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    Formula One Series Sparks Frenzy From Leagues – The Music news

    If you’re a sports league or a superstar athlete, it used to be that you wanted all eyes to be on the field, court or track. Now, the real action occurs as much after the game’s over, with cameras still rolling. The runaway success of Netflix’s Formula 1 docuseries Drive to Survive and golf docuseries Full Swing has sparked a mini frenzy from leagues, teams and athletes, all of which are hoping that a hit docuseries of their own can drive new interest in their in-game performances, or at least provide an ancillary stream of revenue to an already lucrative sports business.

    Netflix, for its part, is happy to crow about its success in the genre. “After Drive to Survive took off, fans started packing the stands at the races,” the streamer’s vp ad sales Peter Naylor told a crowd at Advertising Week New York on Oct. 17. And while there has been some grumbling on the part of F1’s TV partner about just how beneficial the show has been for the racing circuit (“When you talk to the ESPN guys, that really pisses them off,” quips one high-level sports source, as the network notes its own contribution to the sport’s growth), it clearly has had an impact.

    “No question. I mean, it’s sort of unassailable and the impact is pretty immediate, within the first couple of weeks,” says Chad Mumm, executive producer of Full Swing and chief creative officer of Vox Media Studios, noting that PGA ratings rose and the social followings of featured golfers spiked after his show debuted.

    The PGA Tour says that according to its research, 63 percent of Full Swing viewers tuned in to PGA Tour coverage in the two months following the debut. The result has been something of a land grab, with established leagues and circuits seeking their own piece of the pie, and upstarts hoping to leverage their scale to give their brands exposure.

    Consider Overtime Elite, a development basketball league for 16- to 20-year-olds that is trying to funnel players to the NBA. Overtime signed a three-year deal with Amazon Prime Video last year that includes both a docuseries (One Shot) and its live games. “When we went out to talk about rights, we really believed that the league should live somewhere so that it’s not just the games but also the docuseries,” says Dan Porter, Overtime’s CEO. “Of course, lots of people watch Formula 1 because they watch the Netflix series, but for us, we’re not Formula 1, right? We’re an up-and-coming league based on storytelling. And we wanted to be in the same place because from a product standpoint, somebody might watch the docuseries in three months and say, ‘Oh my God, there’s a live game with some of these players playing right now.’ ”

    But it isn’t just sports seeking new or younger fans (in the case of F1 or Overtime); major leagues are also exploring the space. Earlier this year, Netflix debuted an NFL docuseries, Quarterback, which tracks three QBs during a season, both on and off the field. The league credits the show with bringing in demos that might not be watching the live games, particularly women and families. “We realized that you can’t necessarily get fans to watch where you want them to watch,” notes NFL Films senior executive Ross Ketover. “You’ve got to deliver content for them where they are.”

    And L.A. Lakers star LeBron James is working with Quarterback producer Peyton Manning and Barack and Michelle Obama to develop a similar docuseries for the NBA, sources familiar with the project say.

    But in order for a docuseries to be successful it also has to be engaging. And that means authenticity is required, and the participants need to be willing to show the other side of the athletes.

    “[The PGA Tour] didn’t really need convincing that this was a good idea, their concerns were editorial control, they wanted to protect that brand,” Mumm says. “And my stipulation to them was the only way that this would ever work is if you guys aren’t in control. And, you know, we let it be warts and all.”

    Mumm notes that Full Swing cameras were rolling as the rise of LIV Golf roiled the “Gentleman’s Game,” and captured the reaction after the PGA Tour announced its stunning merger deal with LIV over the summer.

    “It just so happened the universe handed us a very juicy story,” he says.

    New breeds of sports docs are helping to introduce viewers to athletes and sports that they may not be as familiar with. Drive to Survive features the heated rivalries among drivers, and doesn’t shy away from the dangerous crashes that make auto racing a lightning rod for controversy. Amazon, Peacock and Paramount+, among others, have also explored the genre over the past year or so (Amazon said its doc Kelce, about Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce — the other Kelce — was its most watched doc ever in the U.S.).

    But outside of ESPN, there is no platform with more commitment to the sports doc space than Netflix. The week of Oct. 16, on the floor of what was once the flagship location for the Gimbels department store on 33rd Street in Manhattan, Netflix constructed a locker room. On one wall, jerseys for Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins sat in a corner, next to tennis rackets, balls and gear. On another wall, F1 hats and trophies were plastered, next to golf equipment. The setup was part of “Netflix Plaza,” an elaborate hospitality zone built by the company for Advertising Week. And while hits like Squid Game and Stranger Things were represented, the large locker room setting (with “Netflix Sports” branding), underscored the streamer’s interest in the space, highlighting Drive to Survive, Quarterback, Break Point, Beckham and Full Swing, among its other sports properties. It also served as a launchpad for the streaming service’s first live sports event, The Netflix Cup, which will pit teams of F1 drivers and PGA Tour golfers against each other in a golf match.

    The streamer has already ordered a handful of other docuseries to join them, including a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-produced NASCAR docuseries and another series following track and field athletes. Both are set for 2024 debuts. “We are having a big impact on sports through the thing that we’re most great at, which is the drama of sport,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said on the company’s most recent earnings call Oct. 18, noting that even a global star like David Beckham saw his social following spike after his docuseries debuted Oct. 4. 

    And for Netflix and other streaming services, the docs provide a robust pipeline of fresh content that checks all the right boxes and is ad-friendly to boot. Says Mumm, “[Sports] can be tribal, it can be heartbreaking, it can be sexy — people flying around in private jets and living in fancy houses,” Mumm says. “There’s a lot to love about it, there’s sex appeal, there’s millions and millions of dollars at stake, there’s real emotion and then there’s, you know, relatable humanity.”

    That’s good TV.  

    A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Music news magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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