Track and Field Headed to Netflix: Drive Phase to Survive

By Kyle Merber

August 2, 2023

Some information regarding one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport is finally being leaked to the public – track and field is heading to Netflix! (More paywalls, am I right?) There were camera crews following certain star athletes around at the US Championships and the same has been the case at other major meets throughout the season.

This is our Drive to Survive moment, or so we hope. The landmark series that follows the F1 series through the lens of its most prominent teams is largely responsible for its recent boom in popularity in the United States. There are a few major differences, however, like a five-year head start. Since Drive to Survive first debuted, there have been similar series released for golf, tennis, and cycling.

I have enjoyed them all. They each raised my appreciation for the personalities of the sports’ main characters. But it’s not like I am suddenly following those sports any more than I already was. And that’s probably because the fundamental structure of the F1 season is infinitely more inviting for a documentary crew than just about any other sport, including track and field.

There are 10 teams total with two drivers each. There are 23 races in a season. Is track and field willing to make some cuts to align here as well, or will a single docuseries be enough?

If you have never seen the F1 website then please go to formulaone.com and click around. Aside from the very digestible schedule, results, and roster, there is an integration of video, but most importantly, news. Some of the articles almost read like they’re from TMZ, purposely leaning into the drama, controversy, rumors, and speculation. Track and field could never. The governing body of F1 owns the IP of what’s happening on its circuit and isn’t afraid to leverage its access to share it. And it recognizes that a little interpersonal messiness is key to good narrative-building.

You’ll also notice the fact that the official F1 website posts articles on its homepage discussing the betting odds before each race. This is entertainment – F1 leans into that fact.

The other thing Liberty Media did after acquiring Formula One was that they chilled out on rights restrictions. Teams and drivers were provided official race footage to share on social media and they became the fastest growing digital property in sports. They even gave ESPN broadcasting rights for free.

Is track willing to do that? There are other examples of this strategy’s success.

In 1987, the then commissioner of the NBA David Stern saw a huge opportunity in China to grow the game. He sent weekly videotapes of game footage for free to be shown on CCTV. Today the NBA is worth $5B in China and more than 500 million people there tuned in last season.

Being on Netflix will be great for the sport and will surely help new fans gain a better understanding of just how impressive track & field athletes are. But similar to after the hype of an Olympics game dies down, no one with even the slightest newfound interest will have an idea of where to turn next if they wanted to watch the 2024 season live. They’ll have to wait to find out what happened in season two.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.