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Will Netflix’s PGA Tour Docuseries Change Golf? ‘Drive to Survive’ Helps Predict

New PGA Tour docuseries hopes for a hole-in-one with the help of Netflix.

PGA: WM Phoenix Open - Final Round
Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Netflix’s intense docuseries genre is a cult favorite, and the upcoming series about the PGA Tour is next on the popular sport streaming service’s list. Several sports, such as Formula 1 racing and junior college football, basketball, and cheerleading, have already gained traction thanks to Netflix’s coverage. “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” “Last Chance U,” and “Cheer” not only brought success to Netflix in terms of an increase in viewers and subscribers, but they also brought deserving attention to sports that aren’t as mainstream or as heavily watched in the U.S.

We’re diving in deep to understand why these docuseries resonate with viewers and how these new shows, namely, the coming Netflix’s PGA Tour docuseries, may affect the future of golf and athletics.

More obscure sports, teams, and schools skyrocket in popularity post-Netflix docuseries 

To most Americans, car racing was synonymous with NASCAR and NASCAR only. Enter Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” series, which highlights one of the world’s top racing competitions, Formula 1, and Americans were introduced to an entirely new world of car sports. The series is already on its fourth season (and renewed for a fifth and sixth), as it’s captivated fans — new and old — all over the world. IMDB rates the show an 8.6 out of 10, and it has generated tremendous interest among viewers that had never been interested in this cutthroat competition before, especially younger generations.

According to Formula 1, the final Grand Prix in 2021 pulled in 108.7 million viewers, close to 30% more viewership than in 2020 — and much of this interest may be due to “Drive to Survive.” When viewers feel connected to the drivers and understand the rivalries, the drama, and in-depth details about Formula 1 from watching the series, they become much more interested in the sport itself.

Netflix’s docuseries “Last Chance U,” which highlighted college football programs, brought more fanfare than ever to East Mississippi Community College. It also increased the amount of money allocated to the school’s football team and athletic department for new facilities and gear. After the series debut, East Mississippi Community College even noticed a rise in overall applications to the school. Additionally, Independence Community College, another school featured in “Last Chance U,” saw similar impacts after the release of the series’ first season.

Netflix’s docuseries “Cheer,” which became a global phenomenon in 2020, also brought significant attention to Navarro College’s competitive cheer squad. Following the popularity of the short series, the general public became more attentive to the sport of cheerleading as well. 

It’s clear that once a Netflix docuseries features a sport, team, or school, it may benefit from more exposure, popularity, and funding.

Each of these docuseries features exclusive access to the players, coaches, and other influential figures involved in the featured teams. This lets viewers connect emotionally with the “characters” highlighted throughout the season. 

Netflix’s docuseries dives deep into the technicalities of the sport, as well as the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects that coincide with it. By focusing on real-life humans and relatable scenarios, Netflix subscribers became attached to the “characters,” just as they would with any fictional action or drama series. It combines reality TV with sports, drama, and comedy — a winning combination for success. 

What should I expect from the PGA Tour docuseries?

Netflix will likely produce the PGA Tour series in a similar fashion to “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” One of the main differences between “Drive to Survive” and the other series mentioned above is the format of each episode. Rather than shifting focus between several highlighted team members, “Drive to Survive” focuses on one specific driver and their team in each episode of the season.

For example, one episode focuses solely on driver Lewis Hamilton and his racing team as they prepare for a tournament, while another completely shifts focus to driver Fernando Alonso’s journey. The PGA Tour docuseries will probably follow a similar format, highlighting one athlete’s story per episode.

Golf viewership skews mainly males and older individuals. The bulk of the PGA Tour’s fans is between 40-60 years old, according to a study on golf demographics by Wichita State University. As such, the new docuseries likely wants to generate interest among a more youthful audience, guaranteeing that generations to come will be interested in the PGA Tour and the sport. 

But in terms of content, how will this new docuseries compete with the glitz, glamour, and adrenaline-pumping fun of car racing? Golf may seem to be a “buttoned-up” type of sport, but we predict that Netflix will touch on the ongoing controversy surrounding the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. 

