Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Films, TV shows and documentaries with sports as the center stage are not only well-liked by people, but also exert an indelible influence on them. There are many instances of these depictions significantly impacting the popularity of the sport itself. Read on to know more.
We are all inspired and moved by sporting icons and teams. And, for obvious reasons, sports has emerged as a genre in itself in the entertainment industry. Whether it is films, documentaries, biopics, or web-series, sports personalities are portrayed as fictional or real life characters to inspire audiences.
There are several instances wherein these depictions have amplified the popularity of the sport to a great extent. Some of the more prominent ones are as under:
1 - The Queen’s Gambit (Chess)
In late 2020, a Netflix mini-series called ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, led to an increased interest in chess globally. The fictional story depicts an orphaned chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who battles addiction to pills and alcohol, and conquers a male-dominated chess world.
The Queen’s Gambit, a fictional story, depicting an orphaned chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) has surged a global interest in chess (Image credit: IGN)
The show, based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same title, spiked the popularity of online chess. Millions of fans flocked to the chess playing website - chess.com to play games and learn lessons, so much so that it led to the biggest annual growth since its launch in 2007.
Between March and December 2020, the website added 12.2 million new members and this included the 3.2 million who joined after the show premiered on the streaming platform in October.
An analysis done by Towards Data Search, illustrated the impact of the show on chess.com after a scrutiny of user trends across four random nations - UK, Italy, Colombia and China. While the show was released on three different dates in the first three countries, there was no official release in China, due to its rigid regulatory environment.
The analysis showing the new user trends on chess.com, in four randomly selected nations. Release date of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ highlighted in red (Image credit: Towards Data Search)
The results showed a sudden spike in the number of chess players immediately after the show’s release.
According to a marketing research company NPD, the unit sales of chess sets jumped by 87 percent, and sales of books about the game surged by a whopping 603 percent in the United States. The American crafts site Etsy also witnessed a 364 percent increase in search volume when it came to items related to chess during November 2020, compared to the same time in 2019.
2 - Drive to Survive (Formula One)
Nielsen Sports, a renowned sports measurement and analytics firm, hasforecasted that Formula One (F1) is all set to hit a landmark of one-billion viewers by April 2022. However, much of the credit for this goes to the exciting Netflix show, Drive to Survive.
The Netflix Docuseries, Drive to Survive, has been generating interest in Formula One, all across the globe (Image credit: Lets OTT)
The one-billion forecast was obtained after analysing responses of individuals aged between 16 to 69 years in key F1 markets. At the end of it, Nielsen Sports revealed that the F1 viewership had increased by 73 million people (20 percent growth) in the last 12 months in territories of Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Korea, Spain, UK and the US. The projected one-billion figure was arrived at after following the trend of a 1.1 percent monthly growth aggregated across these markets.
In terms of demography, the surge in amusement towards F1 was 77 percent more among people belonging to the age group of 16 to 35. While the prime reason for this was the show, virtual racing on platforms like Youtube and Twitch was also a contributing factor.
3 - Rocky (Boxing)
While Hollywood has produced a slew of movies focussed on boxing - like Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, The Fighter, Creed and Southpaw, Rocky has always stood out. Starring the legendary Sylvester Stalone, the film which was set in the 1970s at Philadelphia depicted a loser-turned-champion tale, which inspired millions across the world.
A boxing sequence from the Rocky films (Image credit: Independent UK)
In an interview to Yahoo, Frank Kubach, the owner of Front Street Gym (where some sequences in the film was shot), said that the number of joinees at his boxing gym shot up after the release of every film in the Rocky series, beginning with the original (There were four Roman-numeral sequels between 1979 and 1990, then Rocky Balboa in 2006 and Creed in 2015).
In addition to attracting more people towards the sport, Rocky was successful in placing Philadelphia on the world map. Be it the fleet of stairs in the art museum, later renamed as the ‘Rocky steps’, or the 10-foot bronze statue of Rocky becoming a major landmark, the movie laid the path for a strong and resilient tourism sector in the city.
Tourists pose at the 10-foot bronze Rocky statue in Philadelphia (Image credit: Visit Philly)
4 - Chak De India (Hockey)
Closer home, Chak De India was a Hindi film that shed the spotlight on hockey in 2007. The Shahrukh Khan starrer was both critically and commercially successful. Still hailed as one of the best sports films ever made in India, the movie made the lives of hockey equipment manufacturers better in the country.
Chak De India, is still hailed as one of the best sports films ever made in India (Image credit: IMDB)
Jalandhar is a small town in Punjab that was known to produce nearly 95 percent of India’s hockey gear. After the massive success of Chak De India, it saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in the sales of hockey sticks, shin guards and helmets.
There was also a sudden spike in the demand for hockey equipment in states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Besides this, the sport grabbed many eyeballs. More and more individuals were seen flocking to stadiums to watch the ‘national sport’. Former president of the Indian Hockey Federation, KPS Gill, termed it the ‘Chak De effect’ after witnessing the jam-packed stadium during the 2007 Asia Cup, held within days of its release.
While most movies and shows in this genre are based on or inspired by real life stories (Invictus, Moneyball, Dangal, MS Dhoni:The Untold Story, among others), the others are simply aimed at promoting certain sports which do not get their due recognition and viewership.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about sports in popular culture -