Netflix still has not purchased any live sports broadcasting rights— and they don’t need to
By: Riley Day
March 27. 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Netflix Sports Docuseries
We are in the golden age of sports docuseries. HBO first popularized the genre with “Hard Knocks,” a reality sports documentary show which initially aired in 2001 and showcased the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. 2022 was the 17th season of the show and followed the upstart Detroit Lions, averaging four million viewers in recent years, according to Front Office Sports.
Now, Netflix is dominating the market for sports docuseries. They first dipped their toes into the genre in 2016 with “Last Chance U,” a wildly popular docuseries following junior college football and basketball players as they strive to earn scholarships at the D1 level. The second season of “Last Chance U: Basketball” was released in 2022 and followed East Los Angeles College (ELAC), a powerhouse JUCO program attempting to return to its pre-pandemic glory.
Audiences appreciated the portrayal of talented basketball players like Shemar Morrow, Demetrius Calip, and Bryan Penn-Johnson, who, despite their D1 potential, have been hindered by attitude problems and academic performance, putting their professional basketball dreams on hold. ELAC is only a two year program, so time is extremely limited for these raw talents to prove themselves, giving the docuseries intense and competitive basketball content.
“Drive to Survive,” first released in 2019, is a paragon for how Netflix utilizes the sports docuseries genre. The show follows the Formula 1 World Championship across multiple seasons and provides behind-the-scenes looks at the drivers and their teams. It also does an excellent job of highlighting the political drama that surrounds the sport both on and off the track.
According to Nielsen Media Research Company, 34% of people viewing the series became fans of F1, 30% claimed improved understanding and knowledge, and 29% reported they felt more engaged with the sport overall. “Drive to Survive” garnered over four million viewers during the opening weekend of season four.
“Full Swing,” released in February of 2023, is another successful example of Netlflix’s body of work, documenting a full season of the PGA tour. Labeled as “the best show you’re not watching” by Tom’s Guide— and sporting a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, “Full Swing” is off to a hot start.
What’s Next For Netflix: Live Sports Rights?
Last week, Major League Soccer (MLS) deputy commissioner Gary Stevenson announced a partnership with British production company Box to Box Films, the producer of “Drive to Survive.” According to league commissioner Don Garber, Box to Box will be responsible for developing all long-form content for the league, including the possibility of an MLS sports docuseries similar to the NFL’s “Hard Knocks.”
Additionally, Netflix announced a collaboration with the Six Nations Rugby Tournament in Jan. of 2023. This new series is likely an attempt to prepare American audiences for the US hosting the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Considering the fact that Netflix is doing so well with docuseries content, the company scored $1.4 billion in net income in the third quarter of 2022, there is no reason to rush into purchasing live sport rights. Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos told Front Office Sports: “We’ve not seen a profit path to renting big sports. We’re not anti-sports. We’re just pro-profit.”