All the world’s a stage


The explosion and prominence of sports content has led to the first edition of “4SE in Sports Storytelling” honoring those at the intersection of sports and entertainment

“The Last Dance” accelerated the demand for intimate documentaries. Netflix

When ESPN debuted The Last Dance in April 2020, it did much more than just fill the thirst for sports content created since the early days of the pandemic. The 10-part series, featuring Michael Jordan’s candid reflections and never-before-seen footage of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, proved to be both a huge success (an ESPN documentary with a record 5.6 million viewers) and a watershed moment in a new golden era for original sports content.

From Ed Sabol’s NFL movies of the 1960s to HBO’s seminal editions of the 1990s to the modern era ushered in by ESPN’s 30 for 30 series in 2009, sports have long been mature. research field. These days, every week seems to bring news of a different project. This fall alone, multi-series documentaries about David Beckham (Netflix) and Lionel Messi (Apple TV+) are attracting global audiences. All-access trailblazers, once a rarity, today pull back the curtain on the NFL, Formula One, PGA Tour, ATP and WTA, among others. Scripted sports projects such as “Time to Win,” “Ted Lasso” and “Air” have received critical acclaim. And that already crowded space is now flooding with new releases, production companies, investors and personalities, including some of the biggest names in the sports world.

“I didn’t expect Peyton Manning to be my competition, or Michael Strahan, or Tom Brady, or Steph Curry, or LeBron James, or Skydance,” said DLP Media founder and CEO Michael Hughes, a 20-year industry veteran who most recently, he was an executive producer on ESPN’s Lance Armstrong and Dennis Rodman Docs. “It seems like everybody has a sports department now or is looking to get into sports, and I think, frankly, it’s good for the consumer that there are really high-quality people looking for access and hard-to-market shows.”

The explosion in sports content made this an ideal time for Sports Business Journal to recognize those changing the world of sports entertainment with 4SE’s debut in Sports Storytelling. Our inaugural 4SE (pronounced “Power”) list features 38 companies and 82 individuals doing the most prominent and compelling work in sports entertainment, whether in feature films, scripted television series, documentaries, radio/podcasts or social and digital. The honorees were selected by SBJ staff after months of research and consultation with industry sources (there were some changes to the original list released in May, including the dropping of Meta and Showtime, both of which eliminated their sports divisions).

Netflix’s ‘Drive To Survive’ fuels push for docuseries.Netflix

The sports content boom is driven by the confluence of several key trends. The proliferation of streaming platforms has created unprecedented demand from distribution partners in need of original content. Seeing how this content can drive fans, leagues, teams and athletes are providing more behind-the-scenes access than ever before. Advances in technology have made filmmaking easier and lowered the barrier to entry for would-be storytellers. And sports content is no longer dismissed as a less serious art form.

That was the case even with HBO, which for decades was the sole leader in premium unsigned sports content. “There have always been people in the organization who have looked at sports as kids playing in a sandbox,” said Ross Greenberg, who served as president of HBO Sports for more than a decade. “It was all over every single network. The power of sports as entertainment has never matched the inner workings of corporations and the way they have treated sports until recently.”

No longer. In fact, in the past dozen years, sports documentaries have won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary four times. They won just as much in the previous 36 years.

Sports content has also proven resilient in a rapidly changing media landscape. “As everything else in entertainment and media becomes increasingly fragmented, sports feels like it’s bigger than ever,” said Logan Swaim, head of content for podcast network The Volume. “It really feels like it’s the last monoculture that exists, the thing that we’re all still connected by. And that feels like something that’s not going to change, it’s just going to increase over time.”

That kind of confidence in the future of sports content helps explain why investors are now pouring millions of dollars into sports-focused production companies. Last year, Skydance Media welcomed a $400 million funding round, which was in part specifically designed to support the newly created sports division. Religion of Sports last year raised a $50 million Series B led by Shamrock Capital, and in 2021 Meadowlark Media raised a $12.6 million Series A. Earlier this year, Peter Chernin’s North Road Company acquired an undisclosed minority stake in Omaha Productions on Peyton Manning, who valued the business at a reported $400 million.

“Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+ has taken interest in scripted sports content to a new level.Apple TV+

And few in the industry seem concerned about faltering demand. “How many medical and legal procedures are there per year?” asked Skydance Sports President John Weinbach. “In the last five years, there have been one or two sports or near-sports series [per year]. There are shows like “All-American”, “Ted Lasso”, “Swagger”, but it’s not a ton. I think there will be.”

That sentiment was echoed by none other than Greenberg, who has been telling sports stories since the 1970s and who earlier this year produced the Netflix docuseries Bill Russell: Legend.

“There’s such a rich appetite, and you know you’re going to connect with people and be able to draw out all their emotions,” Greenberg said. “There will always be a large group of people who will simply ingest sports products in this form. It just makes for great drama and storytelling, so I don’t think there’s ever going to be a day when the tap is turned off.”

4SE excels in sports storytelling

Amazon Prime
An apple
Bar stool Sport
Pictures of the boardwalk
Box to Box movies
DLP Media Group
Dude Perfect
Movie the forties
Fox Sports
iHeart Media
Jomboy Media
Little Monster Movies
Meadowlark Media
Omaha Productions
Religion of sport
Ross Greenburg Productions
Skydance Sports
SMAC Entertainment
A click
The bell
The SpringHill Company
The volume
Unanimous media
Wave Sports + Entertainment
Words + Pictures

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