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Netflix's recent forays into live sports programming not expected to create any big waves soon

After being on the sidelines, Netflix has started dipping into live sports.

Over the past few months, the streaming giant has aired exhibition events in golf and tennis. It is also slated to air the July 20 bout between Mike Tyson and Jake Paul. Beginning next year, Netflix will start carrying World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship show, “Raw.”

So there's been speculation about whether Netflix’s recent forays into live sports are a precursor to becoming a major player for live sports rights. While having another competitor for rights would certainly be welcomed, it is unlikely to happen soon.

"The discipline that they have shown about what they’re either creating or acquiring and not deviating from that has been fascinating to watch so far,” said Tag Garson, president of Excelsior Sports and Entertainment, a consulting and marketing company.

Last November’s Netflix Cup, where Formula 1 drivers were paired with PGA golfers in a match-play format, and the March 3 Netflix Slam exhibition match between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz had one thing in common — they paired seamlessly with documentaries the company was already offering.

The Netflix Cup brought together famous figures from “Drive to Survive” and “Full Swing,” and the Netflix Slam for “Point Break.” Even though “Point Break” is ending after two seasons, Netflix is producing a documentary series about Alcaraz that will air next year.

For those wondering where boxing fits in, Netflix’s third season of “Untold” did its first episode on Jake Paul’s rise in boxing and the controversies that nearly derailed his career.

In Netflix’s case, live sports serve as shoulder and support programming for the documentaries and series, which is the opposite of what usually happens.

“Everything that they’re doing has compelling storylines. It doesn’t matter what genre we’re talking about within sports and entertainment,” Garson said. “The way that they’re going about it is also putting a very high production value into what is being distributed across Netflix.”

Gabe Spitzer, Netflix vice president of nonfiction sports, has said in recent interviews that they have talked to every league and team but have mainly discussed series and documentaries.

Netflix has also proved it can create programs featuring the top sports leagues without carrying games. A new NFL series called “Receiver,” which followed five wide receivers throughout the last season, was announced Tuesday. For three weeks, last year’s “Quarterback” series was among Netflix’s top 10 series globally.

Netflix is also working on a project with the Boston Red Sox and developed multiple series devoted to the recent FIFA men’s and women’s world cups.

Netflix’s and Apple’s strategies with live sports are similar. Both are willing to bid if it means rights beyond the United States.

The WWE deal gives Netflix the rights to carry Raw in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Latin America, with additional countries to be added as contracts expire. The bigger component, though, is that Netflix becomes the carrier of all WWE shows and specials outside the U.S. and the company’s premium live events, including WrestleMania and SummerSlam.

Netflix has said in recent announcements about programming that it has 260 million paid memberships in over 190 countries.

That's why Netflix would be unlikely to explore bidding on a piece of the NBA package when negotiations open in a couple months, or UFC when ESPN’s rights come up for renewal in a year, unless it contains additional countries.

Like many who follow boxing and combat sports, Jim Lampley is waiting to see whether the Paul-Tyson bout means more events on Netflix or if it's just a one-off event.

“If they commit to the sport, care about the fighters and every match they’re doing, understand what the human values are, want to promote and relate to it, yeah, it can be good,” said Lampley, a boxing announcer who called fights on ABC and HBO for over 30 years and currently does work for PPV.com. “If they are looking to make quick, incidental money based on cultivating a few big names and creating events that look like they might be meaningful events, but mostly aren’t, then it’s not good. It’s just noise.”

Lampley’s early opinion is that it is the latter.

“I’ve got nothing against Jake Paul. Mike is a dear friend. I wish him well in everything that he does. But a 57-year-old Mike Tyson against somebody I know only as a social media figure, there’s nothing that we can expect to be legitimate about that,” he said.

Irwin Kishner, the co-chair of the sports law group with the New York law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, is not as skeptical about the fight but also thinks Netflix expands its reach.

“They’ve been totally around the edges (with live sports), but I still think this is going to get a lot of eyeballs,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of time before they become much heavier players in this space.”

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports