OTT & Digital

John Skipper: ‘Big leagues will want DAZN at the table’

DAZN Group chair confident streaming will work for major US rights holders.

by Tom Bassam

John Skipper: ‘Big leagues will want DAZN at the table’

John Skipper, executive chairman of DAZN Group, says his company’s eponymous over-the-top (OTT) service will be joining the big networks in the major US sports rights market when the time is right.

The DAZN service launched in the US in September with an offer headlined by fight sports, including a signature deal with Matchroom Boxing. As DAZN’s chief financial officer Paul Morton recently explained to SportsPro, the platform is prepared to seek additional opportunities but only if they make economic sense.

Skipper, speaking on the Recode Media podcast, said that DAZN does not want to be simply a fight network and pointed to the platform’s rights offering in Japan – where the platform boasts more than one million subscribers – and Italy as indicators that they are willing to pursue marquee rights where possible.

Asked about major leagues inviting big tech firms to bid for rights, Skipper implied that DAZN could join them if they did.

He said: “Every time I hear that [Silicon Valley is] inevitably coming, I believe that I hear some commissioner of some big league in the United States whispering into a reporter’s ear that they’re coming.

“It’s good for the leagues, I would be doing the same thing in their position. To have more bidders is always good.

“To have only bidders, broadcast and pay and cable television companies - who are facing very, very significant issues with their two streams of revenue - to have them as your only bidders I don’t think is a comfortable position for them to be in. They’d like new bidders. I think they would like DAZN to be a bidder. So I don’t think we’ll have any resistance to our being.”

In a far reaching interview, a first since Skipper joined what was until recently known as Perform Group, the former ESPN president also insisted that despite the ratings issues affecting sports that the price of rights is not going to drop.

“There are places in the world right now where because pay TV was never as penetrated as it is in the United States, where rights costs are stagnant, even declining,” he added.

“So we will look to take advantage of those markets to get in now and try to create a dominant over-the-top position. Do I think sports rights in the United States will go down? No. Anytime in the near future, I do not.

“It’s really only barely about viewership, right? It’s really about what you can build or what you can generate in revenue based upon that viewership. I think it’s arguable. I don’t think sports viewing as a whole is actually down. What’s down are the Nielsen ratings on the big events on broadcast networks and on cable television. Lots of people are choosing to watch different ways, consuming sports in different ways, betting, playing fantasy football.”

On whether the likes of the National Football League (NFL) is willing to pursue digitally-native only offerings, Skipper explained that ultimately money will talk.

“The commissioners of leagues big and small have the obligation to deliver as much money as possible to their constituents and they have the obligation to try to grow the game and make sure it gets better,” he said. “And of course those two things can be in conflict if you’re moving from more widely distributed platforms to less distributed platforms.

“On the other hand, having a very significant amount of experience in this area, I discovered that revenue at some point is the more important of those tasks.”