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John Skipper Returns to Stream Boxing, MMA Fights for U.S. Viewers

Just weeks after Walt Disney’s ESPN launched a big streaming-video effort its executives believe will carry it into the future, the man who brought ESPN to that launch offered a new broadband effort that might pose a serious distraction.

John Skipper, the former ESPN president who left late last year after acknowledging an issue with drug use, is leading a new U.S. charge by Perform Group, the U.K. company that oversees the subscription-based streaming outlet DAZN. The company will in September make DAZN available in the U.S. for $9.99 a month, offering access to big fights from Viacom’s Bellator MMA and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, among others. The network won’t sell an annual subscription.

“Our interest is to be the global leader in streaming sports direct to consumers,” Skipper said at a launch event Tuesday.  Should that give pause to the Disney-owned outlet known as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”?

ESPN has also demonstrated new interest in so-called “combat sports.” The company struck a new deal with Top Rank Boxing last August and its new leader, Jimmy Pitaro declared in May that “combat sports are of interest to us” as executives look for ways to draw younger viewers to the ESPN fold. Others are building their capacity in this area as well: 21st Century Fox recently struck a deal with WWE that will put “Smackdown,” one of the company’s two flagship properties, on Fox Broadcasting on Friday nights starting in the fall of 2019.

“We are clearly at a pivotal time in sports media, a time of tremendous disruption, but disruption is going to be great for fans,” said Skipper. “DAZN is at the center of this.” In a sign of the company’s intentions, famed fight announcer Michael Buffer will serve at all of the network’s Matchbook Boxing events.

 DAZN is expected to stream around 70 fights during in its first year in the U.S. None will be available through pay-per-view outlets which James Rushton, CEO of the outlet, said had become cost-prohibitive for many fans, limiting some of the audience the events might lure.

 

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