Unfamiliar with the debate? We’ve got you covered.

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf 

The PGA Tour and LIV Golf are currently in a complicated situation. If you haven’t followed the controversy, here’s a brief overview: 

Formerly known as the Super Golf League, LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabian government and offers players substantially higher earnings than the PGA Tour. And with LIV, players are guaranteed high base earnings rather than having to win to earn a payout.  

Officially, the league is backed by famous golf pro Greg Norman and his group LIV Golf Investments, funded by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, which also owns the Newcastle Football Club. One of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, one may wonder where this money is coming from, considering all of Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues.

Another main issue surrounding LIV Golf is related to sports washing. Is Saudia Arabia attempting to better its tarnished image by investing in sporting events? That tarnished reputation is rather dirty, as the Saudia government has reportedly murdered journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, and committed many other human rights violations.

Greg Norman insists that he and LIV Golf don’t “answer” to the Saudi Arabian government, but the PGA Golf tour isn’t buying it. Players participating in the LIV Golf events have been effectively suspended from the Tour. They’ll still be eligible for Majors but are banned from competing in any PGA-related events, including Champion Tours and Korn Ferry. PGA golf commissioner Jay Monahan states, “Their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our Tournament Regulations.”

Although we’ll never really know where the money that funds LIV Golf is coming from, we’re certainly hoping to understand a bit more about what’s going on from the PGA Tour docuseries. 

What are the golf stars saying?

Several top golf stars, including Rory McIlroy, have spoken out against LIV Golf and the golfers who decided to join it. 

“A lot of these guys are in their late 40s or… in Phil [Mickelson’s] case, early 50s, and yeah, I think everyone in this room… they would say to you themselves that their best days are behind them,” McIlroy said during a press conference before the U.S. Open. “And that’s why I don’t understand for the guys that are a similar age to me going because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are, too,” Mcllroy continued. “So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”

Other U.S. Open defendants spoke out against LIV Golf, too. “I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years, right? So that’s what I want to see.” John Rahm said. “I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons,” he said. “I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now, the PGA Tour has that.”

LIV Golf’s official response on Twitter deems the PGA Tour’s bans “vindictive” and “troubling.”

The prominent golfers who have decided to join LIV Golf (most notably Phil Mickelson) haven’t been as willing to share their side of the story publicly. Mickelson, for instance, has repeatedly declined to comment when reporters ask him anything regarding the PGA Tour. 

However, some pros that have chosen to play in the LIV Golf events also have opinions to share. Graeme McDowell, who resigned from the PGA Tour before he could be banned, expressed disappointment. “We’re here because we believe we’re independent contractors — we should be allowed to compete and play where we want to, all over the world. It’s disappointing. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it, obviously. As players, we’re here understanding the consequences of what may lay ahead of us,” he said.

Which golf stars should we expect Netflix to feature in the new docuseries?

According to Golf.com, the new PGA Tour docuseries will feature the following players thus far: 

  • Abraham Ancer 
  • Daniel Berger
  • Cameron Champ
  • Joel Dahmen
  • Tony Finau
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Harry Higgs
  • Max Homa
  • Viktor Hovland
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Collin Morikawa
  • Kevin Na
  • Mito Pereira
  • Ian Poulter
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Jordan Spieth
  • Justin Thomas
  • Bubba Watson
  • Keita Nakajima (the world’s number one ranked amateur golfer)

Due to their lack of willingness to comment on the controversy, we predict that none of the newest LIV golfers, such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Patrick Reed, will be taking part in the Netflix docuseries — but you never know. 

With such a controversy at their fingertips, though, will camera crews and directors even attempt to capture the interaction between PGA golfers and LIV golfers? Or will they avoid filming the interaction altogether to prevent potential legal issues? 

We also predict that Brooks Koepka will be featured in the series since he ranked as the number one golfer in the world for approximately 47 weeks before suffering from several injuries. Koepka was also the first player to hold back-to-back victories in two major championships after winning the U.S. Open in 2017-2018 and the PGA Championship in 2018-2019.

