News broke this morning of a new Netflix docuseries, to be released in 2025, that will cover the Boston Red Sox throughout the 2024 season. Online reaction has been divided.
Naysayers wonder why anyone would want to watch it if the team sucks or what the point was of covering the Red Sox when there are better teams. Proponents of the series look forward to an inside peek at players such as Triston Casas and Rafael Devers.
My initial reaction is that this is the biggest move of the entire MLB offseason.
Die-hard baseball fans can never get enough baseball content. A series that will cover the Red Sox behind the scenes throughout a season is something that we have never been exposed to before. This new docuseries will pull back the curtain and allow fans to see the game of baseball in a way they have never been able to in the past. We have never seen the ins and outs of the daily grind or the personalities off the field in this way. But even more important than the daily grind are the relationship dynamics between the players, coaches, front office, and more.
When looking at similar shows Netflix has produced, the two that come to mind are Drive to Survive, which covers Formula 1, and Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which covered English soccer team Sunderland A.F.C. Both of those shows have had massive success due to their focus on the relationships of those in the organization.
A big focus of Drive to Survive is the relationship between the drivers and their teammates, team principals, and the lives of the people inside and outside of Formula 1. Sunderland ‘Til I Die was successful due to the focus on the relationships between players, coaches, medical staff, executives, fans, and more. These shows allow even die-hard fans of the sport to learn more about their favorite team, players, and the support staff in the shadows.
An example of a non-Netflix show that has had success is HBO’s Hard Knocks, which covers an NFL team throughout the pre-season or season, showing behind the scenes views of practices, games, and more. However, the Red Sox series will likely be closer to the other Netflix series like Drive to Survive, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, Full Swing, and Break Point. Another non-Netflix show that has had massive success is FX’s Welcome to Wrexham, which follows Welsh soccer team Wrexham in the English soccer leagues after the club was purchased by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Welcome to Wrexham was actually inspired by Sunderland ‘Til I Die, and follows a similar pattern.
Overall these shows have had success, and a big reason for that is the unprecedented access that they give to fans, allowing the fans an inside look at a team or sport that they love. Hard Knocks has been a massive success for NFL fans, Welcome to Wrexham and Sunderland ‘Til I Die have been massively successful among soccer fans, and Drive to Survive has been massively successful among Formula 1 fans as well. As great as these shows have performed with their own fans, there is something the Netflix shows have done better than the others. That is the ability to reach new fans.
Chance To Gain New Fans
The Red Sox already have one of the biggest fanbases in baseball, so why do they need new fans? Before that is answered, let’s look at why the other Netflix shows are so successful and what allows them to bring in new fans for the sports and teams they cover.
The two biggest and most successful teams at the time of Drive to Survive’s first season, Mercedes and Ferrari, did not want to be involved in the show. That caused Netflix to have to build a show around the teams that weren’t at the top of the sport and were not going to have a ton of success on the track. That was a blessing in disguise. The show ended up being built around the relationships within Formula 1, and the livelihood of some of the drivers and team principals who had to work their butts off, even if it meant only scoring points in races every now and then.
The show was built around the stories in F1 rather than on-track results, which played a role but weren’t the main focus. That connected the audience with drivers, teams, and the sport as a whole. Those connections with the people in the sport allowed the show to bring new fans to F1. Even if they aren’t super interested in car racing, they now can support a driver and/or team that they like in the races because they were able to connect to them through Drive to Survive. This led to a U.S. boom in Formula 1 fandom, growing the U.S. into one of the biggest F1 markets, which was a massive hope for the show.
However, it also led to an even bigger increase in fandom in the U.K. and Europe, even though those were already the biggest markets for F1. The show has now had five seasons, with a sixth set to release February 23.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die followed Sunderland throughout the 2017-18 season in the Championship (second division in English soccer) following their relegation from the Premier League in the previous season. The idea was to follow Sunderland as they chase promotion back to the Premier League. However, the opposite happened. Sunderland had enormous struggles on the field, and were eventually relegated for the second straight season to League 1 (third division).
Although the team’s performance on the field was poor, the show was a hit. A primary focus of the show was the relationship between the club and the fans, as well as the players’ and fans’ lives and the effect the team’s performance had on them. The show continued for a second season, which was also successful, before being discontinued. Even though the series covered what was arguably the darkest time in the history of Sunderland, it still did so well that it is returning for a third and final season (set to release February 13) after a four-year hiatus to cover Sunderland’s promotion back to the Championship following their promotion playoff win last summer. This should end the show on a high note for fans who have been hoping for closure after the sad ending to the previous seasons.
