Hello Sunshine's upcoming slate features two projects centered on women's sports

May 26, 2023
For this month’s Sports Biz Breakfast, we spoke to Hello Sunshine's Sara Rea on the company’s upcoming slate and why documentaries can pay dividends for women’s sports.
Sports BusinessGeneral
Hello Sunshine's upcoming slate features two projects centered on women's sports
Source: Eric Alonso - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

☀️ Here comes the sun

Women’s sports are a natural fit for Hello Sunshine, the media company founded by Reese Witherspoon. “Everything that we do is women at the center and women with agency of their own lives and story,” head of unscripted Sara Rea told The GIST. “We're seeing an interest from multiple platforms in women's sports, [and] we've been waiting for the moment.”

The company has two major upcoming projects: A programming collab with the NWSL’s Angel City in Sydney during the FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) and a docuseries about the F1 Academy, Formula One’s (F1) all-female series, with more women’s sports–centric programming in the works. Stay tuned.

  • In Australia, Hello Sunshine will produce and amplify content about Equity House, a week-long pop-up with Angel City that includes the production house’s CEO Sarah Harden as a speaker.
  • As for the F1 series, Hello Sunshine will likely begin filming this year after spending the last month getting to know the drivers. The company also plans to talk to platforms about distribution “very soon.”

Sports serve as natural inspiration, per Rea, because they’re “universal and the stakes for an athlete are always very clear.… From a storytelling perspective, there are built-in goals, stakes, and with that comes heart, comes emotion, comes victory, comes defeat. All of the things that create a good story typically fall into a sports journey.”

Additionally, women’s sports content provides compelling narratives that swap stereotypical and reductive storytelling about women for realistic and deep portrayals. The F1 Academy doc is just one example — the drivers “are really passionate, they're really talented, they're very competitive,” Rea said.

Hello Sunshine’s upcoming slate fills a storytelling hole for women in sports, who have been “grossly underserved from a media perspective,” while also allowing the company to explore how the “impact [is] bigger than a television show” and join global cultural conversations.

“That's the power of media and changing the conversation around women's sports,” Rea added. “[It] will eventually lead to better conditions for women's sports and more pay equity.” Here it comes.

🎥 Lights, camera, revenue

From the launch of NFL Films in 1962 to ESPN’s 30 For 30 series and everyone’s favorite pandemic binge The Last Dance, sports documentaries serve as frequent, on-demand content for audiences. Plus, Netflix’s F1 doc Drive to Survive drove the genre into top gear by successfully luring new racing fans through the power of storytelling.

  • F1’s U.S. fan base grew 10% since the series’ 2019 debut and now stands 49.2M strong, with more than half of American F1 fans saying Drive to Survive played a role in their fandom.
  • Average U.S. viewership of F1 races jumped from 672K in 2019 to 1.21M in 2022 and could rise again if it tracks with Drive to Survive trends. Almost 570K watched season 5 during the first week of its release last February, up 40% YoY. Pole position.

Drive to Survive’s success led Netflix to produce more sports docs, even if it’s hesitant to enter the live sports game. It dropped two new series this year — Break Point, which covers women’s and men’s tennis, and the PGA–focused Full Swing. Though the former didn’t crack Netflix’s Top 10 when it debuted, the latter did and could boost live golf viewership.

A successful docuseries opens up a lot of revenue streams, as F1 can attest to. It inked a new U.S. broadcast deal with ESPN last October worth $85M a year, 17x more than their previous agreement. Plus, team sponsorships are now valued at a combined $961M and expansion fees cost over $1B. Start saving your pennies.

Sports bodies and teams aren’t the only ones benefiting. Every tennis player featured on Break Point scored more social media followers after the show’s January debut — ATP No. 9 Taylor Fritz’s social media audience grew 13.9%, while WTA No. 8 Maria Sakkari’s following rose 10.3%.

The same was true for the Full Swing golfers, who can then convert those followers into sponsorship dollars. Per Relo Metrics, Joel Dahmen’s sponsor media value per post rose 665% YoY. A masterstroke.

🔑 Key takeaways

Drive to Survive built the roadmap for rising sports to succeed through authentic storytelling, offering lessons for women’s sports properties trying to capitalize on undeniable momentum. It might also provide opportunities for anyone looking to ride the women’s sports wave. Grab your surfboard.

📺 Rea argues there’s no time like the present for documentarians to cover women’s sports. “We really hope to see the stories that we are telling feed the bigger conversation around women's sports,” she said, “because studies show that people are ready to show up. They just need it to be available.”

📈 Organic and captivating narratives will always attract audiences. Drive to Survive captured fans because F1 provided Netflix with raw access. The same goes for authentic storytelling around newsworthy moments like Prime Video’s upcoming doc about the Atlanta Dream’s fight against ex-owner Kelly Loeffler.

💰Visibility can reap rewards for brands, regardless of viewership figures. Break Point’s less-than-stellar Netflix debut still helped grow players’ social profiles, which should bolster returns for their existing sponsors. It also means brands need to keep an eye on which docs — and athletes — are headed for the spotlight.