Netflix tees off its live sports offerings

Like us signing up for beer league hockey, Netflix is dipping its toes into sports just to see how things play out.  

What happened: If you flipped on Netflix last night you probably noticed a live broadcast of something called The Netflix Cup, the streamer’s first-ever live sporting event. 

  • The golf tourney saw fore, sorry, four golfers paired with four drivers, all of whom feature in a hit Netflix docuseries — Full Swing and F1: Drive to Survive, respectively.

  • Netflix faced technical snafus with a previous live event for the show Love is Blind in April, but this event went much smoother — except for winner Carlos Sainz dropping and breaking the Cup itself at the end

Why it matters: Even as ratings for traditional TV dwindle, nothing rakes in viewers and ad dollars quite like live sports. The streaming industry increasingly views it as a necessary product to keep growth afloat. 

  • Prime’s NFL Thursday Night Football broadcasts averaged ~9.6 million viewers last year, are doing even better this year, and are a total cash cow for ad revenue. 

  • NBC’s Peacock posted a 64% revenue increase and added 4 million subscribers last quarter, largely thanks to the addition of NFL, MLB, and Premier League matches.

  • Meanwhile, Warner Bros. streaming service Max just added sports offerings after suffering two straight quarters where it lost a total of 2.5 million subscribers.

Zoom out: At its most recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger talked at length about the importance of ESPN and turning it into a "preeminent digital sports platform." Which is CEO-speak for, “a streaming service that will attract viewers hanging on to cable so they can watch the game.”

Yes, but: Sports viewing is already super-fragmented. As many fans know, it sometimes takes extraordinary lengths to get access to every game your favourite team plays. If more content migrates to disparate streamers, it could be harder, and costlier, to keep up.—QH