“Son of God” Discusses Boxing’s Revival, the Return of a Hit Docuseries and Jordan Brand

Andre Ward

The Contender, a competitive boxing docuseries, returns to television tonight (on EPIX at 9p ET/PT). Former WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO and Ring Magazine title holder Andre “Son of God” Ward hosts as 16 middleweight fighters live together, train together and compete in the ring for a six-figure prize and the title of The Contender. JohnWallStreet had a chance to sit down with the undefeated champion on Monday afternoon to discuss the latest season of The Contender, the sport of boxing’s resurgence and why he signed with Jordan Brand.

JWS: Beyond the prize money, what’s the goal for the 16 fighters competing in The Contender? Are there any championship-level fighters in the group?

Andre: So, for the guys that won’t get to the semifinals and finals, you are going to know their names and if they perform well on the show, if their personalities matched with their performances, they’ll get opportunities. And that’s all these guys can really ask for is an opportunity to showcase themselves and to be put in a position where they can be successful, but the semi-finalists and the finalists, the history of The Contender shows that those guys go on to fight for world titles and or win world titles.

JWS: The UFC has stolen a lot of boxing’s thunder over the last couple of years, but it now seems as if boxing undergoing a resurgence. Why is that?

Andre: I don’t know if it’s a resurgence. I think boxing goes through highs and lows, ebbs and flows. That’s just the nature of the beast. The structure is different than what the UFC does, so you’re going to see more volatility with boxing than you do with the UFC; it’s more of a steady thing because you got one guy that’s in charge, he’s controlling all the match-ups. So, boxing gets a bad rap. I mean, of course we have things in the sport that we need to change, things that are outdated, but as a whole I think boxing is going to be fine. And I think that everything that’s going on from ESPN and HBO, just all the players that are involved, boxing will win in the end.

JWS: How do you get more sponsors involved in the sport?

Andre: It’s tough to say, it really is. I mean, you know, boxing is the wild wild west and the old adage is that you don’t want to touch a fighter because you never know with these guys; they are reckless and this and that. It’s tough. I had a lot of major sponsors that people didn’t really know of because we didn’t really (promote them), we broadcasted (our sponsors) the week of the fight or whatever, but it wasn’t really something that I wore on my sleeve. So, there are people aligning with fighters. Floyd had big sponsors. So, they’re (sponsors) going to get behind big fights.

Howie Long-Short: The Contender is produced by MGM Television and Paramount Television. MGM Television is a division of MGM Holdings (OTC: MGMB); Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (owner of EPIX) is not the same company as MGM Resorts International (MGM).

Back in May, MGMB reported that despite a slight increase in Q1 ’18 revenue (to $271.5 million), net income declined from $35.2 million in ’17 to just $858,000 in ’18; a $15 million severance paid to former CEO Gary Barber contributed to the large drop.

Paramount Television is a subsidiary of Viacom (VIAB). The division posted another strong quarter in Q3, with licensing income driving the growth (think: 13 Reasons Why, The Alienist).

Fan MarinoYou’re signed to Jordan Brand. Why did you choose to sign with them as opposed to a company that makes a full line of boxing equipment?

Andre: Because Michael Jordan is the greatest player that ever lived and when Michael Jordan wants to sign you, you go and you take a meeting with Michael Jordan; and you’re typically going to walk away from there with a contract, if he wants you. That’s just how it goes. On a simpler level, Larry Miller the President, Howard White the V.P, those guys have been following me for years; and they believe in me. They got the dopest shoes in the game. They got the dopest apparel in the game. I mean why not sign?

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DAZN Announces Entry into U.S. Market, Exclusive with Heavyweight Champ Anthony Joshua

Face To Face With DAZN - The Future Of Sports Streaming
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 17: Anthony Joshua on stage at the U.S. launch of DAZN – The Future of Sports Streaming at Industria Studios on July 17, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for DAZN)

DAZN, the world’s largest dedicated live and on-demand sports streaming service, announced its entry into the U.S. market on Tuesday in front of a packed house at Industria NYC. The service will launch in the States on September 10th, at a cost of $9.99/month (following one-month trial); combat sports will make up much of the platform’s flagship programming until broadcast rights for other sports/leagues become available at the turn of the decade. DAZN will hold its first fight night on September 22nd, with WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua taking on Alexander Povetkin live from Wembley Stadium. JohnWallStreet had the chance to sit down with the Champ at the DAZN U.S. launch event to discuss his plans to become a billionaire, to see if he has any concerns about a subscription model costing him money and why athletes sitting in first class haven’t necessarily forgotten where they come from.

