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Netflix to wade slowly into live-streamed sports

The company is reportedly considering an event that will see Formula 1 drives compete in a golf tournament.

The company is reportedly considering an event that will see Formula 1 drives compete in a golf tournament.

The opening lap of the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix Formula 1 race. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Netflix wants to capitalize on its successful Formula 1 docuseries by offering live access to a celebrity golf tournament comprised of its drivers. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Streaming giant Netflix is known for its blockbuster films and hit TV series, but the company has largely shied away from offering live access to sports, allowing competing startup services to corner that market.

That could soon change, though, as Netflix is reportedly exploring a deal that would allow it to offer streaming access to a golf tournament comprised of Formula 1 racecar drivers.

The event will be held in Las Vegas and feature drivers from a pair of Netflix documentary series on the motorsport, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Monday. It would be a way for Netflix to test the waters of offering a live event that caters to the niche interests of a handful of sports fans, allowing it to gauge the success of such an event before diving deeper into sports with more popular.

In January, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said the company will bid competitively for sports rights only where it makes sense, noting that Netflix is “pro-profit,” and not necessarily “anti-sports.”

In the United States, the rights to most popular sports franchises are already locked up by mainstream media brands for several years, including broadcast rights to National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) full season games. Rights for National Basketball Association (NBA) games are up for grabs soon, but Netflix is not expected to be a serious contender for those games.

Instead, Netflix is likely to bid on rights to more niche sports with less popular appeal in the United States as it seeks to build out its advertising business and lure underserved streamers back to the service. That could include cycling and tennis, the Journal said.

In an attempt to play off the success of its Formula 1 docuseries, Netflix tried to bid for the domestic telecast rights to Formula 1 races, but ultimately lost out to the Walt Disney Company and ESPN.

The unsuccessful bid came at a time when Netflix began experimenting with live content in other genres, particularly stand-up comedy. It offered live access to a Chris Rock special earlier this year, which remains available to stream on-demand.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).