Sports Documentaries: The MVP of lockdown?

In recent months and years, there has been a noticeable increase in docu-series following sports teams and organisations.

Amazon and Netflix, in particular, have seen the popularity of the US show ‘Hard Knocks’ – following National Football League (NFL) teams during pre-season – and adapted the format for UK audiences. We’ve seen series covering everything from glitzy Premier League clubs, to lower league strugglers; cricket redemptions stories, to a nostalgic epic about the greatest basketball team of all time.

And now, Chelsea FC have launched their own series: an intimate look back at Frank Lampard’s first season as head coach. As the first such series launched by a club itself, it can’t offer much in the way of impartiality. But it will be fascinating to see if fans respond positively when offered a way to engage with their club at a time when they can’t see their team play live.

To mark this launch, we’ve picked out a few of our favourite sports docu-series and examined their merits as a marketing tool for those involved.

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The trailblazer of the docu-series format, this iconic show follows NFL teams during preseason, showing the highs and lows and offering an insight into the brutal nature of cutting an NFL roster down to size. Without doubt, its biggest marketing success is its knack for showing the human side of otherwise voiceless players, and the hard work that they put in to make it in a cut-throat league.

 

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A polished glimpse at Manchester City’s record-breaking league campaign of 2017-18, and above all a look inside the mind of the club’s enigmatic manager, Pep Guardiola. A popular series at the time, but significantly low on the actual drama or hardship that Hard Knocks so brilliantly provides – a by-product of a nearly faultless season for Manchester City.

 

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The other side of the coin from All Or Nothing: Manchester City, Netflix’s series follows Sunderland as they battle to avoid the footballing freefall of a second successive relegation. A huge PR success for the club’s low-level workers, and their long-suffering fans, but prepare for a slightly cringy coverage of the board and ownership. To say that the club’s leadership comes across badly would be an understatement.

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A fascinating look at the Australian Cricket team as they look to regain public favour after their infamous ball-tampering scandal in 2018. A resounding success in marketing terms, as it revealed the mental effects of the scandal on the remaining members of the squad, and the pressures felt during their subsequent Ashes tour of England. Undoubtedly a key part of healing wounds between the two cricketing nations over the last two years.

 

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Its release couldn’t have been timed better, with locked-down viewers eagerly awaiting the drip-fed episodes. TLD avoided the whitewashed nostalgia that similar documentaries have fallen into, showing the warts-and-all story of Michael Jordan and his dominant Chicago Bulls team of the β€˜90s. I, for one, know several people that have got into basketball as a direct result of the series, so in that sense it has been a marketing masterstroke for the NBA.

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Yet to be released, but a turbulent season for Spurs has only ramped up the anticipation around this series of All Or Nothing. Will the editing team be able to spin it into a marketing success for the club, or will they steer into the skid to avoid the rose-tinted view offered by the Manchester City series? We can’t wait to find out.

Long-form content has continued to thrive and having unprecedented access to teams is certainly a shift which fans are enjoying. It’s great to see our favourite teams a little more stripped back, not to mention the entertainment it’s given us during those long lockdown weeks!

We hope to see this type of content and access continue for teams across the board.