JWS: You’re open about pursuing your goal of becoming a billionaire. You have a successful line of gyms, what other businesses are generating income for you?

Anthony: I don’t like to talk about my investments and stuff like that. In this day and age success is determined by finance, your investments; but, I see being a billionaire as a mindset. That’s what I’ve managed to build over the years that has enabled me to achieve “success” in terms of finance.

JWS: Mayweather made a fortune collecting on a portion of PPV receipts. Do you worry that DAZN’s subscription model will cost you money?

Anthony: So, a good business person would look at how they can take a percentage of the company. If it’s going to affect your earnings one way, how can you protect yourself in another. It’s a great opportunity. DAZN should only add to the industry, not take away from it.  

Editor Note: This quote would seem to imply that Anthony maintains a stake in DAZN.

JWS: You mentioned that you’ve signed endorsement deals with brands that align with your long-term goals. How does the Jaguar/Range Rover relationship play into that?

Anthony: So, the reason we work with Jaguar/Range Rover is that I met someone who worked there years ago when I was driving a small car. Number one, we got along because of character. He took to my character and believed in my story; and they do ambassador roles, anyway. The thing about Jaguar/Range Rover is that it’s a big car and with a lot of traveling and for the longevity of an athlete, you need to be comfortable when you travel. If you see an athlete traveling in first class it’s not because he’s forgotten where he’s come from, but because he needs to preserve his body. An athlete in a big Range Rover isn’t because he wants to be flashy, he needs to be comfortable because his body is his temple; that’s why the organic relationship with Range Rover/Land Rover came about. I could be with Lamborghini, but it doesn’t really make sense for my long-term goal which is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.  

Howie Long-Short: DAZN has been consistently making headlines since April. First, the company announced the hiring of former ESPN President John Skipper as its Executive Chairman. Then parent company Perform Group agreed to $1 billion joint venture with Matchroom Boxing, the largest investment in boxing history. Late last month, the sports-only OTT service committed 9 figures to a multi-year global distribution agreement with Bellator MMA.

Perform Group is a subsidiary of privately held Access Industries. The sports media company counts The Sporting News and Goal among its U.S. publications. While you can’t invest in Perform Group, there is one way to play DAZN; Dentsu, a Japanese advertising firm that trades publicly on the Tokyo Stock Exchange under the symbol (TYO: 4324). In late March, Dentsu invested in DAZN as part of a deal “which made the service available to customers of mobile phone operator NTT Docomo.” No information has been released relating to the size of the investment or the valuation placed on the company.

Viacom (VIAB) owns a majority stake in the Bellator promotion. On April 25thVIAB reported Q2 ’18 adjusted operating income grew 5% YoY to $641 million, as the gains picked up by the company’s international TV unit (double digit revenue & profits growth) and Paramount Pictures’ return to profitability (adjusted operating income was $9 million) offset disappointing domestic advertising and affiliate fee revenue and a $185 million write-down resulting from an operational overhaul. CEO Bob Bakish touted the results as signs the company turnaround was underway. The company will report Q3 earnings on August 9th.

Fan Marino: Combat sports fans who regularly purchase PPV fights are going to love DAZN. At $9.99/month you’ll get 70+ fight nights/year, for roughly the cost of 2 PPV events; or one silly Mayweather-McGregor exhibition.

When I brought up the name Deontay Wilder, Anthony decided to ask the questions.

Anthony: He’s had 40 fights. How come you’ve never called for another mega-fight with Wilder?

Fan: Well, I think you’re the only other “mega” fighter out there.

Anthony: So, I’m the “A” side right?

Fan: You’re the “A” side.

Fan: Are we going to get that fight in 2019?

Anthony: Listen, I need to win against Povetkin, but my real dream is to fight Deontay Wilder as he holds the WBC heavyweight championship.

