Netflix is reportedly exploring the idea of bringing live sports onto its platform. As per The Wall Street Journal, the streaming company recently tried acquiring rights to the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tennis tour for some European countries, like France and the UK, before eventually dropping out of the deal. That would mean players like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Carlos Alcaraz would come to Netflix screens. There were also discussions on bidding for other events, including the UK rights to the ATP’s female counterpart, Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and several cycling competitions, according to WSJ’s sources. Turns out, Netflix executives in the past had discussions about buying “lower-profile leagues,” in an effort to avoid the mounting costs of bidding for major sports rights.
“Sports is the baseline now, we all know it, and finding the right properties, the right leagues is a priority, but it is always a question of the right league, the right deal,” a Netflix insider told Deadline, as the platform resumes its hunt for live sports licenses, in a time where all the major leagues are in long-term agreements with rival platforms. In India, England’s top-tier football Premier League is tied to Disney+ Hotstar, alongside the Indian Cricket Team’s matches, the jewel of the crown. Meanwhile, digital rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) are now in the hands of Mukesh Ambani, with Reliance Industries-owned Viacom18 outbidding Disney Star this year.
Netflix has been live sports-free since its inception, unless you count the occasional sports documentaries. Its biggest hit is arguably Formula 1: Drive to Survive, which kicked off in March 2019, and was renewed in May for a fifth and sixth season. As per WSJ, Netflix bid for the US streaming rights to Formula One, but lost out to Disney’s ESPN. The company was also looking to purchase the World Surf League, late last year, though negotiations between the organisations broke down, as the two couldn’t reach a familiar agreement. Some Netflix executives believe that the streamer can take some lesser-known sports franchises and turn it into something mainstream.
Deadline notes that Netflix has long resisted the idea of including live programming on its platform, but “the realities of 2022, when the company experienced rare declines in its subscriber numbers and an accompanying sell-off of its stock, have forced a reconsideration.” To combat the declining subscriber count, Netflix recently launched an ad-supported tier called the “Basic with Ads” plan in 12 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the US. Priced at $6.99 (about Rs. 569) in the US, it comes with 4–5 minutes of advertisements per hour, and no download feature.
In the US, streaming services have gotten accustomed to the idea of including live sports on its platform. Amazon has an 11-year exclusive on NFL (National Football League) Thursday Night Football, while both Apple TV+ and Peacock held exclusive rights to stream Major League Baseball last season. Apple TV is also the new home for America’s top football league, Major League Soccer (MLS), for the next 10 years.