So, I’m currently watching the Australian Open and I can’t help but notice that every time there’s an ad break the first commercial to pop up on my screen is for the new Netflix show ‘Break Point’. Following in the footsteps of Formula’s ‘Drive to Survive’ this show takes viewers behind the scenes of the tennis world, introducing them to the new generation of tennis stars and attempting to expand the sport to a wider audience. On the face of it this seems like a great way to engage a younger audience that would have otherwise paid no attention to the sport, however there appears to be an underlying argument about how beneficial these shows actually are and whether the new fans that they attract are ‘real’ fans. Are these arguments over ‘Netflix sports’ baseless, or is there a real point at hand that is being overlooked?
Formula 1 have historically struggled to grow their US audience as the sport is majoritively centered around Europe, however Liberty Media’s decision to introduce Drive to Survive in 2019 completely changed this. Since the debut of the docuseries, Formula 1 have drastically expanded their reach in the US as the 2022 season saw record attendance at the US GP with 440,000 fans flocking to COTA over the course of the weekend, as well as introducing the Miami GP, which made its debut in 2022, and the Las Vegas GP which is set to make its introduction onto the calendar in 2023. There is no denying that Netflix were instrumental in this growth as pre ‘Drive to Survive’ the average F1 viewership was 547,000 but since this docuseries rose to popularity the sport has followed suit and the average F1 viewership in 2021 saw a 54% increase to average 934,000 viewers. The sport of tennis is attempting to replicate this success and draw in a new audience as the household names that have been at the forefront of the sport for the past 2 decades are slowly beginning to make their departure from the sport, leaving no one behind to carry the sport to a global audience. In need of a revival to the international stage, the creators of ‘Drive to Survive’ are now branching out to the world of tennis to try and replicate the same success that they had with Formula 1, but could this success lead to some of the same problems that F1 have experienced from such a sharp rise in the popularity of the sport?
In the process of F1 growing so rapidly there were bound to be some obstacles and setbacks along the way and unfortunately one of the repercussions of expanding the sport’s audience has been a rise in hooliganism culture that is regularly seen in football. There have been multiple instances over the past couple of years that have seen fans exposed to racism and sexism at races, although his cannot be attributed to ‘Drive to Survive’ itself, it must be considered that the new audience that the show has brought in may have contributed, in some part, to the recent rise in fan harassment that has been seen on multiple occasion since F1’s rise. The intense title battle of 2021 also contributed heavily to this as the rivalry was taken way too far by some ‘fans’, but it does beg the question if ‘Break Point’ is able to match the success of ‘Drive to Survive’ should tennis expect a similar rise in negative fan behaviour? Tennis already experience their fair share of antagonistic fans at matches, as four fans were thrown out for their drunk behaviour as recently as Thursday during Djokovic v Couacaud, so there is the risk that this behaviour could increase as the sport becomes more widespread. However, it’s almost inevitable that as any sport gains more traction the minority of people who display this kind of behaviour will also grow as it’s an unavoidable consequence that comes as part of the territory when anything experiences a surge in popularity. Providing the sports are able to get a handle on this and stamp it out as soon as possible, I don’t believe that this argument can solely be levelled at the introduction of the Netflix shows as whilst, this may have amplified the behaviour, this was a problem long before Netflix were involved.
Entertainment vs authenticity has also been a point of contention when it comes to these shows as whilst it proves to be very entertaining for the viewers, and some of those involved, it has also driven away key individuals within the sports. The biggest of example of this was Max Verstappen, the two time world champion chose not to take part in season 4 of ‘Drive to Survive’ due to the way they manipulated a “few rivalries” to fit the narratives that they wanted. The contrived drama that is created for these series are sure to annoy those who are on the receiving end but some of the more unknown characters within the sports are more than happy to throw themselves into it and reap the benefits that the extra attention brings. As seen with Haas team principal, Guenther Steiner, he quickly became a fan favourite and is now capitalising off of this with the release of his upcoming book titled ‘Surviving to Drive’. It’s a tricky balancing act that these shows must manage as the theatrics pull in more viewers and keep them engaged but on the flip side it can be taken too far, if those within the show begin to walk away it could end up doing more harm than good in the long run.
The final point of discussion that these shows have given rise to is who is considered a ‘real’ fan. With many new fans having recently picked up interest in these sports through Netflix, it’s led some long term fans to discount them as real fans of the sport. This is, in my opinion, the most irrelevant argument that has come out of these Netflix docuseries as gatekeeping a sport will only keep it stagnated and prevent its growth. Having been introduced to a sport earlier than someone else doesn’t hold any weight in determining who is a real fan or not. Whilst some fans may wish to disregard ‘DTS’ and ‘Break Point’ due to the feeling that these sports are being misrepresented, it doesn’t discredit those who found their entry point into the sport through Netflix.
Weighing up the pros and cons of these new ‘Netflix sports’, it’s hard to argue that they are bad for the sports that they involve, they serve to provide a general awareness of the sport and attract those who may not have given these sports a chance before. If you follow the sport closely and are invested in every detail then these shows will not be for you as they present a more lighthearted look into tennis and F1. Their main purpose is to hook new viewers, after that it is up to the individual whether they want to invest in a new sport. Given this, I don’t think that the arguments levelled against these shows are substantial enough to warrant their dismissal, no one is running to these shows for an in depth analysis on the latest grand slam or grand prix but they play their role perfectly by appealing to the casual viewer and keeping their attention.