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DAZN Group Ltd., the media disruptor known as the “Netflix of sports,” has bloodied the nose of one of the world’s top broadcasters in a watershed moment for fans of live soccer in Europe.
DAZN on Friday beat out Comcast Corp.’s Sky to win a deal to become the main domestic broadcaster of Italy’s Serie A soccer league, home to players including Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, people with knowledge of the matter said. It will pay a total of about 2.5 billion euros (US$3 billion) over the three-season contract, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.
The deal means the streaming company backed by billionaire Len Blavatnik is now the go-to broadcaster for millions of fans in the soccer-mad country. The win for DAZN underscores how a new breed of broadcasters are rising to challenge incumbents that have long leaned heavily on premium sports and entertainment packages to earn their money. DAZN offers its customers a range of online content without the need to sign up to more costly long-term contracts.
London-based DAZN will pay about 840 million euros annually for the broadcasting rights, the people said. A representative for Serie A declined to comment, while spokespeople for DAZN and Sky didn’t immediately provide comments.
DAZN’s win was not an easy one, and breaks a deadlock that has lasted for weeks. The capacity to roll out an exclusive streaming service in Italy, which has patchy internet connectivity, was questioned during the bidding process by Sky and some of Serie A’s 20 teams, people familiar with the matter said previously. With 1 billion euros of technological and financial support from phone carrier Telecom Italia SpA, DAZN was able to dislodge Sky, the pioneer of televised soccer that held the Serie A rights for almost two decades.
Securing the Serie A rights is another sign that a more Europe-focused strategy is starting to pay off for DAZN. It’s the second time in less than a year the group has scored a win over Sky, following a smaller victory in Germany in June.
“Investing in primary rights is a bold separation from DAZN’s past strategy,” said Maria Rua Aguete, senior research director at Omdia. “DAZN will be able to benefit from premium sports and the raised profile that goes along with it.”
Pronounced “da zone,” the company was launched in 2016 and spent quickly to acquire rights to broadcast sports including soccer, boxing and Formula 1 motor racing across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Still, the pace of that global expansion has weighed on finances.
DAZN reported an operating loss of 1.4 billion pounds (US$1.9 billion) in 2019 and later saw subscription revenue take a hit when the coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt halt to live sports. Last summer, a new leadership team was put in place under then-acting Chief Executive Officer James Rushton.
Together with former Chairman John Skipper, Rushton evaluated the core markets DAZN wanted to build on, such as Italy and Germany, and those in which it could cut back. It sought to withdraw from streaming UEFA Champions League soccer matches in Asia and pulled Serie A coverage from its Brazil platform. DAZN also cut a contract with U.S. Major League Baseball.
In late 2020, DAZN unveiled a slate of original documentary programming featuring global sporting icons such as Ronaldo and British boxer Anthony Joshua. “We want to give people a reason to return to DAZN again and again,” Ed McCarthy, the group’s chief operating officer, said at the time. “Sports fans want more than live action.”
In the meantime, Blavatnik has continued to reshape the company’s leadership bench, in January recruiting Shay Segev from the FTSE 100 gaming group Entain Plc to be co-CEO with Rushton. This month, DAZN named former Walt Disney Co. executive Kevin Mayer as chairman to succeed Skipper. Mayer has already expressed an interest in U.K. Premier League rights, according to an interview with CNBC shortly after his appointment.
Blavatnik, whose net worth is estimated at US$37.4 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in his bid to build DAZN into a sports broadcasting powerhouse.
“He truly wants to succeed with this,” Omdia’s Rua Aguete said. “He believes in the top team.”