'A brand new experience': How Eddie Hearn is changing the face of live events

As one of the most successful and outspoken promoters in world sport, Eddie Hearn is not a man who deals in half measures. In addition to representing some of the biggest names in boxing, he has now set himself the meagre task of reinventing live events production with the launch of Matchroom Media. And, he tells Headliner, he’s just getting started…

A glorious, unimpeded view of London lies at the foot of the garden of Eddie Hearn’s Essex childhood home. It’s a remarkable vista that would be the obvious talking point when strolling across the property’s lush lawn, if it wasn’t for the helipad, full-size boxing ring and audience seating area competing for attention. The opulence and vastness of the sprawling estate encapsulates with precision not just the accomplishments Hearn has polished off to date, but also the loftiness of his latest ambition to dominate not only boxing as a sport, but also the presentation and execution of its broadcast and production.

Today, the former Hearn family residence has been repurposed to serve as Matchroom HQ, home of Matchroom Sport, the promotion company launched by Hearn’s father Barry in the 1970s. Having grown up on an east London council estate, Hearn Sr’s entrepreneurial drive saw him go from purchasing a Romford snooker hall at the start of the decade to becoming one of the sport’s most influential figures by its close. Over the following decades, he established himself as an iconic and formidable figure on the world stage, promoting some of the biggest boxers and fights in the sport’s history, as well as serving as chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation and chairman of Leyton Orient Football Club for almost 20 years between 1995 and 2014.

Inevitably, Hearn Jr’s upbringing bore virtually no similarity to that of his father’s, yet he has unquestionably inherited the same aggressive, unrestrained ambition that drove his success. He has never underplayed the privilege he was born into, but as he’s been quoted, he may have been born with a silver spoon, but he’s turned it into gold.

In recent years, Hearn has become arguably the most recognisable promoter in sport, particularly boxing, where he promotes the likes of Anthony Joshua, Canelo Álvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Oleksandr Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko to name a few. He has also become just as famous in some quarters for his notorious ‘Hearnisms’ – a number of social media accounts have been launched devoted to sharing clips of some of his most memorable, often hilarious proclamations.

There is, of course, a lot more to Hearn than the showbiz sheen and comical outbursts that precede him. His knowledge and understanding of his profession is meticulous, while the material advantages he was afforded by birth have, if anything, increased rather than diminished his work ethic.

When Headliner joins him ringside at Matchroom HQ to discuss the launch of Matchroom Media – the company’s new live events production arm – his tone is softer and more measured than many are used to hearing at press conferences and those aforementioned social media accounts. His message, however, is loud and clear. Matchroom Media is not just here to tweak the world of live sports production, but to rip it up and start again.

Live production in boxing has become incredibly stale. Eddie Hearn

“Sport is about narratives, it’s about storytelling,” he explains. “Of course, it’s about glory and competitiveness, but for us as promoters, when we start an idea for an event, it’s almost a cradle to grave mentality, where you tell that story through the promotion of an event. And I felt we were getting to a stage where we built the narrative around each event, but ultimately, we didn’t have control over finishing the job. We’ve worked with some tremendous broadcasters, but I just made the decision to do it ourselves. Particularly in boxing, sometimes, the way I perceived an event should look or feel didn’t because we didn’t have that editorial control.

“It’s quite bold, because as a rights holder, when you sell rights to a broadcaster, they want to create the production and they own those rights. But in boxing it was a bit different. There were things happening at the execution stage of events that disheartened me, and it wasn’t done in the style I wanted. Also, I spend my entire life on social media looking at the reaction of the fans and the viewers, and I had my own ideas about content, the analysis and presentation that I wanted to build. So, I decided with the timing of our new rights deal, whichever way we went, part of the deal would have to be that Matchroom Media would control live production for all our boxing, and it’s something we are looking at across all our sports.”

Having become disillusioned by the standard of live events production in boxing, Hearn insists he had no reservations about launching into an incredibly complex, not to mention highly competitive, world.

“When you realise the size of the job, that’s where the creative freedom comes in, and it feels like you can spread your wings and fly,” he beams. “Content is absolutely key. This isn’t just moving into live production, it’s a move across content and storytelling, something I’m very passionate about. But for the live production it’s a breath of fresh air. To go in and to mould the show is how it should be.

“Of course, there is huge pressure because everyone… didn’t hope we’d fail, but there were definitely a few people in the industry who said, ‘it’d be nice if it didn’t work out’. So, you need the best people. We’re a young company and we like to give people the opportunity to move through the business, but with something as important as this you need steady hands; you need the best, credible people who have been there and done it. People like Jim Bentley and Andy Flynn, who have worked across BT and Sky. These are people that have produced and directed events for many years, but maybe haven’t been given the creative powers we’ve given them. 

“Sometimes you’re working under a line manager or director who is telling you how something should look. We don’t want that; we want you to come up with the ideas. Yes, we have our ideas, but if you are the best for the job, show me. This is the chance to try things and put a different look and feel to live boxing.”