Interestingly enough, Koepka was highly critical of the press for how they discussed LIV Golf during the U.S. Open. “I’m ready to play the U.S. Open, and I think it kind of sucks, too,” Koepka said. “You [the press] are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. It’s one of my favorite events. I don’t know why you guys keep doing that. The more legs you give, the more you keep talking about it.” Only time will tell if he’ll be a key player on the show.

How will Netflix’s PGA Tour docuseries change the sport of golf?

Before predicting how the new docuseries will change the sport of golf, let’s take a closer look at the impact of “Drive to Survive” on Formula 1. According to The New York Times’ ESPN data, Formula 1 viewership climbed from 547,000 in 2018 to 928,000 in 2021. This likely connects to the popularity of “Drive to Survive” following its release in 2019.

If the PGA docuseries can garner a similar or even greater number of viewers, it may significantly affect the sport of golf itself. In that case, the players and tournaments could attract more sponsors (or higher-paying sponsors), eventually leading to higher-paying TV deals. As a result, the PGA Tour would profit, and so would the golfers. This would increase the amount of money golfers could win at events, closing the gap between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf regarding potential prize money.

From the players’ perspectives, not only would they benefit from the increased popularity that the series might bring to them individually, but it could also bring them more lucrative personal sponsorships and increased bonuses from the PGA’s Player Impact Program (PIP). The PIP pays out bonuses to the Tour’s highest-profile golfers. 

All of this potential for increased revenue serves as motivation for top golfers to choose to play for the PGA Tour rather than transfer to LIV Golf in the future. But the key word is potential, and right now, LIV Golf is where the money’s at. And what happens to those who have already been banned from the PGA Tour? They might be out of luck for future PGA Tours and golf events… or maybe not, as it’s still unclear if the indefinite bans will be removed someday.

Who should watch the PGA Tour docuseries?

Golf fans, more than anyone, are sure to love the unprecedented series that will highlight some of the biggest names in the sport. But one of the best aspects of streaming platforms like Netflix is the potential to target an audience beyond its primary market. Sports fans who don’t necessarily prioritize golf may easily stumble across the new docuseries and thus become more inclined to tune into future golf events. 

This same theory applies to documentary addicts. Thanks to the algorithm, Netflix will likely recommend the new PGA Tour docuseries to this group, even if their documentary obsession is not necessarily sports-related.  

Future prospects for docuseries

A successful PGA Tour docuseries might also open the door to other sports leagues collaborating with Netflix to produce similar series in the future. We’re confident that die-hard sports fans would love to see Netflix collaborate with the NBA, NHL, or MLB for a docuseries — or even help more obscure sports or teams rise to popularity. 

In the past, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) released its series “The Ultimate Fighter” on ESPN Plus. This series, however, is more of a reality TV show and competition than a docuseries. On the other hand, the NFL released its docuseries “Hard Knocks” on HBO, which documents one NFL team per year as the team prepares for the season. The series also recently expanded to feature a second team on an in-season edition of “Hard Knocks,” following a team throughout several weeks of the regular season. 

Get ready to watch the PGA Tour docuseries, whether you’re a golf fan or not

A platform as popular as Netflix will expose even more viewers to the PGA Tour series than ESPN Plus and HBO. Division 1 college sports conferences or even individual colleges with major Division 1 sports programs may look into producing a docuseries based on the potential benefits they could gain.

Regarding the previously discussed impacts of the docuseries on junior college-level schools with relatively little fanfare, imagine what schools with global recognition, such as USC or the University of Miami, could gain in terms of increased exposure and applications after a docuseries.

College athletes could benefit unprecedentedly from this increased exposure thanks to the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules within college athletics. Sports docuseries may lead to a major shift in increasing exposure, both professionally and collegiately. The PGA Tour series results could be a significant step toward that shift worldwide.
Netflix’s PGA Tour series doesn’t yet have a release date, but it’s been said that filming will likely begin this year in 2022. In the meantime, golf fans can continue live streaming the PGA Tour and other key golf events with ESPN Plus, a Hulu + Live TV plan, or a FuboTV package.

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