Anthony Joshua’s debut in the United States on broadcaster DAZN is the beginning of what executives from the digital streaming service believe will be “global domination” for the British heavyweight boxer who holds three of the four world heavyweight titles.
As DAZN grows globally with its sports portfolio – it is already in seven countries in Europe, Asia and North America – so the brand of “AJ” will grow with the group which has been dubbed the Netflix of sport.
In London on Monday, DAZN’s team, including executive vice-president of North America Joe Markowski, along with boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, will unveil Joshua on stage alongside the ebullient 300lb heavyweight Jarrell Miller, against whom Joshua will make his US debut at Madison Square Garden on June 1. Sky Sports Box Office will broadcast the fight in the United Kingdom.
“The overview of what we want to do with AJ is pretty simple, and we’re quite transparent about it,” Markowski told Telegraph Sport.
“To be a global superstar in sport, certainly as a Brit, one has to crack America. We are giving AJ the platform to do that. We are supporting him in a number of ways to do that, and his team, including Eddie Hearn – whom we are close with – recognise that opportunity. June 1 is stage two of AJ’s global domination plan.
“Stage one was building his lion’s den in the UK. This is the next chapter. This is him recognising that in fighting terms – and in commercial terms – he needs to come and crack America.”
Markowski draws parallels with the music and film industries. “It’s not just fighters, it’s any culturally transcendent singer, athlete or actor. British musicians and sportsmen have to crack America. AJ recognises that, and we will help him succeed in that.”
Last year, Hearn signed an eight-year deal with DAZN worth $1 billion. “We’ve made a significant, billion-dollar commitment to the Matchroom USA venture, of which we are an equity shareholder in an eight-year deal,” said Markowski. AJ is outside that, he’s not a Matchroom USA fighter.” The key will be how, and how loud, Joshua resonates in the US.
“We have to invest heavily in Joshua in the USA market because we’re a new brand in the noisiest sport landscape in the world,” said Markowski. “But we’re not just competing with the NFL and ESPN and the UFC, we are competing with the entertainment noise of America, with the noise of Kim Kardashian, just as we are with the NBA. To crack through, you need superstars and you need to spend money.
“We’re very lucky to have an investment around us. It’s consistent, it understands and it backs us. That’s why we’re so confident in making longer term plays, because we’ll continue to do so.”
Joshua is already being heavily marketed in the UK, and his urbane, hip style resonates in the environment.
“He will go on tour here,” said Markowski. “AJ has to stitch himself into the vein of popular culture, and he has all the attributes to do so.
“He has fighting talent, he’s unbeaten, he’s a good-looking kid, he’s well spoken and marketable. He’s got all he needs to crack America.
“He’s different to Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson. He’s got that professionalism and a gentleman’s nature. Americans like that. If he plays to that and keeps winning, I’m very, very confident he has the potential to reach global superstardom in the same way that [Cristiano] Ronaldo has in soccer. He’s a global superstar in waiting going into the second stage of his career.”
In spite of reports that Joshua’s fight with Alexander Povetkin last September – his first contest shown on DAZN in the US – did not draw huge numbers, Markowski said: “We were very happy with the numbers. And they were the first week we launched, so they’re frankly now irrelevant.”
They have since launched two large campaigns, signing Mexican boxer Saul Canelo Alvarez at $365 million for 11 fights over five years, and a deal with Major League baseball, putting the broadcaster, Markowski said, “in the national sporting dialogue in the US” to drive monthly subscriptions.
“Joshua has geographically positioned himself beside the biggest star in boxing in the USA right now, Canelo Alvarez,” added the executive from west London. “By taking the decision to box on DAZN, Joshua has taken a smart decision which will turn him into a US, and by association, a global superstar.”