James Rushton is playing the long game when it comes to convincing Canadians to sign up for DAZN, the online live sports streaming service that launched in the country less than two weeks ago.
The CEO of the billionaire-backed upstart — it’s pronounced “da zone”, a name Rushton said is meant to evoke the feeling of being absorbed in a game — wants to eventually attract 10 per cent of connected households in Canada to subscribe to its over-the-top service, which includes National Football League and top European soccer games. That’s about 1.2 million subscribers.
But first, Rushton said he’s focused on building brand awareness — especially considering most people flub the pronunciation.
“I actually quite like that, it creates a bit of a conversation around our brand … for a disruptive brand like ours, that’s not a bad thing,” he said in an interview at the launch event in Toronto.
This is London-based DAZN’s first foray into North America after launching last year in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. Billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries Holdings LLC backs the private company, giving it leeway as it strives to build the so-called Netflix of sports.
DAZN isn’t alone in its goal of winning over sports fans that don’t want to buy premium television subscriptions. This week, U.S. media heavyweights Walt Disney Co. and CBS Corp. announced plans to enter the sports streaming business, promising over-the-top services by next year and the end of this year respectively.
That pair of announcements was a sign to Rushton that the old model of distributing content is changing and that over-the-top viewing isn’t a fad.
“The fact that you get it delivered via an Ethernet or fibre cable rather than a satellite or a traditional cable box makes no difference to the end consumer,” he said.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction for both of those businesses and I think its absolutely confirmation, affirmation, that the way we’re thinking, the way we’re working at DAZN is the future of sports broadcasting.”
When it comes to the volume of streaming services on offer, Rushton said the disaggregation of services could eventually lead industry players to aggregate again if consumers don’t want to have four or five different subscriptions and passwords. But for now, the goal is all about making content more affordable and easier to access.
In Canada, DAZN bought (for an undisclosed amount) the exclusive rights to NFL Game Pass and NFL Red Zone. It offers the service for $20 per month or $150 per year, a discount from traditional television packages.
Rushton said DAZN chose Canada as its next market since fans already understand over-the-top services, given the high penetration of services including Netflix, BCE Inc.’s CraveTV and Amazon Prime Video. On top of that, its market research has shown that Canada’s are among the world’s most passionate sports fans when it comes to all sports, not just hockey.
“I’ve got no interest in coming into this market and playing second fiddle and feeding off the crumbs of other services,” Rushton said. “We want DAZN to be the biggest and best service it possible can. To do that we need to invest and continue to invest in great rights.”
Hockey is “tied up for a very long time” so DAZN has to think about other rights it can go after, he said. To do that, he believes DAZN has to capture a significant subscriber base that he pegged at 10 per cent of connected households.
DAZN has had positive initial interactions with local cable and telecom TV providers, and is open to working with them to get content to more people, Rushton said.
It’s still early days, and DAZN doesn’t reveal specific subscriber or financial metrics so it’s hard to say whether it will be a success with Canadian consumers. But an NFL marketing manager, Tammy Johnson, was on hand at the launch event to express support.
“It made sense for us. Fans are consuming content differently. DAZN offers that option for fans,” Johnson said in welcome remarks. “We’re really excited to be able to bring a new viewing experience for Canadians.”