NBA commissioner David Stern has long said that live sports has always been reality TV…drama played out in front of the cameras for millions to see, packed with drama, excitement and of course now all the access that teams, brands and fans can muster. The digital world has brought us into the living rooms, bed rooms and locker rooms like never before, and we can’t seem to get enough of the insider information that fans diehard and casual crave.
In order to take the access even further, documentarians began bringing us inside the locker rooms of American sport, NFL Films, NBA Entertainment and MLB Productions brought us the sights and sounds, and the HBO came along and created their signature 24/7 series. Showtime followed with “The Franchise,” and the weekly “insiders” program has become a must for every league or property looking to expose their brand to the highest, most intimate level. No the all-access shows are not for everyone, and all are not produced with the majesty of master story tellers and videographers. Some knock offs have been tried at smaller budgets and more contrived access and they don’t work. But when done right, like “Hard Knocks” or 24/7, the stories told leave an indelible imprint on the memory of the viewers.
However this type of access is still in its nascent stages outside of the U.S. Japanese baseball (even with the all access given to Bobby Valentine in the landmark film “The Zen of Bobby V” ) is largely hidden from view, with stories carefully crafted outside the locker room. Rugby, cricket, and soccer rarely let anyone into the inner circle in real time and while the season is going on. Yes the Olympics has always had the landmark works of the late Bud Greenspan, but even those films were done well after the fact to an audience enamored with the Olympic spirit. Inside Manchester United or Chelsea or Real Madrid? Thanks but no thanks. The fans didn’t ask, brands didn’t demand, and the clubs had little interest. A documentary or two along the way about the fans, sure. Those have been done around Man U and Chelsea, but inside the inner workings? No way. A fictional movie like “Goal: The Dream Begins” tried to take fans inside the world of Newcastle United, but movies can only go so far, and there aren’t always happy endings in sport.
Perhaps that is why the documentary the Liverpool (under the ownership of John Henry and his Boston-based team) has done with Fox is being seen as so earth shattering everywhere but in the United States.
“Being Liverpool” will debut in the United States on September 16 with a five part series, with a debut to follow on Channel 5 in the UK rights. The show, which worked hand in hand with the club, gave Fox all unfettered access through the end of last season and captured much of the drama of wins, losses, coach firings and hirings and all the pageantry and fan following that AMERICAN audiences are used to. Fans have never been this far inside the makings of the storied club, and the series will expose player’s lives to the cameras like Barclays Premier League soccer has never seen before.
Now it is not “Hard Knocks.” The shows are taped and edited well in advance, it is not done in season so the immediacy of the drama will be felt to some extent but not to what we see with HBO for their NFL or their Winter Classic work, or for Showtime with The Franchise (cut short by the Miami Marlins this year). It is more a string and dramatic look back. What is more important is that it is yet another step to expose high level European club football, its brands and its players to an American audience in a way that Americans enjoy experiencing their own athletes. Like the uber successful friendlies this summer, “Being Liverpool” will be another massive brand extension for the club into the growing soccer-savvy market of the United States, hoping to capture more of the market for future sales, tours, web traffic and maybe somewhere down the line, in-season games with thousands of die-hard supporters.
Will it work here? If it has the drama look and feel, it has a great chance. Will it work in the UK? It will be a culture change for sure, and for sure traditional followers of the club may be reticent to watch or enjoy a show about a season past, telling them more about their club, good and bad, than maybe they want to know. However if brands engage, fans enjoy and possibilities exist, the expansion of the series into a regular in-season EPL global show ala “Hard Knocks,” with Manchester City, Chelsea and others lining up, won’t be that far off.
It is a new version of reality TV for those outside the States, a genre which the world is now mimicking on a nightly basis. As Commissioner Stern said, sport is the greatest reality TV, so why not meshing both worlds for fans to engage in. It has worked in the States, now the concept goes global.
Tune in and find out more.