Full Swing and Break Point are Netflix docuseries that cover golf and tennis respectively, and they have also had great success covering the lives and relationships of specific athletes in those sports. These shows gave in-depth looks at the everyday lives of some of the best golfers and tennis players in the world. Both were modeled directly after Drive to Survive, with the aim of bringing new fans to sports that are losing interest with the younger generation. Baseball is arguably in a similar spot to tennis and golf, with interest waning in the younger generations as the game tries to grow not just domestically but internationally.
A docuseries that is similar to these shows, or other popular Netflix shows such as Wrestlers, Cheer, and Last Chance U (all directed by Greg Whiteley, who will be directing the Red Sox docuseries) can help not just the Red Sox, but MLB bring new fans into a sport that has begun to play second fiddle to football and basketball in the United States. Regardless of whether or not the team has a successful season in 2024 does not matter for this docuseries because Netflix is primarily concerned with covering human stories. The on-field product plays a role in those stories, but the main focus is building a connection between the viewer and the team.
It’s All About The Money
At the end of the day, both in business and in media, it’s all about the money. The Red Sox having a Netflix series is a brilliant money move, not just for the Red Sox organization but for Major League Baseball. The die-hard fans that watch virtually all 162 games will always support the Red Sox, and the Red Sox will always bring in money from those fans. They may not like all the decisions the team makes, but they will still tune in, buy merchandise, and make other moves that earn the team money. The number of die-hard fans is decreasing though, and Major League Baseball needs a way to bring new fans into the sport. A docuseries covering one of the league’s most storied franchises is a great place to start.
This show can be hugely successful. If the show follows the blueprint that has worked for Netflix countless times, this show could not only get the casual fans more interested in the team and sport, but it can also bring in new fans that weren’t previously interested, which opens up a whole new group of people that haven’t been reached in terms of revenue. The target audience for a show like this isn’t the die hard fan.
The Red Sox are not being paid to take part in this docuseries. However, they have seen the boom of popularity and revenue for Formula 1 with Drive to Survive, and the popularity that the other Netflix sports docuseries have had as well. There have already been discussions with Red Sox executives, coaches, and players about this show over the past several months, and it seems everyone is on board, which is astronomical for the show’s potential success. The Red Sox are being paid in exposure, and the exposure to a new crowd, not just domestically but internationally, can open the path to new revenue sources for the team and MLB as a whole.
An increase in revenue is good for business. The teams make more money, the league makes more money, and the players can make more money as well. It is not what we always like to hear as fans, but money is one of, if not the most important element of sports. If there’s no revenue stream for the teams, there’s no money to pay the players. If there’s no money to pay the players, the players can’t play because they need money to survive. The decision for the Red Sox to jump on the sports docuseries trend and to be the first MLB team to do so is a brilliant business decision. If the team can bring in new fans from current markets and new markets, that opens up more revenue streams for the team to make money.
Hopefully that money can go back into the team, which in the last couple years has dropped outside the top ten in payroll. Plus, we don’t know how this Netflix show will work. Since the agreement is mostly between Netflix and the Red Sox, there’s a chance this could be a Red Sox exclusive series, which would have serious implications for the Red Sox down the line. Even if this is a series that covers a different team every year, the Red Sox being the first ones to participate gives them the upper hand in reaching a new, untapped fanbase for the sport of baseball.
All in all, this docuseries has a chance to help grow the game of baseball and bring it back to its level as one of the most popular sports in America. MLB’s Deputy Commissioner of business and media, Noah Garden, stated that “Baseball is driven by the incredible stories of our athletes,” and “teaming up with Netflix…is a tremendous opportunity to not only bring our avid fans closer to the game they love, but also introduce new audiences to the undeniable emotion that baseball evokes.” Red Sox chief marketing officer Adam Grossman stated that “This is really about marketing and growing the game of baseball across the globe.” With the increase in popularity for sports such as soccer, Formula 1, and more in America, baseball has had to compete with more sports. And with a loss of popularity for the sport of baseball among the young generation over the last ten or so years, MLB needs to find a way to grow the game in the U.S. while continuing their expansion into international markets such as England, France, Europe, and more. This docuseries might be able to do the trick.