Netflix Continues To Infiltrate Professional Sports
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I think most of us probably know the Formula One story by now.
It’s one of the largest sports in the world. More than 90 million people watch each of the 20+ races annually—the Super Bowl had 96 million viewers last year—and the sport generates more than $2 billion in revenue during a typical, non-pandemic year.
But the craziest part is that they accomplished all of that with little to no fan support from the United States. For example, roughly 500,000 people watched each race here in the United States, representing just .5% of the sports total global viewership.
So when Liberty Media acquired Formula One for $4.4 billion in 2017, their main focus became a plan to expand the sport within the world’s largest economy.
They launched an over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform called F1TV, which costs less than $4 per Grand Prix and gives you access to every practice, qualifying, and race session. They set up an esports series that saw 80% of its audience come in at less than 35-years-old, and they implemented new regulations to even the playing field.
But nothing helped more than their content partnership with Netflix.
The concept was simple: provide fans with never-before-seen access into the inner workings of the world championship series, revealing dramatic rivalries and friendships that traditional broadcasts fail to capture.
And the result was magic. The 10-episode series is already on its fourth season, and ESPN has seen an astonishing 70% increase in total US viewership.
Avg. ESPN Viewership Per Race
2021: 934,000 (+70%)
Even better, the 2021 F1 season was the most-watched season in US TV history.
So after watching Formula One deploy one of the best content partnership strategies in all of sports history, it was only inevitable that more pro sports leagues would get involved — as Pablo Picasso famously said: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
The PGA Tour appears to be up first, officially announcing their plan yesterday.
The 100-year-old professional golf organization is working with the same group that produced F1’s Drive To Survive—Netflix, Vox Media Studios, and Box to Box Films—and already started filming back at the Hero World Championship in December.
How the series came about…
“In 2019, discussions began in earnest about the possibility of a Tour-centric docuseries. Rickie Fowler was the first pro to raise his hand, vouching for the merits of the idea and volunteering as participant; a small group quickly followed including Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ.”
Who will be involved…
“Five of the top seven pros in the world — Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele — are all on board.
Five additional top-20 pros are in, too. Jordan Spieth may be the headliner, though a resurgent Rickie Fowler would prove a popular character, and one source with knowledge of Brooks Koepka’s interview in the Bahamas came away gleeful at just how much the star had revealed.
In all, Netflix confirmed the participation of 22 pros (listed in alphabetical order below) plus the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, Keita Nakajima.
The rest of the cast, in alphabetical order: Abraham Ancer, Daniel Berger, Cameron Champ, Joel Dahmen, Tony Finau, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Harry Higgs, Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na, Mito Pereira, Ian Poulter, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Bubba Watson.
It’s telling that the list of big names missing — Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods — is shorter than the roster of participants. But pros can dictate the amount of access that cameras have to their personal lives, and those not currently committed could still end up appearing in the show.”
The PGA Tour’s involvement…
“The PGA Tour has historically worked hard to curate and protect squeaky-clean images of its players, so when the project was first reported this fall, viewers expressed some skepticism about just how “real” Tour pros would be. But the Tour and showrunners both insist they’ve taken a step back.
“We do not have editorial control,” a Tour spokesperson said. “We will be involved to the extent that Netflix and the producers have the access they need to film at our events. We want them to make a great show, and we all agree the documentary needs to be as authentic as possible.”
As a result, access will be comprehensive. While camera crews will likely focus on smaller numbers of players each week — a 22-person cast is tough to follow — the production team will have complete rights to film at events and to use broadcast footage from competition, too. Players can be mic’d up during competition if they so choose, although the Tour added that that may not be necessary. “We also believe that our production infrastructure has ample capabilities to capture player/caddie audio for the show without mic’ing players,” a spokesperson said.”
What about the majors…
“Late in negotiations, the show had one major hurdle left to clear — literally. Could producers get buy-in from the four major championships, too? None of the four are run by the PGA Tour, which meant those discussions were brokered separately but successfully. That includes this year’s Masters, which means secretive Augusta National agreed to lift its ropes.
“For the first time ever, the PGA Tour and the governing bodies that conduct men’s major championships — Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America, the USGA, and The R&A — will provide entry into the sport’s biggest events,” the show announced in a release.
This year’s PGA Championship will be held at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., the U.S. Open will be contended at The Country Club just outside of Boston and the Open Championship returns to St. Andrews. The show will follow them there.”
My initial thought is that the PGA Tour is a really good match for this type of content.
Despite a flurry of young and talented players attempting to ease the transition from the days of Tiger Woods & Phil Mickelson, the PGA Tour has consistently had one of the oldest fan bases in professional sports.
Average Age of TV Viewers
PGA Tour: 64
Much of this has to do with today's younger generation of sports fans. The data tells us that they are increasingly caring less and less about the actual competition or the individual teams playing and more about the unique personalities within the game.
This is what Drive to Survive did so well with F1 — they took a sport where the athletes wear helmets and rarely have a chance to showcase their personalities and turned it into a dramatic showcase that provides a unique behind-the-scenes look.
The athletes benefit by getting more exposure. The sport benefits by getting more fans, and the fans benefit by getting more unique and compelling content. It’s truly a win-win for everyone.
Now I think it’s probably important to see how the first season turns out before we start declaring the PGA Tour as America’s fastest-growing professional sports league. But if they can capture some of the same magic that Formula One did, all of a sudden, that doesn’t become such a wild prediction.
I hope everyone has a great day, and we’ll talk tomorrow.
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