Can The New ‘Make Or Break’ Series Do What ‘Drive To Survive’ Did For Formula 1? - Stab Mag
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Can The New ‘Make Or Break’ Series Do What ‘Drive To Survive’ Did For Formula 1?

First ep drops April 29 on Apple TV. Is this the WSL’s great unlock?

features // Apr 7, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Did anyone watch F1 before 2021? Hope you’re coping with the hoards of overnight fans. 

The same production company behind the hit-series, Drive to Survive, are releasing surfing’s own seven-part documentary series that delivers behind-the-scenes access to the world’s best surfers as they battle for the World Title. ‘Make or Break’ is the name. First ep drops 29th April. Here’s why it could be a major unlock for the WSL.

Averaging 946,000 viewers per race, the 2021 Formula 1 viewership was up 41% compared to the 2019 racing season and 56% compared to the year prior. A recent fan survey done by F1 and Neilson showed that, since 2017, the average age of F1 fans has fallen from 36 to 32, female respondents have doubled, the fan base has is more diverse, and viewership is at an all-time high. 

What happened?

Mostly, Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ series. Now in its fourth season, DTS was the turn key in F1’s skyrocketing viewership numbers. Raceday ticket sales for the first US Grand Prix rose 15 percent after its first season debut, and when the show’s third season released in 2021, it only took a few days for it to become the most-watched show on Netflix. The company behind F1 promotion, Liberty Media, bought the Formula 1 Group for $4.6 billion in late 2016 citing ‘enormous growth potential’ for the sport. Forbes reported that Liberty had “burned up” $105 million due to increased operational costs since then. 

We all drive cars, not all of us surf. Will surfing have a relatability problem for the mainstream?

The juice turned out to be well worth the squeeze for Liberty, whose F1 promotion strategy included producing original content in collaboration with the Netflix streaming platform that counts 222 million worldwide subscribers. Largely a courtesy of DTS, the final race in the 2021 Grand Prix achieved the 7th largest cable audience on record in the US, and you can now find swathes of unassuming F1 fans who will muse discussion of Romain Grosjean’s fireball collision with the barracades or the safety car fiasco which handed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen the World Championship over Mercedez’s Lewis Hamilton. 

The same producers behind DTS, London-based Box To Box, helmed by Academy Award-winning producer James Gay-Rees (Senna and Amy) and BAFTA-nominated producer Paul Martin (DTS) spent 2021 behind the lines of the WSL filming ‘Make or Break’. The formula and goalposts we imagine, are much the same, and just this morning the WSL announced the first episode of season 1 will air on the 29th April on Apple TV, three weeks from today. 

The show won’t be getting bogged down in the technical details of wins heats. It will be about the personalities. Photo by WSL

WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey told Stab last season, “They’ve got licence to go wherever they like. Their sound guy has this boom on this extender-pole that must be 30 ft long. You could be having a private conversation and you just get the feeling that someone is listening, and hovering five feet above you is this fuzzy boom mic. You’re like ‘Holy shit, what did I just say?’. They’re going to catch people talking shit about one another for sure.” 

‘Make or Break’ captured all of last season from Pipe to Final’s Day. They were also on the berm at Pipe in Jan this year, collecting clips for Season 2 which has already been greenlit. As far as organic drama goes, the cannon fodder for the start of season two when Kelly won the best CT event in recent memory, a week out from turning 50, is the kind of hero moment which could, with the right storytelling, capture and retain a mainstream audience in an otherwise fairly unrelatable niche sport. 

Doing the significance of this moment justice will be no easy feat. 72% of Stab pollers cried when Kelly won Pipe. Photo by WSL

The content strategy of DTS focuses on the personalities and personalities involved in the sport, rather than the technical details that ultimately decide things on the track. The mainstream surf fan will not care about JJF’s carbon wrap tech, or the fact he rides a 6’2” Ghost at Sunset, they will however care about his competitive rivalry with Gabs Medina, a brooding ‘Brazilian storm’, mid-year cuts, winner-takes-all surf offs, wildcard upsets and backstage politics, relationships and gossip they can drum up to the idea of a ruthless cut-throat league of flawed high-achievers. 

It’s worth noting that Max Verstappen called bullshit on the DTS series for creating ‘fake rivalries’ and has declined to feature in subsequent seasons. Privy core motorsports fans also called out inconsistencies in storytelling that used footage from other races in the service of creating more punchy entertainment. 

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Photo WSL

The WSL got TUS wrong, but it looked a dud from the outset. From the outside, ‘Make or Break’ holds real promise and the WSL has the chance to create something remarkable here. The fact that a second season has been approved before the first is out for public viewing could be an indicator that it might fare better than TUS. We don’t have visibility on the WSL’s bottom line, but it’s widely believed that the League has been operating at a loss since being acquired by the Dirk Ziff-backed ZoSea Media in 2013. We, the fans, get to watch a top-notch broadcast for free while ZoSea bleeds money trying to crack the code. 

I personally won’t be signing up for Apple TV to watch, but I will be peppering friends to borrow their details come the 29th.

Is this the WSL’s unlock?

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