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DAZN Commits $1 Billion+ to Joint Venture with Bellator MMA, To Challenge UFC


Bellator MMA and DAZN (pronounced Da Zone) have announced a joint venture to promote 22 fight cards annually (both live and on-demand), seven of which will be exclusive to the standalone OTT provider; the balance are joint broadcasts with Paramount Network (Viacom subsidiary). The multi-year pact, said to be worth nine figures (no word on if DAZN received an equity stake), gives the MMA promotion “the opportunity to truly challenge the UFC” (think: ability to sign free agents); UFC recently signed its own streaming deal (5 Years, $150 million/annually) to bring 32 fight cards/year to ESPN+. The first Bellator fight night broadcast on DAZN will be September 29th, with the main-event featuring middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi against welterweight champion Rory MacDonald; former UFC fighters Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva are also fighting on the card.

Howie Long-Short: Perform Group is a subsidiary of privately held Access Industries. The sports media company counts The Sports News and Goal among its U.S. publications. While you can’t invest in Perform Group, there is one way to play DAZN; Dentsu, a Japanese advertising firm that trades publicly on the Tokyo Stock Exchange under the symbol (TYO: 4324). No information has been released relating to the size of Dentsu’s investment or the valuation placed on the company.

Perform Group has been on a roll. Just last month, the company announced the hiring of former ESPN President John Skipper to lead DAZN (operates in 5 countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and Canada; U.S. and Italy to debut in ’18) and the company made the largest investment in boxing history, a $1 billion joint venture between DAZN and Matchroom Boxing. DAZN has opted to corner combat sports, as it makes its entry into the U.S. market, with rights to the Big 4 leagues tied up through the remainder of the decade.

Viacom (VIAB) owns a majority stake in the Bellator promotion. On April 25thVIAB reported Q2 ’18 adjusted operating income grew 5% YoY to $641 million, as the gains picked up by the company’s international TV unit (double digit revenue & profits growth) and Paramount Pictures’ return to profitability (adjusted operating income was $9 million) offset disappointing domestic advertising and affiliate fee revenue and a $185 million write-down resulting from an operational overhaul. CEO Bob Bakish touted the results as signs the company turnaround was underway, but investors are sold; the share price has remained flat since, closing Wednesday at $29.99.

Fan Marino: Flush with cash (Viacom is also increasing its investment), Bellator will now look to add top-tier talent to its strong welterweight division. The promotion is set to launch an eight-fighter grand prix (think: bracket style tournament) within the division, on the September 29th card. I met with DAZN CEO James Rushton at the Hashtag Sports conference on Wednesday to talk about how they plan to develop fighters into household names and to discuss any concerns they may have about investing in fight sports, with talk of brain injuries so prevalent.

Fan: SI released a story this week surrounding the suicide of Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski (autopsy showed he had CTE). The story has raised questions about the future of the game of football. Perform Group has committed over $2 billion to fight sports. Are there concerns that as people become further educated on head injuries, combat sports will see a decline in popularity?

James: The simple answer is no. Unfortunately, occasionally in boxing or mixed martial arts there are tragedies and you can’t escape that. What we’re doing is making sure that the events we put on and the money we’re giving to Matchroom Boxing and Bellator ensure that the athletes are being looked after as much as possible. For instance, dedicated ambulance routes that are pre-designed to make sure you get fighters to the hospital as quickly as possible. It’s a risk we recognize, but not something that puts us off.

Fan: UFC viewership declined double-digits in 2017, as the promotion has struggled to develop mainstream talent beyond McGregor and Rousey. How does the DAZN/Bellator joint venture avoid the same fate?

James: Our job is to create an ongoing narrative, an ongoing dialogue about these fighters. The whole system of PPV has strangled the life out of fight sports because the fights are rare and because people don’t know the characters or personalities around these fighters; 25 years ago, these fighters would have been household names. We can solve that issue in two ways. One is to make the platform far easier and cheaper to access, which we are doing, and two is to invest our marketing dollars in content, production and talent to tell the story; and then not putting those stories behind a paywall, distributing those stories where the audience is.  

Fan: It was reported that the Fox Sports app was the 3rd most downloaded application last week, after not being in the top 1000 the week prior; of course, exclusive access to World Cup broadcasts drove the increase. A marquee event like the World Cup could quickly put DAZN on the map in new markets. Is that an event you will look to acquire rights to in the future?

