DAZN’s John Skipper announces international expansion and pursuit of NFL rights

DAZN CEO John Skipper is making a big move to take on ESPN+, which he ran until 2017.

Skipper announced Monday that the streaming sports service will expand to more than 200 markets around the world ahead of a May 2 boxing match with Canelo Álvarez.

This expansion will enable DAZN build on what Skipper calls the company’s “first mover advantage,” and to get a head-start on ESPN+, which for now, is only based in the U.S. “Our competition so far has been to mostly be where they [ESPN] ain’t,” says Skipper. “but is our intention over time to compete aggressively everywhere.”

DAZN, which is available in the U.S. as well as eight international markets, including Germany and Canada, has about 8 million subscribers, a million of whom are in the U.S., according to a source close to the situation. In contrast, ESPN+ has 7.6 million U.S. subscribers. The price points are different ($10-$20 for DAZN versus $5 for ESPN+), as is the content, with DAZN focusing largely on boxing. But DAZN’s expansion speaks to the land grab for streaming subscribers around the world.

“We’re really going outside the United States to come in, eventually, which is kind of the opposite of what Netflix did,” says Skipper. “And of course it’s a way for us to compete with a very, very formidable ESPN and their marketing.” Skipper says that with the technology in place – the ability to geotarget ads and deal with local currency, among other things – that it makes sense to take advantage of the coming Alvarez fight to build a truly global footprint. Skipper says that the they’ll tailor pricing to local markets. “We won’t quite have 200 prices, but we will have close to 200 in that our intention is to look at every market, to try to understand … The economics of what people can afford to pay.”

As Skipper pursues international growth, he’s also chasing NFL rights, specifically, rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, which AT&T’s DirecTV currently controls. Skipper says there are no better sports rights to own than pro football. “The best package for us would be an over the top service for every game the NFL has, as there are lots and lots of fans who would like to see every NFL game without having to have a Pay TV or satellite subscription,” says Skipper. “We know that the NFL understands that they are ubiquitously popular and want to be ubiquitously available.” National Hockey League rights are also in focus for Skipper.

Skipper is pursing these rights and international growth, and competition with his former employer, as its parent company, Disney, undergoes a management transition: Skipper’s old boss Bob Iger was just replaced by Bob Chapek. Skipper says the transition won’t make it any easier for his company to compete with the media giant. “I think that the Walt Disney Company will continue to get the benefit of Bob,” says Skipper of Iger. Of newcomer Chapek, Skipper says “he’s a fabulous replacement” and “has done nothing but succeed.” Calling Chapek an “enormous sports guy,” Skipper says ESPN won’t want for attention, and it’ll be “just as formidable” a rival to his startup.

As for the coronavirus outbreak, Skipper says the biggest impact has been on the company’s employees, rather than on subscriber adoption. “We’re in Italy and we do expect to be producing some matches with no people in the stands.” DAZN’s employees are working from home, and in Japan, where schools are closed, they’re accommodating parents of young children. “We’re not really thinking about it right now from a business standpoint except to the extent that it disrupts our employees,” says Skipper.

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