Live Sport Needs to EMBRACE

the Realities of Reality TV

With all the complexities, intricacies, and the drama that plays out during a typical F1 weekend, the truth is, it’s really hard to watch a full Formula 1 race. Races are so long and technically complex that mainstream audiences struggle to follow or understand what’s happening.

So why is there so much interest in F1 all of a sudden, especially here in the US? And how has the sport managed to attract new fans in an environment where live sport viewership is in decline?

First aired in 2019, Netflix’s Drive to Survive was a reality TV show that focused on the drivers, the team managers, and the drama that unfolds behind the scenes and throughout the F1 season. For many people, the TV show was better than watching the actual sport. By the time Season 4 was released on March 11, 2022, Drive to Survive global audience was big enough that it became the most popular show in 33 countries during its first three weeks. Netflix has already signed on for Seasons 5 and 6.

So the question is, could reality TV companion shows eventually attract bigger audiences than the live sport itself?

Let’s look at the numbers to understand the scale of the opportunity.

According to Nielsen, an average F1 race had a global viewership of 440 million in 2023, which is up 10% since the first season of Drive to Survive. That would seem to suggest that the TV show brought an additional 44 million fans to the sport, via the live races on F1 weekends. 

So why should the rest of the industry follow suit?

Live sport viewership is in decline

Media is Fragmenting

Reality TV is growing faster than live sports

The Rest of Live Sport is in Decline

What we are learning is that audiences are becoming less enamored with made-for-commercials live sports.

Many consider the NFL to be too long (An average game is 3 hours and 12 minutes), the NBA is too focused on the individual player performances and soccer is often criticized for being too slow and boring.  Live sports events are often overly commercialized, with ads interrupting the game and product placements on the field or court. 

These criticisms are leading to a decline in interest and viewership of the live game. A recent study by PwC found that 63% of sports fans are more interested in watching behind-the-scenes content about their favorite sports teams and athletes.

In 2022, the average NFL game lost 500,000 viewers compared to the year before.

In 2023, the NBA Finals averaged 12.2 million viewers, down from 13.4 million in 2022.

In 2023, the MLB World Series averaged 11.8 million viewers, down from 13.2 million in 2022.

Fragmentation of media

There are a number of other factors that are contributing to this decline in viewership. One factor is the fragmentation of the media landscape. There are now more ways than ever for people to consume content, and they are less likely to sit down and watch a live sports event for three hours.

The rise of streaming services: Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are offering more and more live sports content. This is making it easier for fans to watch their favorite sports teams and athletes without having to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite TV package.

The growth of social media: Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are making it easier for fans to follow their favorite sports teams and athletes and to watch highlights and other content. This is leading to a decline in viewership of traditional TV broadcasts.

The proliferation of niche sports channels: There are now more sports channels than ever before, each of which focuses on a different sport or league. This is making it more difficult for fans to find the content they want to watch.

Reality TV Growth versus Live Sports

Another factor is the rise of reality TV. To many, especially younger audiences, reality TV shows are more exciting and engaging than live sports. They are also shorter and easier to digest.

Reality TV is growing in popularity in the US, however it is still not as popular as live sports. According to a 2023 study by Nielsen, the average American watches 3 hours of reality TV per week, compared to 4 hours of live sports.

However, reality TV is gaining ground on live sports, especially among younger viewers. A 2023 study by Deloitte found that 52% of Gen Z adults said they are more likely to watch a reality TV show about sports than an actual sports event.

If reality TV continues to grow in popularity, it is possible that it could eventually surpass live sports as the most popular form of entertainment in the US. 

In order to compete with reality TV, live sports organizations need to find ways to make their products more exciting, engaging, and affordable for fans. They also need to be more creative in how they produce and distribute their content.

The Kardashian Law

Influencers play an important role in providing distribution for reality TV shows. They have large followings on social media and other platforms, and they can use their influence to promote shows to their audiences.

The Kardashians are a good example of how influencers can be used to promote reality TV shows. The Kardashian family has a large and engaged following on social media, and they use their platforms to promote their reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The show has been a huge success, and it is partly due to the Kardashians’ ability to use their influence to promote the show.

Sports organizations can learn from the Kardashians and other influencers to enhance their means of distribution. They can partner with influencers to create sponsored content, promote their shows on social media, and give influencers exclusive access to events and behind-the-scenes footage.

Live sports organizations need to embrace the realities of reality TV in order to compete with the growing popularity of this genre. This means making their products more exciting, engaging, and affordable for fans, as well as being more creative in how they produce and distribute their content. Sports organizations can also learn from reality TV superstars like the Kardashians to enhance their means of distribution, such as partnering with them to create sponsored content, promote their shows on social media, and giving them exclusive access to events and behind-the-scenes footage.

Do you agree with this?
Do you disagree or have a completely different perspective?
We’d love to know


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