The Last Dance, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, F1: Drive to survive… In a year marked by the end of sports competitions, series and documentaries have established themselves as essential sports content, under the impetus of online platforms.
They make us dream, inspire us, make us vibrate. Professional athletes, who usually give us regular appointments, have disappeared from stadiums and screens for several weeks, because of the cessation of international competitions.
A boon for online platforms, which have been developing sports series and documentaries for several years, perfect to make up for the lack of sports on television.
ESPN and Netflix, producers of the sports documentary series The Last Dance retracing the career of Michael Jordan at the Chicago Bulls, and scheduled for the period of the NBA playoffs, felt the blow, and moved his exit to April 19. In lack of competition, sports fans, a large part of whom are in confinement, are delighted. They will be able to relive the exploits of the greatest basketball player in history.
The following ? A hit in the United States on ESPN, with an average of 6 million viewers per episode, and a worldwide hit on Netflix, with nearly 24 million views in the first four weeks of airing, making it the most watched series of the history of sport.
Inspired by series
But Netflix was not at its first attempt. The platform is a benchmark in sport narration by placing itself, from its international launch, on the production of narrative content around the world of sport: series Last Chance U, released in 2016 on the daily newspaper of several university American football teams, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, which offers an impressive look behind the scenes of Formula 1 racing, or Sunderland ‘Til I Die, immersion in the descent into hell of a football club in working-class England.
Season 2 of the series Sunderland ‘Til I Die, released on April 1, 2020, in full confinement, was acclaimed by football fans and a wider audience, thanks to its powerful storytelling, inspired by drama series.
If the series has worked so well, “it’s because it’s a human story,” according to Ben Turner, co-director. “We look at these players through their careers, we live their triumphs, their failures, their humanity. It’s a way of talking about something much bigger than football ”.
“When we started the project, Trump was in the process of being elected in the United States. With Netflix, we compared the situation with that of Sunderland, with unemployment, the discouragement of the population, this social aspect. We are happy that people have become attached to their stories, ”he recalls.
This success of sports narrative content is part of a context of growing disinterest in live sport, gradually replaced by “non-live content” (content that is not live) and “near-live”. content ”(content broadcast almost immediately, such as matches from matches or outstanding actions published on social networks).
“Before the Covid, we already had a drop of between 15 and 20% on average in live sports audiences,” notes Arnaud Simon, former director of the Eurosport channel and CEO of In & Out Stories.
For Pierre Rondeau, sports economist, “the sports documentary has just positioned itself in a form not of substitution but of complementarity, with sports programs offered to platform subscribers”.
In competition with Netflix, Amazon Prime has bet heavily on the development of sports docu-series. Following Manchester City in 2018, Amazon has recently followed the historic club’s comeback to the Premier League, and José Mourinho’s turbulent first season at Tottenham.
According to Pierre Rondeau, this content is part of “a marketing strategy which makes it possible to anchor itself in the media-sports landscape while limiting costs”, by trying to attract sports fans to the platform, which has meanwhile acquired part of the Premier League’s broadcasting rights.
The sports series then take on the function of “leading product” to increase the number of subscribers. A profitable strategy for Amazon Prime, which achieves audiences comparable to the major sports channels in the United Kingdom on some Premier League posters.