ESPN’s Ex-Chief Lands Live MLB Clips for Streaming Service

(Bloomberg) -- DAZN, a sports-streaming service led by former ESPN President John Skipper, reached an agreement with Major League Baseball for a new show with live look-ins to games, its first foray into the major U.S. leagues on their home turf.

The company will pay $300 million under the three-year deal, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked to remain unidentified. DAZN will produce a live show every MLB weeknight, bouncing between games at key moments. The service will be similar to the popular RedZone channel offered by the National Football League each Sunday.

The deal was approved Thursday in Atlanta at the MLB owners meetings, alongside a seven-year, $5 billion extension with Fox Sports. While maintaining its television presence, baseball is also focusing on digital offerings. It has aired live games on Twitter, and last season became the first league to give Facebook exclusive game rights.

The deal is a major step forward for DAZN, pronounced “da-zone” and billed as the “Netflix of sports” in European and Asian markets. Started by Perform Group, DAZN debuted in the U.S. earlier this year with money to spend but one major hurdle: Most rights for the biggest leagues are locked up in long-term deals. Live clips offered the company a way in.

‘It’s Pragmatism’

“It’s innovation and, of course, it’s pragmatism,” said Skipper, who is DAZN Group’s executive chairman. “In this case, with no available regional or national baseball games, we are innovating a new kind of show which we think will appeal to a young, multicultural audience.”

To get to market in the U.S. with premium content of some sort, DAZN originally turned to fight sports. Its first deal was a $1 billion joint venture with British fight promotion Matchroom Boxing. It followed that with a $365 million deal for Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez’s next 11 bouts, the largest single-athlete contract in sports history.

The aggressive expansion is a playbook that DAZN has used before. When the service launched in Japan in 2016, it committed to spending roughly $3 billion for various rights. In two years it was showing Japan’s soccer leagues, its baseball league, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, all five major European soccer leagues and the Champions League.

The weeknight MLB show will be co-produced by DAZN and MLB. DAZN will also have on-demand content and a weekend baseball wrap show. And the company plans to continue being aggressive in the U.S., Skipper said.

“I’m going to scour the classified advertising sections of all the rights holders, and any time anybody is in the process of selling anything appealing to sports fans, our intention is to be engaged,” he said.

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