In a fluid digital media marketplace, few things are certain for long. For now, nonetheless, Netflix does not seem to harbour strong ambitions to carry live sport.
Despite that, the global streaming giant has grabbed a stake in the industry through its Formula One documentary series Drive To Survive. Now approaching its fourth season, the show has been a global smash hit, credited with revitalising the image of the world’s premier motorsport championship.
With its unique behind-the-scenes perspective, Drive to Survive has presented newcomers and existing fans with a different way of approaching Formula One. It has introduced a range of personalities in the cockpit and the paddock: from drivers and team principals to engineers, executives and officials.
Netflix rarely releases audience figures but Drive to Survive has been cited as delivering a pronounced uptick in viewership of live Formula One races – especially in the US. Moreover, it has grown the conversation around the sport, increasing F1’s media footprint to the benefit of commercial partners.
Taken with other digital media initiatives, Drive to Survive has succeeded in foregrounding drivers and attracting younger people. A global Motorsport Network conducted by Nielsen Sports in October 2021 found the average age of a Formula One fan had dropped by four years to 32 since 2017, while the proportion of female fans had doubled.
Now, other sports want to harness the Netflix effect. In January, golf’s PGA Tour and tennis’ ATP Tour and WTA Tour have signed deals with Box To Box Films, producers of Drive to Survive.
Filming is underway on both series, which will have extensive access not just to the lives and careers of leading players but also the protected environs of golf’s four majors and the four tennis Grand Slams. The PGA Tour chief media officer Rick Anderson has stated an goal of reaching “a new and diverse audience”, while the tennis project will give male and female athletes an equal platform.
Whether or not these docuseries emulate the impact of Drive to Survive – and give Netflix a programming strand to eclipse Amazon’s team-based All or Nothing – the space looks likely to get busier.
Global broadcaster DAZN, whose finances suffered when live sport was suspended early in the pandemic, this month unveiled a content development arm called DAZN Studios. That will produce, license and sell original programming worldwide, beginning with documentaries on soccer icons Ronaldo and Diego Maradona. The cultural influence of Netflix and ESPN’s The Last Dance and a succession of cinematic releases have shown an appetite for stories about people in sport. More importantly, there are huge dormant video libraries to be explored.
The supply is readily available. In a crowded, competitive environment, sports organisations will hope that creates new routes to eager audiences.
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