Netflix Looks to Make Lightning Strike Twice with PGA Doc Series

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  • Justin Thomas
    Justin Thomas
    American golfer
  • Brooks Koepka
    Brooks Koepka
    American professional golfer

The PGA Tour and Netflix are looking to draft on the success of the streaming service’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive, as production is underway on a new behind-the-scenes doc series that will focus on some of golf’s biggest young stars.

Among the tour pros who’ve agreed to participate in the project are Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, all of whom are currently ranked among the world’s top 20 players. In addition to the younger talent on display over the course of the untitled series, the production will be enhanced by the cooperation of the four major tournaments—and yes, even the notoriously clamped-down Masters has signed off on the enterprise.

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The show is being co-produced by Box to Box Films, the company that teamed up with Netflix on Drive to Survive. The F1 series, which debuted in 2019, has been heralded for stoking Americans’ interest in the international racing circuit. While Netflix generally doesn’t disclose its viewership figures, F1’s stateside TV deliveries have improved markedly since the show bowed.

Per Nielsen, F1 races on ESPN/ESPN2/ABC last year averaged a record 934,000 viewers per race, which marked a 39% increase versus the 2019 season (672,000). ABC notched the most-watched race of the 2021 campaign with its Oct. 24 broadcast of the U.S. Grand Prix, which averaged 1.23 million viewers opposite CBS’ and Fox’s Week 7 NFL coverage.

While a number of high-profile duffers (Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau) aren’t on Netflix’s call sheet, a successful opening round could encourage a few holdouts to become involved if a second season is in the offing. Such was the case when Box to Box started work on Drive to Survive without the cooperation of the powerhouse F1 teams Mercedes and Ferrari. Once the cameras started rolling on the second lap of the series, the two holdouts joined the rest of the F1 field.

Whatever salutary influence Drive to Survive may have had on F1’s linear TV ratings—and assigning causality in these matters is anything but foolproof—there’s no telling if Netflix’s PGA Tour effort will pump up golf’s Nielsen deliveries. As far as the majors are concerned, ratings has been a zero-sum game in which everything depends upon whether Tiger Woods is sporting his Sunday red-and-black ensemble.

Moreover, a youthful streaming cast isn’t necessarily a guarantee that televised golf will make significant inroads with Americans who have largely drifted away from linear TV; while the bad blood between DeChambeau and Koepka has made for a good deal of online engagement, their Black Friday showdown on Turner Sports didn’t make much of a splash. According to Nielsen, 1.06 million viewers tuned in to watch golf’s burliest, brawniest protagonists square off, well shy of the 5.67 million fans who took in the Tiger/Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady exhibition in May 2020.

Then again, running the sprockets off an idea that may have worked once is TV’s core business model. (ESPN’s plan to replicate its Monday Night Football ManningCast, only with Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay helming an MLB alternative, is probably not going to set the world on fire.) Whatever impact the PGA series may or may not have on golf’s TV numbers—and again, good luck trying to demonstrate proof either way—fans of what has often been a rather inscrutable sport may be the big winners here.

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