DAZN Reveals Ronaldo Development Deal, Executive Hugh Sleight Discusses Upcoming Originals (EXCLUSIVE)
Global streaming sports platform DAZN and Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo have closed a multi-project development deal kicking off with “El Presidente,” a docu-series chronicling the former striker’s tenure as part owner of Spanish club Valladolid FC, which will launch globally on May 20.
Best known for its live sports streams and the headaches it initially caused pay TV broadcasters when it crashed in on the scene in 2015, DAZN is now establishing itself as a platform for high-end sports-based entertainment programming and a service worth keeping during the off-season.
“What this shows you is a commitment to going beyond live sports and making DAZN a designer destination that keeps fans coming back,” senior VP of creative studios and publishing Hugh Sleight explained to Variety in an exclusive interview accompanying Wednesday’s announcement.
Produced by Zoom Sport and DAZN, “El Presidente” is the first of three series the streamer will commission featuring Ronaldo. In late 2018, the former player affectionately known as O Fenômeno purchased part ownership in Valladolid FC, a mid-table-at-best club traditionally more likely to fight against relegation than win any trophies. Initially seen as something of a publicity stunt, Ronaldo proved himself equal to the task of running the club and endeared himself to fans, staff and players alike. All the good will in the world means little in top division soccer however, and the club faced potential relegation, a match fixing scandal and financial uncertainty while the cameras rolled.
“El Presidente” features interviews and commentary from those who knew the player and know the owner best, including former players and managers Roberto Carlos, Dida, Pep Guardiola, Boudewijn Zenden, Javier Zanetti and journalist Sid Lowe. Season two will look back at Ronaldo’s singular career, including unprecedented swaps between rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid and both Milan clubs as well as a legendary World Cup run in 1998. Season three’s narrative has yet to be determined, but it stands to reason that the success or failure in this year’s La Liga relegation battle could have a major impact.
“Ronaldo remains one of the greatest football players of all time, an inspiration to a generation of sporting heroes. His remarkable story will connect with DAZN’s global audience of football fans around the world,” said DAZN COO Ed McCarthy.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to tell my story” added Ronaldo. “Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to partner with many global sports brands and I feel DAZN is the right partner to help me bring my story to fans around the world.”
“We looked around at the current bona fide all-time greats who are at their peak, and there aren’t that many in the world of sport,” Sleight explained, speaking about the first in DAZN’s one-two punch of upcoming boxing docs. “Several are approaching the ends of their careers, but with Canelo Alvarez he’s there, and we wanted to tell the fascinating story of his rise to the top.”
Ahead of Canelo’s much-anticipated May 8 fight with Billy Joe Saunders, DAZN today launched “Canelo: The Greatest Athlete You’ve Never Seen” on its platform globally, and will broadcast the special on the BBC in the U.K. and Telemundo in the U.S.
DAZN has partnerships with broadcasters around the world for much of its live sports content, including dedicated channels in some territories. Sleight predicts the trend will continue with the company’s original programming as well, explaining that, “A coexistence between broadcasters and streamers is developing now, and I think it’s starting to become a bit clearer how we can collaborate to everyone’s benefit, so I would expect to see more of that in the future.”
“Canelo” is narrated by Idris Elba and promises unprecedented access to the backstory of one of boxing’s best-kept secrets, known to anyone who follows the sport but largely anonymous with the average sports fan.
Finishing the knock-out combo, DAZN delivered first details behind a new feature documentary about the rivalry between Oscar de la Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez. “La Guerra” will look back at the two fights between the pair, and the broader social impact caused by the Mexican American Golden Boy de la Hoya taking down a Mexican legend a decade his senior in Cesar Chavez. The film is directed and produced by Eva Longoria at her Emmy-nominated label UnbeliEVAble Entertainment and co-produced by Bernardo Ruiz (“Kingdom of Shadows”), with Emmy nominee Deirdre Fenton (“30 for 30,” “O.J.: Made in America”) executive producing for DAZN.
“Eva isn’t just putting her name on this as a producer, she’s involved in everything and she’s in there going through the rushes with the crew,” explained Sleight. “She also has a longstanding friendship with Oscar and has been instrumental in pulling this all together.”
Production on “La Guerra” was delayed slightly by COVID-19, but the series will be ready to stream this fall.
Returning to the world of professional soccer on a much more modest scale, “Como 1907: The American” tracks the efforts of American businessman Michael Gandler as CEO of a 112-year-old Italian soccer club stuck floundering in the country’s lower leagues with dreams of returning to long-lost glory. DAZN co-produces with SENT Entertainment and will launch the three-part special in June.
DAZN has also confirmed that its popular docu-series following Spanish soccer team Club Ibiza will be back as “The Xtra Sessions,” tracking the party island-based club in its quest for promotion to the Spanish first division.
Local taste is a major factor in how DAZN decides on its programming, and a key example can be found in “Yuki: The Making of an F1 Driver,” the final title from DAZN’s current slate of originals. The series will track Japanese driving wonderkid Yuki Tsunoda throughout his rookie 2021 season as he looks to turn potential into product on the race circuit.
“We’re clearly a global platform, but with market specific plans,” said Sleight, optimistic that Yuki’s story will have a broad appeal but clear that it must work for local fans first.
“I don’t know whether it’s science, art or a combination of the two, but there is often a feeling of when and where a story can work,” he went on, explaining the method behind DAZN’s commissioning strategy. “We have conversations with our local teams and talk to partners in those markets to see what they’re interested in and we ask them how best to make it relevant to that audience.”
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