Netflix to enter live-streamed sports with golf: more on the horizon?

Streaming giant Netflix is planning its first sports-based live stream in the fall. However, it’s only a relatively modest celebrity golf tournament, as broadcasting more prestigious events is still too expensive.

It’s still early, but The Wall Street Journal reports that the golf tournament will feature professional golfers and Formula 1 drivers. The event could take place in Las Vegas later this year.

In a way, this isn’t surprising. Netflix’s docuseries Drive to Survive, focusing on all things Formula 1, is extremely successful, and the platform is also hosting Full Swing, a show about professional golf. A sort of merger where athletes from both sports participate seems like a pretty good concept.

And even though interest in such an event among sports fans is bound to be limited, a successful and popular stream could convince Netflix decision-makers to try broadcasting more popular tournaments.

Big and pricy prizes

Obviously, soccer and American football are the big prizes. In the United Kingdom, Amazon Prime Video already streams two English Premier League match days live each season – that’s 20 games in the top flight.

In the United States, Amazon is also showing National Football League’s Thursday night games through 2033, paying around $1 billion per year for the package. Finally, Apple TV+ has acquired the rights to Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball matches.

Amazon and Apple are huge and diverse companies, though. Netflix, on the other hand, is streaming-specific and very profit-oriented, especially in recent years when it needs to battle for subscribers with a bunch of other platforms.

The cost-conscious streaming giant has been busy battling – and quite successfully – so-called freeloaders who use someone else’s password to watch Netflix, too.

Major sports broadcasting rights are simply too expensive. For example, the English Premier League’s current TV rights deals with Sky Sports, BT Sport (soon to be rebranded to TNT Sports), and Amazon Prime Video are worth a collective $6 billion and run from 2022/23 to the 2024/25 season.

Speaking in December 2022 at the UBS Global TMT Conference in New York, Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive officer of Netflix, dismissed the idea of streaming prestigious sports live on the platform.

In a reminder that Netflix is a content production company as opposed to being a live, televised service provider, Sarandos said Netflix didn’t see a “profit path to renting big sports.”

Slow is smart

However, Sarandos also uttered the three important words: “Never say never.” Netflix has already streamed a live event, Chris Rock’s stand-up special Selective Outrage, in March 2023.

Chris Rock
Chris Rock. Image by Wikimedia.

But problems with live-streamed sports are easily imaginable. In April, Netflix wanted to air a live Love is Blind reunion but ran into technical difficulties and had to delay the stream. Apparently, the demand was too high for Netflix networks to handle.

Now, imagine a live-streamed Champions League final – tens of millions of Netflix subscribers might want to tune in. That many simultaneous connections would probably mean server outages.

Yes, the company would prepare, but improvements would come at a huge financial cost, and the profit margins wouldn’t be sustainable. Netflix would also risk bleeding subscribers in droves if they lost hope in quality content delivery and went looking for alternatives.

That’s why Netflix is smart to move into live streaming slowly. As Cybernews reported last year, the company is apparently exploring options to live-broadcast tennis and surfing, hoping to use its massive platform to popularize lesser-known sports into becoming big franchises.

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