James: Listen, we’re a business that was founded on soccer. Perform Group’s first clients were soccer clubs, our first broadcast rights were soccer rights, I launched our service in Japan by buying Japanese soccer rights for 10 years ($2 billion). So, of course we’re going to be interested in soccer rights, but it’s like a lot of other rights in the U.S. – it’s a competitive landscape and its fragmented. What we want to do, like we have done with the fight sports, is enter into a genre and try to own it end to end. That doesn’t mean you must own everything, but I’m not overly interested in owning a 4-week tournament or one league; we want to try and build that whole genre.

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NFL Partners with Nickelodeon to Build Next Generation of Football Fans


Nickelodeon, the number one entertainment brand for kids for a 38th straight year, is making a concerted effort (in conjunction with the NFL) to prepare the next generation of football fans for Super Bowl LII. Through Sunday, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons and TeenNick will air specialty content and event coverage; including daily reports from various locations (Super Bowl Live, Super Bowl Experience etc.) and a Superstar Slime Showdown (Brees, Gurley and Deion Sanders will all participate). For those in Minnesota, Nick will have a 40×80 interactive destination (including 2 slime booths) at the NFL Experience celebrating current hits and classic series; there will also be a tailgate party for the kids.

Howie Long-Short: Viacom reported fiscal Q4 ’17 earnings back in November. Total revenue for the quarter was up 3% YOY to ($3.3 billion), with revenue for the company’s media sector (includes Nickelodeon + MTV, BET, CMT, VH1, Paramount Network, TV Land and Comedy Central) also up 3% YOY (to $2.55 billion). It wasn’t all good news though, VIAB reported a 3% decline in domestic affiliate revenue (to $948 million) and CFO Wade Davis predicted domestic affiliate revenue declines will continue through fiscal ’18; including a “high single-digit percentage decline” in ‘H1 and a “mid-single-digit percentage decline” in ‘H2. The company will release its next earnings report on February 8th.

Fan Marino: Last July, Nickelodeon held their 4th annual Kids’ Choice Sports Awards; with Russell Wilson hosting for a 3rd year in a row. Russell Westbrook (Clutch Player of the Year), Kevin Durant (Sickest Moves) and Wilson (King of Swag) were among the nights’ big winners. With ratings for NFL regular season games down 9.7% and playoff games seeing an even bigger drop, the NFL is wise to focus efforts on ensuring America’s youth remain immersed in the game.

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Bellator MMA Debuts on Paramount Network, Starts 8-Man Heavyweight Tournament


Bellator MMA will debut tomorrow night on the newly rebranded Paramount Network (9p EST), opposite UFC 220 (PPV). Chael Sonnen and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will headline Bellator 192. The fight will kick off the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix (to span 2018), an 8-man single-elimination tournament that also includes Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir and Matt Mitrione. The card will also include a welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and Douglas Lima, as well as the professional debut of Khonry Gracie; the son of Royce Gracie, winner of UFC 1, who will be in his corner.

Howie Long-Short: Viacom (VIAB) owns a majority stake in the Bellator promotion, so it’s understandable that fights have resided on VIAB owned SpikeTV for a decade; but, I’m not sure why they’re bringing them over to the Paramount Network (other than the built-in audience). The company rebranded to draw on the cache of Paramount Pictures. It wants to be a home for “premium, original storytelling” (think: Netflix). I fail to see how mixed martial arts fits in with that image.

Fan Marino: The heavyweights will draw the casual fan, but MacDonald/Lima should be the best fight of the night (on this card). MacDonald, who lost in the 5th round to Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 and owns career wins over Tyrone Woodley and Nate Diaz, is in the prime of his career; while Lima, a 2x Bellator Welterweight Champion, has the most knockouts in the promotion’s history (8).

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Kevin Harvick’s Investment Portfolio, DANICA Premiers Tonight

Kevin Harvick won the Monster Energy (MNST) NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motors Speedway last weekend, which gives him a spot in the “Championship Four”; the 4 remaining drivers who will race for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19th. JWS got the exclusive opportunity to sit down Kevin to discuss his investment portfolio, sponsorship partners and sports marketing agency.

JWS: How important is it to you to have sponsors that you would invest in?

Kevin Harvick: The companies that you believe in and invest in, are the companies that you want on your car. I can tell you Exxon Mobil (XOM) is in my portfolio.

