Kevin Mayer talks the future of DAZN and being the Netflix of sport

Kevin Mayer talks the future of DAZN and being the Netflix of sport

Kevin Mayer (Credit: Richard Kendal)
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Premier League football tops sport streamer DAZN’s wish list.

“I would love to see that on DAZN [in the UK],” revealed the Group Chairman, Kevin Mayer, one of the star speakers at the RTS Convention. 

“This is a huge market and [football] is an incredibly popular sport – it’s a high-quality experience for sports fans. Of course we’d want that.”

He added: “Football rights in major territories in Europe is [DAZN’s] centre of gravity.”

Earlier this year, the rights to the Premier League – in response to the disruption caused by the pandemic – were rolled over, remaining in the clutches of Sky, BT Sport, Amazon Prime and, for highlights only, the BBC. “Certainly, we want to have a chance to be at the table in the future,” said Mayer.

Jake Kanter, media correspondent of The Times, who was chairing the Cambridge session, suggested that one way of getting to the negotiating table would be to buy BT Sport. 

“Possibly. I can’t really comment on that; I know there have been rumours,” replied Mayer. “We would love to have EPL ultimately… there’s many paths to get there. Whatever route makes the most sense. BT Sport is a great business; it has a lot of rights that are fabulous: EPL, Champions League, rugby.”

DAZN is frequently dubbed the “Netflix of sport”, a moniker Mayer finds flattering. “There are worse things to be called than the Netflix of anything. It’s been a massive success… I don’t mind being compared to Netflix at all.”

During a wide-ranging discussion with Kanter, the American business executive looked back over a career that has taken in some of the biggest hitters of the entertainment industry.

As a child, Mayer had wanted to become a “naval aviator and an astronaut”, but was stymied by his poor eyesight. A degree in engineering was followed by an MBA and a stint in consultancy, before he joined Disney in the mid-1990s.

Jake Kanter (Credit: Richard Kendal)
Jake Kanter (Credit: Richard Kendal)

“It was becoming very obvious that technology was going to have a very substantial impact on how an entertainment product was created and delivered. That was my way in, at first as a technologist, primarily,” he recalled.

Mayer rose through the ranks at Disney and, for some time, was in charge of mergers and acquisitions. These included Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel Entertainment and 21st Century Fox. “By and large, when we deployed real big capital, they all worked pretty spectacularly,” said Mayer. 

Discussing the 21st Century Fox deal, he commented: “Rupert’s a tough deal guy.”

Was Murdoch “the toughest [negotiator] you experienced during your time at Disney,” Kanter wanted to know. “Yuh. He’s really smart and I really grew to like him. I got to know him really well. He drove a hard bargain.”

Mayer took most satisfaction from the Marvel deal, which was the “best in terms of its value as a multiple of the purchase price…. It was very difficult to anticipate the degree of success that Marvel has had across the cinematic universe. We knew that this was the plan but we had no idea that it would be as successful as it was.”

Mayer spent more than two decades at Disney in two stints; in contrast, his tenure as CEO at TikTok lasted just three months, dominated by Donald Trump’s threat to ban the social media app in an attempt to force a sale of its US operations, and his claim that data was being harvested in the US and used by Beijing.

“It was a long three months but it was fun, and energising, too. TikTok is an amazing product,” enthused Mayer.

His three months were dogged by problems: one month into the job and TikTok was banned in India, following a Chinese attack on a disputed border. “That created a lot of havoc and a lot of geopolitical difficulties… and it started to reverberate. Trump was very close to [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi.”

Next, continued Mayer, some TikTokers “signed up for a Trump rally to take up a lot of the space but they had no intention of going. He went to this rally thinking it was sold out… so he was embarrassed by that”.

Kanter asked: “Should we be worried that TikTok is taking our data and giv­ing it to China?” 

‘Football rights in major territories in Europe are [DAZN’s] centre of gravity’

“They might get the latest dance moves,” replied Mayer, laughing. “I’m not all that concerned about it. I’ll leave it up to the government officials.”

Mayer quickly moved on to another venture, raising $300m of capital and founding a Spac (special purpose acquisition company) with former Disney colleague Tom Staggs and private equity firm Blackstone. 

The yet-to-be-named venture has already snapped up actor Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine, reportedly for an eye-watering $900m. “I do think that [Reese] has her finger on the pulse of what her audience wants. Brands are only meaningful when they attach emotionally to a certain audience… I love what she’s doing.

“We’re trying to serve global audiences in a way that’s built for the future. It will be a little different from a traditional media company; it will be built for the next generation.”

Mayer revealed that in his short time at TikTok he learned that “the bond between creators and their followers is very emotional and very deep, and it can be mined for a lot of commercial opportunity. I like the idea of taking television and movie product and extending that relationship into social media, and trying to engender new revenue streams.”

Hello Sunshine is only one part of the jigsaw, said Mayer. “We’re going to bring in other category-defining businesses and brands that will fill out a whole spectrum of audience.

“We are looking across the world at all opportunities.”

At the close of a session replete with insights into the international nature of modern media, Mayer offered support for a hard-pressed, homegrown UK institution: “The BBC is an integral part of the brand of Britain. The journalistic integrity is beyond reproach and, in this day and age, that’s super important. I would argue that it is a national treasure and should be treated that way.” 

Session Eight: ‘Global leaders keynote: Kevin Mayer’. The Chair of DAZN Group was in conversation with Jake Kanter, media correspondent of The Times. The session was produced by Helen Scott. Report by Matthew Bell.

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