more than their top couple of guys and a hot prospect or two. There are a lot of talented fighters on their roster who have not gotten the attention that they should. Matchroom's excellent creative team and their digital P.R. assets could certainly help provide additional exposure for several under-the-radar fighters. Fans need to find out about these boxers and Matchroom can help. 

Golden Boy may also be running a little too lean. Too many fighters have complained about their treatment or communication issues with the company. With additional corporate resources to play with, some strategic new hires can be made to create more stability within the organization. 

For this deal to work, all parties (Matchroom, Golden Boy and DAZN) will have to swallow some bitter medicine. Hearn will have to realize that despite his considerable promotional skills, more is needed to build a sustainable boxing organization in America. The guys at Golden Boy know talent and they can provide the fighters needed to make Matchroom USA a success for many years to come. For Golden Boy, they need to acknowledge that they're never going to have long-term sustainability as long as they are a junior partner. Golden Boy's expertise isn't running a finely-oiled machine. They have had too many peaks and valleys throughout their history. If they want their instability to end, Matchroom USA could be a great way to achieve that goal. 

DAZN also has to utilize Hearn and Golden Boy more strategically. Together they could make for a winning entity. But the current model is a half measure. Hearn hasn't been able to sign enough of the fighters that he needs and Golden Boy can't necessarily capitalize on many of the talented ones that are part of their organization. They both bring different skills to the table and an entity that reflects that would be far stronger than the status quo.

I have no doubt that a merger/buyout has already been discussed. It makes too much sense for all parties for it not to have been broached by now. But, like all deals, it's about terms. What should be done with De la Hoya? Clearly, he has a lot of value, but he's too unreliable to be at the top. Would he accept a board position? Could there be a non-executive (but lucrative) role that doesn't embarrass him and acknowledges his importance? What might that be? What to do with Roberto Diaz? Should he be bumped up to head matchmaker for the entire Matchroom operations? And would Hearn be deployed best as the head of the Matchroom USA/Golden Boy entity or are there other more strategic priorities for him around the globe. Maybe he becomes President of the Board and they hire a new CEO who will be solely focused on the American market.  

These are fascinating scenarios to contemplate. But however it could wind up, there's a strong business case for it to happen. The move will create a much stronger entity in the U.S., one with deep pockets and expertise in the market. It can sell young fighters not just on the promotional savvy of Hearn and the business opportunities presented by DAZN, but the developmental talent of Roberto Diaz, Eric Gomez and crew. Fighters will know that they will be seen, but more importantly, that they will be developed properly. 

Of course, this is boxing, where the smart move isn't always the one that is made. I hope that the parties can come together and explore a merger in good faith. Maybe it happens and maybe it doesn't, but it's worth looking into. I think that DAZN, Matchroom and the principals at Golden Boy can all emerge on stronger footing with a deal.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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