JWS: How have you managed to maintain long-term partnerships with several of your sponsors?    

Kevin Harvick: We’ve been fortunate through the years to develop what we have with the Busch Brand (BUD), Jimmy John’s, who’s been with us since 2009 and Textron (TXT), who started with us back in 2007. We’ve kind of found the niche with each of those companies in terms of what they like to do, how they like to entertain and where they like go.

JWS: Does having KHI Management (his sports marketing agency) help in terms of signing NASCAR sponsorship deals?

Kevin Harvick: The thing that makes us unique and different is that we have a sports agency that represents 2 PGA golfers, Donald Cerrone (UFC) and Harrison Burton (motocross). We’ve tried to make ourselves more diverse so that when we are trying to cut a deal for a NASCAR sponsorship, we have a family of assets that we can blend in; golf tournaments, UFC fights, etc.

JWS: How closely do you follow the market?

Kevin Harvick: I wake up with Maria (Bartiromo). I like to understand what is happening in the world. I spend a lot of time paying attention to it because I’m intrigued by it.  

Howie Long-Short: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) acquired Epix, buying out Viacom (VIAB) and Lionsgate (LGF.A) back in April for $1.031 billion. The company has underperformed over the last 6 months (+2.8% compared with industry-wide growth of 15.6%), and analysts are projecting Q3 earnings ($.33/share) that would be a 43% YOY decline. The company will report later today.

Fan Marino: If you enjoy sports documentaries, check out DANICA; premiering this evening at 8p EST on Epix (or for free at epix.com). The film, directed by broadcasting pioneer Hannah Storm, focus on Danica Patrick; the most successful woman in the history of professional motorsports. It’s a rare, candid look at Danica as a competitor eagerly preparing for her next race; a woman confidently considering when she wants to start a family; and a budding mogul carefully considering thinking about her next steps.

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Facebook (FB) has agreed to a partnership with Barstool Sports that will give Watch, FB’s new video platform, original sports programming content. “The Barstool Tailgate Show” will cover college football storylines and comedic news from a different campus each week, with shows airing on Facebook Live prior to the Saturday night ABC/ESPN (DIS) primetime game. Barstool Founder Dave Portney and former Colts Punter and Barstool personality Pat McAfee, will host the show. Financial details of the deal were not released, but Facebook is investing in the production of the show and would be the ones to secure future and benefit from corporate sponsors.

Howie Long-Short: Barstool had a live show Super Bowl week on Comedy Central (VIAB). The show had 310K viewers and beat the Daily Show by 7% in the 18-34 male demo, on Monday January 30th (their first show). That is where the good news ended though, by Thursday, February 3rd, the audience had fallen to 217K viewers, no better than the worst rated Futurama rerun that the network ran the week prior.

Fan Marino: Watch is quickly scooping up non-traditional sports content that Millennials eat up (see: “Ball in the Family”). It’s a smart strategy for a company that wants to be in the sports streaming business, isn’t getting NFL games (existing deals run through 2022) or NBA games (existing deals run through 2025) anytime soon, and needs to put out original content to draw video advertising dollars that will drive future revenue growth. What kind of Stoolie is on Facebook at 7:30p on Saturday night though?



Facebook (FB) has hired Bunim/Murray Productions (VIAB), the company behind “The Real World” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, to create a new reality series for their redesigned Watch video tab. The show entitled “Ball in the Family”, will focus on LaVar Ball, the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, as he grooms his children for the NBA, builds his Big Baller Brand and helps his wife Tina recover from a stroke. The first 2 episodes are now available, with new episodes being released on Sunday’s at 10p, starting September 10th. Facebook is developing original content, so it can draw video advertising dollars that will drive future revenue growth.

Howie Long-Short: Facebook is coming for GOOGL’s YouTube. The company is offering to pay production costs, license and outright buy content from creators; while at least in some cases, guaranteeing ad revenue to publishers. Expect a lot of well-produced, high quality, in-demand content from the social network moving forward.

Fan Marino: LaVar recently announced that sale of the LaMelo BBB sneaker will take precedence over his NCAA eligibility. Lonzo better be a superstar or this whole house of cards is about to come tumbling down.

Facebook Lands Lonzo Ball and Basketball Family for Reality Show