Top production companies benefit from boom in sports content, investments

  • The NFL has partnered with Skydance Sports to create a “global multisport production studio.”
  • Netflix’s Formula 1 series Drive to Survive is the model that other streamers and leagues are looking to emulate.
  • Insider identified 11 top companies creating scripted and documentary sports content to fuel the boom.

The NFL is pushing into the booming world of sports production and investing in a new joint venture with David Ellison’s Skydance Sports.

The NFL hopes to capitalize on the growing demand for a wide range of sports content, with intent to become the Marvel Universe of sports.

The football league game is well timed. This year demand for sports-themed programming became extremely competitive as networks and streamers competed for products that cost a fraction of live sports but boast a built-in fan base. Viewers seem to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge about athletes as diverse as Shaq to Sue Bird, and will tune in for insights into the leagues and teams they follow. The upcoming World Cup is sure to whet the appetite for a whole host of new football content.

Individual production units, some owned and operated by professional athletes, are getting involved in the action, and many, like Tom Brady and Michael Strahan’s Religion of Sports, are attracting new investment from private equity. “The market feels like it’s growing. We’re fast and furious in pitches with everyone,” Religion of Sports CEO Ameeth Sankaran told Insider.

“I think it’s a constant,” said Constance Schwartz-Morini, co-founder of SMAC Entertainment with Strahan, of investor interest in the space. “I always hear about a different fund. Michael and I fully own our company,” she said, adding that they are open to discussions at the right time. Investment firms Shamrock, RedBird Capital and Providence Equity have all toyed with sports content, with Shamrock spearheading an investment in Religion of Sports in June.

Some of the most aggressive buyers of content from companies like SMAC and Religion of Sports include streaming platforms Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Disney’s outlet empire from ESPN to Hulu and Disney+. Netflix has been a bidder for Formula 1 rights and it’s only a matter of time before the streamer makes its foray into live sports.

“You look at Netflix or Amazon, they’re all looking for content that’s different and appealing, something that lives behind a paywall, something unique and buzz,” said Josh Pyatt, an agent at WME who does not refer to scripted content has specialized content.

“It’s a great opportunity to expand your brand at someone else’s expense — it’s free marketing,” Pyatt added, referencing the template that both sports leagues and platforms love to emulate: Box to Box Films’ behind-the-scenes Backstage documentary series about Formula 1, “Drive to Survive” which is credited with expanding the autosport audience.

A wide range of sport-centric documentaries are captivating viewers – from Welcome to Wrexham on FX, to Hulu, which follows actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny’s ownership of a Welsh football team, to Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing, which has viewers ushered into the dressing rooms of teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Arsenal FC and the New Zealand All Blacks.

“People are really intrigued by what they think Drive to Survive has done for Formula 1,” said Marie Donoghue, vice president of Amazon Sports, adding that leagues are also taking notice of the content boom . “The more established leagues are seeing a lot of interest from streamers and sports networks in unscripted programming.”

Donoghue, who joined Amazon from ESPN where she worked on the network’s iconic 30 for 30 docuseries, also sees an opportunity and in March brought 10-year Amazon veteran Matt Newman to her team as head of original content .

In interviews with buyers, sellers and other industry stakeholders, Insider identified 11 production companies that produce the most in-demand sports content. These clapboards are poised to capitalize — with many attracting investment and acquisition interest — as Amazon and other streamers continue to buy.


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