John Skipper called it “playing the long game.” He is prepared for it to be a very long one.
“You can’t displace ESPN in any horizon of any length, really,” he said on Tuesday at an event in Manhattan to launch the United States arm of the streaming sports service DAZN. “They have too many rights.
“However, there will emerge a competitor and our job is to get there. And we don’t think of just the United States. We’re going to be a competitor around the world.”
Skipper is executive chairman of Perform Group, which owns DAZN, and also happens to have been president of ESPN from 2012 until he stepped down in December, citing substance abuse.
(In March, he told The Hollywood Reporter he resigned in the wake of an extortion attempt that threatened to reveal his cocaine use.)
Now Skipper not only is in the earliest stage of trying to mount an alternative to ESPN, but doing it on a similar playing field to ESPN’s own recent dive into streaming — ESPN+, which includes boxing.
So this could get interesting, as those services and others try to adapt to a future that might not include such sports media staples as cable TV bundles and pay-per-view fight cards.
“I love doing something that’s nimble and fun,” Skipper said. “At this point I like being disruptive, and I like to compete, so I’m thrilled.”
DAZN said subscriptions will cost $9.99 per month, that it will launch in the United States on Sept. 10 and will offer its first live bout Sept. 22, when Anthony Joshua defends his heavyweight boxing title against Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium in London.
Joshua and Povetkin both were at the launch event on Tuesday, as was Michael Buffer, who sought to get everyone ready to rumble, and who will be the service’s official ring announcer.
DAZN — pronounced “Da Zone” — has been around internationally since 2016 and offers a variety of sports in other countries. But for now in the United States, it will show only boxing and mixed martial arts.
It has a deal with boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and his Matchroom Boxing and another with MMA promoter Bellator, whose first fight on the service is set for Sept. 29, when Gegard Mousasi faces Rory MacDonald.
There are a total of 70 fight nights scheduled for the first year.
Why only boxing and MMA?
“Because most of the marquee sports in this country, rights are tied up for a long time,” Skipper said. “We’re simply going to get in the game now because we can build our brand in this country, expose the quality of our technology and start to meet people.
“It would be hard the first time rights came up if people couldn’t see the product and know it worked and know it’s credible.”
Having a veteran, well-connected sports-rights-dealmaker such as Skipper should help.
“I have never been as excited in my career as I am about the opportunity that we have now before us with DAZN,” he said. “The status quo is changing and no one is more poised to take advantage of that change than DAZN.”
Time will tell. Skipper mostly is happy to be back in the game.
Asked how he is doing personally, he said, “I’m in a great place. I am excellent, quite healthy. I think you can tell that. I have a level of acceptance and enthusiasm going forward.”