The Netflix Cup: Could Netflix Become Dominant in the World of Live Sports?

OK it wasn’t exactly perfect – screen resolution was a bit laggy, audio performance was a bit crackly and the story line hopped around a bit, but Netflix’s first sports live stream called the Netflix Cup was a major success, and every studio and traditional broadcasting executive should be having sleepless nights worrying that Netflix could become a key player in the largest audience generator of all – live sports

Photo by David Becker/ Getty Images for Netflix copyright 2023

The Netflix Cup, a golf match-play event that took place earlier this week at the Wynn Las Vegas, paired Formula One drivers (in town for the Las Vegas Grand Prix) that have become household names through their appearance on the Netflix show Formula 1 – Drive to Survive, with professional golfers also household names, who appear on the Netflix golf doc series Full Swing

The tournament included four teams that each paired a Formula One driver with a PGA Tour professional playing an eight-hole match.  Two pairs of athletes competed in each match with the winners from match 1 and match 2 playing a closest to the pin final hole to determine the winner of the Netflix Cup.

The pairings were:

Lando Norris (McLaren Racing) with Rickie Fowler vs. Carlos Sainz (Scuderia Ferrari) and Justin Thomas

Alex Albon (Williams Racing) and Max Homa vs. Pierre Gasly (BWT Alpine F1 Team) and Tony Finau

The overall winner, I will mention at the end in case you missed the live stream and wish to watch it…on Netflix. Spoiler alert!

Photo by David Becker/ Getty Images for Netflix copyright 2023

Cameo appearances through the event included Mark Wahlberg, attending with his daughter who revealed herself to being a big Lando Norris fan.  Lando is 24-years-old and drives for Maclaren.  NFL star quarterback Patrick Mahomes weighed in on the pressure of competing in live sports, DJ-superstar Steve Aoki provided music while the event will be emceed by sportscaster Kay Adams, PGA golfer and Full Swing star Joel Dahmen, comedian Bert Kreischer (Razzle Dazzle) and legendary running back Marshawn Lynch(Murderville).  Notice how all the shows have a tie-in back to Netflix?

Photo: Promotional Poster Netflix Cup

Hole One was a speed contest where four golfers all swung at the same time and then raced golf carts to the green to see who could get the ball into the hole the fastest.  A bit gimmicky but hey, Formula One is all about speed.  The other holes highlighted the finesse of the Pro Golfers while a short par three hole tied itself back to the Netflix series Squid Games with the creepy doll both appearing on the hole and larger than life as a visual on the Las Vegas Sphere. If any of the players had a hole-in-one, the Netflix Cup announced it would donate $4.65M to charity in the player’s name.

The big star of the Netflix Cup may just be the Sphere, a digital marvel and the latest attraction to Las Vegas. Photo: Screen Grab Netflix Cup

So why was this a success?  Firstly, it was live streamed globally, arguably turning this into potentially one of the largest audience events for any sporting event. (Netflix has not disclosed global audience numbers for the Netflix Cup but has around 250 million paid subscribers globally based on their last quarterly filing).  Secondly, Netflix has managed to take two of its most popular series – Drive to Survive and Full Swing and merge the two properties, not only cross pollinating and growing an audience but also creating a live event that Netflix owns. How many other alignments can Netflix imagine from the massive array of programming the streaming company owns?  Even incorporating Squid Games became a branding opportunity as Netflix gets ready to roll out a Squid Games inspired reality game show.

Netflix introduced the company’s potential for live streaming with the Chris Rock live March 2023 special.  The Netflix Cup was the first attempt at sports.  Sure there were warts and hiccups but the potential is there.  Just when you think a streaming company might be out of ideas beyond adding new subscribers to generate revenue, they show us the well is still full.  Let’s see if that live boxing match that’s been rumoured becomes the next live sporting event for Netflix.

Major PGA champion Justin Thomas and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, a fantastic golfer, won the Netflix Cup and no hole in one was made.  The Netflix Cup is currently streaming on Netflix.