One of the bigger ratings storylines this year is the ongoing boost to Formula 1 in the American market.
A major factor for those massive ratings increases and record audiences for the sport in the United States a big boost to ESPN is almost certainly the popularity of the excellent Netflix docuseries F1: Drive to Survive, which recently confirmed a fourth season is coming next year.
The PGA Tour is likely taking a cue from that particular success (while looking to attract a younger audience) their own Netflix partnership, a deal reported by Dylan Dethier at Golf.com today that will reportedly see top players offer all-access filming throughout the 2021-22 PGA Tour calendar. (That season technically starts after this weekend’s Tour Championship.)
Awesome news for golf fans: Netflix and the PGA Tour are producing a docuseries on the upcoming season.
-Modeled after F1 “Drive to Survive” success
-Focused on a dozen players
-Several top pros on board, others in negotiations
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) September 2, 2021
Dethier’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a key excerpt:
The PGA Tour series would essentially follow the same model [as Drive to Survive], filming with its cast members at tournaments, at home and during all the in-between times, showcasing a full behind-the-scenes experience.
If golf can capture any of the magic of its racing predecessor, it’s a win-win for both the Tour and Netflix. “Drive to Survive” has contributed to a significant uptick in F1 interest and viewership across the United States since its launch.
The CEO of McLaren Racing told reporters that the Netflix show was “the single most important impact for Formula 1 in North America.” And the average F1 TV audience in the United States has risen from 547,000 in 2018 to 928,000 in 2021, according to the New York Times.
According to Dethier, a few of the biggest names in the sport are already on board, although none have been revealed yet. This project obviously sounds solid in theory; golf could certainly use the kind of juice that could be provided by this kind of project, and according to Dethier Box to Box Media (producers of Drive to Survive) are involved here too.
The key will be just how “real” the series can get. That’s not to say Drive to Survive is a pure documentary; it isn’t, at all. But it conveys the feel of a season in Formula 1, and it’s not a PR puff piece either. Being willing to not pretend that, say, some players hate other players and that not everyone is a perfect gentleman all the time would alone be a huge difference from how the PGA Tour typically handles their brand.
The problem, of course, is that the PGA Tour is not the eye-popping travelogue that the Formula 1 calendar offers. Sure, there are international events, but as the four majors aren’t PGA Tour-run events .we lose some of the biggest stops. TPC Sawgrass isn’t Monaco, you know? Another big factor: American viewers hooked on the Netflix series were able to tune into ESPN for commercial-free broadcasts that use the Sky Sports coverage, and it’s excellent. PGA Tour golf broadcasts, meanwhile, are often a slog, and certainly pale in comparison to what ESPN is able to offer F1 fans here.
But done right, there’s still a lot of potential here, both for entertainment value to viewers and growth and cultural relevance for the PGA Tour. That’ll depend on a lot of factors we don’t know yet, but the opportunity is there.