March 17, 2024

Strategy Shift: Netflix's Entry Into Live Sports

Netflix has long been a trailblazer in the sports genre, bypassing traditional sports broadcasting to prioritize entertainment and storytelling. Renowned for its on-demand and binge-worthy content, Netflix has typically favored these qualities over live viewing experiences. Utilizing sports-adjacent content, Netflix taps into people's widespread passion for sports to drive subscriptions. This is evident in Netflix sports documentaries, where they delve into athletes' backgrounds and behind-the-scenes moments without the costs and logistics associated with live sports. However, there appears to be a subtle shift in Netflix's strategy lately. Despite decades of steering clear of live sports broadcasting and focusing solely on sports-adjacent programming, Netflix seems to be altering its approach. What does the future hold for this new strategy?

netflix sports documentaries

Sports Docuseries Success

Netflix sports documentaries were first released in 2016 with Last Chance U, its inaugural sports docuseries centered around college football leagues. The show quickly gained momentum on the platform, garnering audience demand nearly five times higher than the average U.S. television show. Since then, Netflix has produced a plethora of popular content, including The Last Dance (Michael Jordan), Break Point (professional tennis), Full Swing (PGA golf), Cheer (collegiate cheer), Tour de France: Unchained (cycling), and more. Notably, its Formula 1 docuseries Drive to Survive, often featured on Netflix's Top 10 Most Watched List, has been credited with boosting the sport's popularity in the United States. According to a Morning Consult survey, over half of self-identified F1 fans attributed their fandom to the Netflix series. It seems that Netflix's emphasis on character development and drama provides viewers with a fresh way to engage with sports like F1, expanding the fanbase beyond those who solely appreciate the competition between players and teams to include those captivated by the compelling narratives.

Netflix Experiments With Live Sports

When asked about live sports back in 2022, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos remarked that “we’re not anti-sports, we’re just pro profit.” But the company’s shifting strategy suggests they now see live sports broadcasting as a lucrative endeavor. Just last year, Netflix held its first live sports event known as the Netflix Cup. This was a live crossover 8-round golf event featuring Formula 1 Drivers and professional golfers– both of which were linked to popular Netflix docuseries. Reviews were mixed: some fans loved the chaotic nature of golf racing, while others found it confusing. Netflix followed with a live exhibition match in Las Vegas between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, dubbing it the “Netflix Slam.” By choosing such high-profile tennis stars, Netflix went all-in on attracting more live sports fans to the platform. 

netflix sports documentaries

The Future of Netflix Live Sports

Most recently, Netflix is gearing up to host its third live sports event: a boxing match featuring heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and YouTube influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul. The bout, scheduled for July 20, will be live-streamed from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This event stands out as a significant highlight of Netflix's partnership with Most Valuable Promotions, the combat sports company co-founded by Paul and Nakisa Bidarian. While this marks only the third live-streamed sporting event for Netflix, it's evident that the platform is aiming to craft a compelling narrative around this unexpected boxing match—pitting influencer against legend.

Additionally, Netflix is poised to become the home of WWE's live pro wrestling show starting in January 2025, following a substantial $5 billion commitment over 10 years. Although this falls under the category of live streaming, Netflix owner Ted Sarandos hasn't taken a definitive stance on the platform's future plans for live streaming. Instead, he believes Netflix will continue investing in sports as long as it remains primarily focused on entertainment and aligns with the "sweet spot" of their sports business—emphasizing the drama inherent in sports.

netflix sports documentaries

Streaming live sports is a fiercely competitive arena. Netflix's move toward live streaming could be interpreted as a strategy to diversify its content offerings and establish an additional revenue stream. This becomes especially crucial amidst heightened competition in the streaming market, prompting companies like Netflix to seek innovative ways to maintain their edge. While the future of Netflix's live sports streaming strategy remains uncertain, one thing is clear: changes are underway, and this marks just the beginning.



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