According to Hearn, the Matchroom Media approach to live production will offer untold advantages over the competition. By coming at the process from a different, more editorially driven angle, the possibilities, he believes, are limitless.

It's our vision to control the global world of boxing. Eddie Hearn

“Things become stale quite quickly, and live production for boxing has become incredibly stale,” he says. “From ring walks to lighting to content, it’s the same every week. We wanted to bring people who are fresh and bring a new energy, and a new audience, to what we’re doing. We’ve done that with the likes of Maya Jama, Laura Woods - one of the best presenters in sport - and Mike Costello, who is the voice of boxing. And there’s Tony Bellew, Chris Lloyd, Darren Barker. It’s such a great analytical team, but fresh. Some broadcasts get tired very quickly. Now I look at it and I’m walking around with a smile on my face.”

Crucial to the future of Matchroom Media’s operations is its partnership with streaming platform and broadcaster DAZN, the firm’s exclusive broadcast partner.

“You only have to look at the future generation in terms of how they are digesting content to know that streaming is the absolute future,” he says. “DAZN is a breath of fresh air in the sporting world. We’ve seen them in so many key markets, they are making incredible moves. This is a long-term play with a fantastic and aggressive business, that is allowing us to do things we couldn’t do with other broadcasters.

“We have a little bit of naivete about us as a production company. We have excellent people but we’re moving into a new world. We’re saying to boxing fans ‘we’ve listened’. We’ve seen on social media what people like, what they don’t like and we’re putting it all together. That’s what makes it so attractive for a broadcaster. DAZN put their faith in us, and it wasn’t just a rights deal, it was a deal that included Matchroom Media doing the entire production for all live boxing. That was a big move for them but they believed in us and our ability to deliver value for fight fans, and we’ve done it.”

The excitement and passion that Hearn harbours for this new venture is abundantly evident. So how does the cut and thrust of live events production compare to the thrill of boxing promotion?

“I get the same excitement, I really do,” he smiles. “It’s a different feeling, because on one side there’s the emotional investment of a friend who’s going to fight another man or achieve their dreams or become a world champion. But the pressure from a live production standpoint is also intense, because if you get it wrong…

“It’s a tremendous buzz to be part of the live production, because at the end of the night, before we go on air I have a different kind of nerves. I’m excited for the team because it’s a whole new experience. I know that this is so different to what people are seeing and that’s rewarding.”

As an operation in its infancy, Hearn sees major expansion opportunities on the horizon. The most obvious being a rollout across new territories.

“The deal with DAZN was always with a global position in mind,” he affirms. “We did a huge deal with them in America to do 16 shows a year, 16 shows a year in the UK, four shows a year in Mexico, four in Italy, four in Spain. We’re going to be moving into Australia towards the end of the year. It’s our vision to control the global world of boxing and to do that with one broadcaster is so unique. Traditionally, we would sell our rights to individual broadcasters in different territories. Now, I can go anywhere in the world and say ‘you can only watch our shows on DAZN, wherever you are in the world’. It comes back to having a blank canvas to create a global schedule for boxing, and now we can do that by controlling the production as well.”

As for the biggest challenges in the business, he insists it’s all about delivering a quality production on the night.

“It’s always the live production, but also the move into other territories. We had a show recently in Guadalajara where we did the live production… that was an experience! I definitely lost a few years of my life! It’s dealing with local teams, which is challenging but also very rewarding. That’s a big job, but the real challenge is the execution and doing it in a way we want to. Not keeping things simple, bringing in more guests, more positions for presentation, more analysis, more ways to use technology to improve the experience, whether it’s heart rates, punch stats or mics in the corner of the ring. There are so many ways to improve the viewer experience, but it’s all about delivering on that live production.”

So far, he feels confident he has delivered on that promise.

“It’s early doors, so I don’t want to start gloating yet. But the start we’ve made has been tremendous and the production is on another level to anything we’ve seen before in British boxing. We didn’t want to come in and do some low-key production, we wanted to make noise. We’ve got to keep our heads down, keep delivering, keep innovating. It was time to do something different in the sport and it’s going to be a major move for us.

“The growth of shoulder programming, analysis, content, while it’ll never be more important than the main event, it will sit alongside it in terms of importance,” he elaborates. "So, all our press conferences, weigh-ins, pre-show talks are all live streamed. That content is so important not just for driving hype around the event but delivering a great experience for the fans. As a rights holder it’s your job to deliver that for your broadcaster.”

With a growing number of successful boxing events under his (ahem) belt, Hearn is determined to move forward with Matchroom Media at rapid pace. His belief in the concept is unshakable, and if his vision for the future of boxing comes to fruition, the complexion of event production in the sport may soon be unrecognisable.

“Not everyone will like it, I see that on social media,” he closes. “But show me a better production and better presentation in British boxing. It’s not even close. And we’re only just beginning.”