Bill Hawes, Senior Director of IMG’s archive team, explains how demand for behind the scenes archive is transforming storytelling in sports documentaries.

Search any streaming platform for your next watch, and you’ll be flooded with choices when it comes to sports documentaries. Successes like Netflix’s ‘BECKHAM’ and ‘Drive to Survive’ series marked a significant shift in the entertainment landscape. With players, teams and leagues taking ownership of their own story and an increase in the type of archive footage now available to content creators, storytelling in sport is transforming.

For example, we’re seeing more content requests for personal archive than ever before. Viewers are becoming savvy to sanitised portrayals of their favourite athletes and expect documentaries to bring a higher level of authenticity, with a ‘reveal all’ approach to storytelling.

This demand was likely born from the growth of social media that has granted fans unprecedented access, which they expect to be matched, if not exceeded, in docs. At IMG, we’re working closely with our rightsholders to adapt to meet this demand – with a greater willingness to share and license more intimate archive footage.

Recently, the Premier League began the process of cataloguing nearly 400 hours of additional footage including interviews, training, and pre-season tours – bringing the archive total to just under 50,000 hours. Content owners worldwide are digging through their archives to find footage that has previously been disregarded, but could now provide golden opportunities to add additional perspectives. Rightsholders need to continue to ensure they’re prioritising personal, behind the scenes, raw footage to ensure they’re continually providing content that captivates fans and builds closer connection.

There is also an understanding from athletes that permitting this access, helps grow their own profiles through added exposure. In many cases, social media followers of individual athletes far exceed that of their teams, who are increasingly in need of harnessing the audiences of their star players.

Beyond rightsholders own content, devices have empowered consumers to become content creators themselves. Take a stadium filled with fans equipped with phones, and you’re able to capture short-form content from more angles than ever before, amongst the energy of a crowd. Across the industry, we’re also seeing significant investment in this space with Greenfly recently securing an additional $14million venture capital funding, driving the capability for sports brands to capture prized short-form content.

Fan-led footage is becoming increasingly important in storytelling, and consumer accessibility means that it is only likely to grow. While it allows rightsholders the chance to add unique content to an already growing archive, the logistics of fan-led content pose key questions around ownership of content and licensing use. We see a huge opportunity to gain access to a treasure chest of new archive that enhances traditional broadcast and documentary material. Going forwards, it’s a priority area for IMG, to work closely with our rightsholders to capture and unlock this material and effectively distribute. 

Alongside the evolution of archive content itself, comes the development of new genre of documentary formats. Built largely on exclusive behind-the-scenes access and interview content, series like ‘Drive to Survive’ now in its sixth season and ‘Full Swing’ recently releasing its second season, mark the success of ‘soapified’ sport content in building fan communities. There has been a large uptake in supplementary content being licensed in an attempt to replicate this success and help acquire new fans as well as driving audience to live events.

Whilst I don’t believe that the sporting documentary market will become saturated, there is an underlying concern that the narrative will become too ‘sanitised’. Some rightsholders look to use this space as a route to market, insisting on editorial control to create a positive narrative. The reality is that fans look for authentic storytelling, and getting genuine insight, which in some circumstances includes controversy.

It explains the success of ‘Hatton’, a film that gives viewers unprecedented access to the life of boxing legend Ricky Hatton, including his personal insights, alongside those of his friends, family, and peers. The current investment into archive means content is getting better with time, so it’s crucial that both rightsholders and creators work to find a balance in transparency, allowing the production to be a true reflection of the world of sport and the humane stories within.

Jon Creamer

Share this story

Share Televisual stories within your social media posts.
Be inclusive: is open access without the need to register.
Anyone and everyone can access this post with minimum fuss.