DAZN Originals has landed its first presenting sponsor: AutoZone.
The $11 billion auto retailer is sponsoring DAZN’s new boxing documentary, “One Night: Joshua vs. Ruiz,” chronicling Andy Ruiz Jr.’s stunning upset of previously unbeaten heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden on June 1.
The nation’s largest retailer of aftermarket automotive parts and accessories has slapped its brand right below the title card of the new doc, co-directed by Jamie Horowitz and Deirdre Fenton. AutoZone also plans to advertise during Ruiz vs. Joshua’s rematch, which will air on DAZN on December 7. It previously sponsored the film’s red carpet premiere in Hollywood.
“Due to the success of our original programming ’40 Days,’ many brands began to take notice of our unique ability to engage sports fans outside of the live window,” said Mike Mobley, vice president of media sales for DAZN North America. “Our partnership with AutoZone spans every phase of engaging the DAZN sports fan – from lead-up content promotion with ‘One Night’ to the live ad innovations during the main event.”
The AutoZone deal is an important one for the subscription streaming service.
As executive vice president of content for DAZN North America, Horowitz hired former ESPN colleague Fenton as director of original programming to lead an ambitious push into sports documentaries. Fenton was one of the producers who created ESPN’s Oscar-winning, “O.J.: Made in America.”
But quality documentaries and original programming cost money. Continuing to land blue-chip sponsors like AutoZone will help monetize DAZN’s new original programming unit and defray production costs.
The subscription sports streaming service’s marketing strategy is similar to that of ESPN, which previously landed Levi’s as presenting sponsor of its “30 for 30” documentary series.
DAZN charges subscribers either $99.99 a year or $19.99 for a monthly plan. But DAZN took a unique approach with “One Night,” which is executive produced by Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone.
Rather than placing the documentary behind a paywall, DAZN released it for free on social media. The strategy: induce fans to consume the original programming, fall in love with the fighters’ personal stories, then download the DAZN app.
The doc has drawn more than 2.8 million views on YouTube. It ranks as the most viewed piece of original content ever on the DAZN USA or DAZN Canada platforms.
On Tuesday, the BBC aired “One Night” on their main channel, drawing more than one million viewers. DAZN’s international team has also gained additional revenue by licensing the film in ten countries.
DAZN has been expanding rapidly under the leadership of John Skipper, the former ESPN president turned executive chairman, and Horowitz, the former Fox Sports/ESPN programmer.
Stallone did more than just slap his name on the title. The Oscar-winning creator of “Rocky” co-stars in the doc. He was involved in virtually all aspects of production.
Stallone helped produce Horowitz’s interview with ex-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. He also helped Horowitz and Fenton land big names such as former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, Super Bowl champion turned TV personality Michael Strahan, and Dolph Lundgren, who starred as “Ivan Drago” in “Rocky IV.”
Stallone offered script and music suggestions as the documentary went through multiple edits. Going forward, his Balboa Productions has agreed to partner with DAZN on future “One Night” documentaries.
The tubby Ruiz was a 15-1 underdog going into his championship bout against the world’s No. 1 heavyweight. But after coming off the canvas in the 3rd round, Ruiz floored the British boxer four times on his way to a seventh-round TKO. It was boxing’s biggest upset since Tyson was beaten by Buster Douglas in 1990.
Joshua’s stunning loss nearly wrecked DAZN’s carefully-made plans for the former heavyweight champion.
Only one year prior, Joshua’s British promoter Matchroom Boxing had signed a $1 billion, eight-year deal with DAZN owner Perform. During that night at the Garden, DAZN executives were mortified to watch a potential cash cow crash and burn.
But once the reality of Joshua’s defeat set in, Horowitz, Fenton, and Stallone realized they had a creative opportunity.
The underdog Ruiz was “Rocky” come to life, defeating an Apollo Creed-like Joshua. He also made history as the first boxer of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight crown.
Ruiz’s victory “made me feel like a real Rocky was born,” says Stallone in the documentary. Now DAZN hopes Joshua can avenge his defeat in the rematch in Saudi Arabia, setting up potentially a trilogy of fights with Ruiz.
During the production process for “One Night,” Horowitz and Fenton split duties. Horowitz interviewed Tyson and Holyfield; Fenton interviewed Strahan, Lundgren, Joshua, and Ruiz.
Horowitz credits Fenton for choosing Tyson’s haunting Biblical reference for the doc’s opening montage among dozens of hours of footage.
“One of my favorite moments was when Deirdre was reviewing the Tyson interview and walked into the room and read his quote to us: ‘Listen. This is interesting. David, in the Bible, David has won so many wars, David is such a f-ckin accomplished warrior, right? He is so accomplished, he’s such an accomplished warrior, you don’t know any of his accomplishments but one: Goliath!” She said, ‘That’s the perfect open to the film.’ She was right.”
DAZN has been in an arms race with competitors like ESPN and Showtime to sign the biggest stars in boxing and exclusively show their fights.
The star power of Stallone could attract new subscribers, observed LeslieAnne Wade, managing director of Wade Media, which handles strategic development and marketing for sports media and properties.
“DAZN is using their on-demand abilities as a ‘Netflix of Sports’ to tell the story and invest in their stars or future stars. Stallone could bring a fan from the periphery,” she said. “(DAZN) is pinning a lot on boxing at this stage of their business – and the bigger their boxing stars become, the greater their success. They have deep enough pockets to support this sophisticated marketing.”
But David Halberstam, publisher of “Sports Broadcast Journal,” notes boxing’s glory days of Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis are long gone. He’s not sure docs like “One Night” will stimulate interest among younger viewers.
“It will appeal to a segment. I just don’t know how large a segment,” Halberstam said.