Sports Docs are Shooting Bricks on Streaming
Hollywood fell for the 'Drive to Survive' myth as the genre crashes and burns
The private equity bubble may be popping. But as my Ankler colleague Claire Atkinson recently pointed out, PE companies still have a lot of cash on hand, and at least one type of production company is doing very well right now during the dual strike: those in the world of sports content.
Peyton Manning’s production company, Omaha Productions, is worth $400 million, based on its latest fundraising round. LeBron James’ SpringHill is worth $725 million based on the same. They must have a lot of hit shows, right? Right??
In a world of rising interest rates, let me caution investors: sports content isn’t very popular on streaming, especially and particularly sports docu-series and scripted TV shows and films about basketball. Last week, on my own Substack, I published my bi-annual “Flops, Bombs and Misses of the Year So Far”, focusing on the first six months of 2023. Multiple trends stood out, but here’s two:
Sports docu-dramas don’t get great ratings. The big tech companies (Netflix, Apple and Amazon) are all fighting to find the next Formula 1: Drive to Survive, including docu-series on golf, tennis, surfing, bull-riding, and so on. But only two of them have made the ratings charts.
Basketball TV shows and films aren’t working on streaming. And almost every streaming service has tried one — and sometimes about huge stars like Shooting Stars on Peacock (about LeBron), Swagger on Apple TV+ (about Kevin Durant) and Rise on Disney+ (about Giannis Antetokounmpo).
Let me be clear: I’m saying this as a sports fan. I could spend all day debating basketball with you. My editor/researcher is just as insane. He brags that he can name at least five players on every NBA team. Between us, we listen to five different NBA podcasts. (And I know that countless people in Hollywood have the same love.) Heck, a few years ago, I wrote a three-part series comparing every NBA team to an entertainment company.
But I can divorce my own personal opinion from the data. And right now, the big valuations of sports-led production companies look like they may be a bubble. Same for the big investments in films and TV shows about basketball.
My big takeaway: streamers should invest in actual, live sporting events, not unscripted sports-adjacent programming. (Of course, only if the price is right, but that’s another column for another day.)
So the plan today is to show you why. In this issue, I’m going to...
Reveal the latest (very low) ratings for the last season of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Show the lackluster ratings of sports dramas/docu-series.
Explain why copying what other people do isn’t a smart strategy.
Look at how basketball films and TV shows (scripted and docs) are underperforming.
Show that when it comes to sports, there’s no substitute for actual live sports.