Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos said the company is more committed to “sports-adjacent” programming than acquiring live rights.
The company has expanded its portfolio of documentaries and series about high-profile athletes and sports. Successful examples include Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance (which Netflix co-produced with ESPN), Deaf U. and Formula 1: Drive to Survive. With rivals like Amazon, Disney and NBCUniversal making major moves in bringing sports from linear to digital, Sarandos has frequently been asked about the prospects of Netflix doing something similar.
Asked during the company’s second-quarter earnings interview about such a scenario, he said sports-adjacent properties show what Netflix “can do to build enthusiasm.” In the case of Drive to Survive, according to Sarandos, it boosted live ticket sales, TV ratings and merchandising sales.
But the expense — and what the exec described as a strategic clash with the company’s programming offering– are likely to remain major obstacles. “Our fundamental product is on-demand and ad-free, and sports tends to be live and packed with advertising,” Sarandos said. He invoked a response he has given to the sports question over the years, musing, “What is the best use of about $10 billion? I think that’s what it’s going to cost to invest meaningfully in big-league sports. That pricing has only gone up since I started saying that.”
What about niche sports where the rights are cheaper? “I don’t know that those sports suffer from being under-distributed,” Sarandos shrugged. “So, I don’t know that we’d bring that much to them.”
As to Amazon’s recent inroads in sports — including an exclusive NFL deal, as well as a stake in the New York Yankees’ cable network and other sports around the world, the exec didn’t express any concern. “I’m not sure exactly that they’re looking for the same thing from their content spend that we are,” Sarandos said.