Netflix’s Deal with WWE: A Shift towards Sports?

Netflix’s Deal with WWE: A Shift towards Sports?

Netflix has recently announced a ten-year deal with WWE to license its Raw programming, sparking debates about the streaming giant’s future plans in the realm of sports. While some speculate that this move indicates Netflix’s interest in acquiring streaming rights for major sports leagues, Netflix co-Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos has been quick to dispel such notions. However, given Netflix’s history of changing its strategies, it is worth exploring whether this deal marks a potential shift towards traditional sports content.

Sarandos is determined to emphasize that WWE falls under the category of “sports entertainment” rather than traditional sports. During Netflix’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call, Sarandos clarified that WWE’s storytelling elements, although centered around sports, are distinct from what is typically considered as true athletic competition. This statement underscores Netflix’s focus on narrative-driven sports content, aligning with its overarching strategy of producing engaging and emotionally-driven storytelling.

Despite the buzz surrounding the WWE deal, Sarandos assures that it should not be seen as a signal of any change in Netflix’s sports strategy. While Netflix has engaged in preliminary discussions with the National Basketball Association (NBA) regarding streaming packages, Sarandos suggests that the streaming giant is unlikely to play a significant role in negotiations. As the NBA seeks to limit its partnerships to three media providers, Netflix’s involvement may be limited.

Adjacent to Sports

Rather than venturing into live sports broadcasting, Netflix has predominantly focused on producing “sports adjacent” programming. The streaming platform has successfully created documentary series centered around Formula 1, professional tennis, golf, cycling, and football. By exploring the behind-the-scenes stories and narratives of these sports, Netflix has captivated audiences with engaging content that appeals to sports enthusiasts and non-sports fans alike.

Netflix’s $5 billion deal with WWE marks a significant shift in the streaming giant’s approach. While Sarandos describes it as the “inverse of Formula 1,” highlighting WWE’s popularity in the U.S. compared to its relatively smaller international audience, the deal presents an opportunity for Netflix to leverage its shoulder programming model. With a proven formula for success in capturing the essence of sports storytelling, Netflix aims to build WWE’s global appeal and strengthen its position as a leading provider of captivating sports content.

Netflix’s Evolving Strategies

While Sarandos and Netflix executives assert their current stance on traditional live sports rights, it is essential to recognize the company’s propensity for changing course. Netflix was once averse to advertising and cracking down on password sharing but has since reversed its position on both matters. Therefore, even though Sarandos dismisses the notion of Netflix pursuing major sports leagues, it remains plausible that the streaming giant may eventually pivot towards live sports content.

Netflix’s deal with WWE underscores the company’s focus on narrative-driven sports entertainment rather than traditional sports. While Sarandos has repeatedly quashed rumors of Netflix’s immediate involvement in acquiring streaming rights for major sports leagues, Netflix’s evolving strategies and willingness to challenge conventional norms suggest that a shift towards traditional sports may be on the horizon. As the streaming landscape continues to evolve, only time will tell how Netflix’s approach to sports content will ultimately unfold.


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