Religion of Sports, the sports production studio founded by Tom Brady, Gotham Chopra and Michael Strahan, is entering a new arena.
The Santa Monica-based media company launched in 2017 to create sports-focused original content—primarily documentaries for a number of distribution channels including Apple TV+ ESPN and Fox Sports. After six years, Religion of Sports is ready to expand into a European market with the purchase of Jiva Maya, a United Kingdom-based production house that writer and director Manish Pandey founded three years ago.
Consumption of sports content varies by region, and Religion of Sports is keen to expand its programming to cover more games that aren’t as popular in the U.S., like cricket, soccer and motorsport racing. Pandey is known for his motorsport documentaries in Europe; he won a BAFTA for best documentary film in 2012 for his work on “Senna,” a film about championship Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna.
Religion of Sports chief executive Ameeth Sankaran told dot.LA his company previously invested in Pandey’s company before buying it but wouldn’t disclose terms of the deal—which will see Jiva Maya retain its branding, but become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Religion of Sports.
Sankaran said he met Pandey about two years ago and backed his motorsport docuseries “Lucky!” which was a trial run to gauge demand for sports content in the E.U. and U.K.
“We believe that the market is going to grow in that Europe and Asia over time will follow what we see in the U.S.,” Sankaran said. He added that he felt that the way Pandey views storytelling is similar to Religion of Sports’ approach: focused on stories around dynamic, popular individual athletes and personalities who can anchor the content. Some recent examples of this include a docuseries on Olympic gymnast Simone Biles called “Simone Vs. Herself,” a show about Steph Curry called “Stephen Vs. The Game” and a series about Tom Brady’s journey to the 2017 Super Bowl called “Tom Vs. Time.”
The company has also produced content for major networks, including an interview special with Major League Baseball pitching star Shohei Ohtani called “Searching for Shohei” and “Headstrong,” a series about athletes’ mental health that aired on NBC Sports regional networks in 2019.
Instead of viewing itself as a competitor to major sports networks which also pump out their own content, Sankaran said he sees them more as partners.
“We get a lot of inbound now from networks and our partners [and] it might just be them [bringing] some athlete or team or ideas to us saying we want to collaborate, tell the story around this athlete, or this town,” Sankaran said. “When we lean into premium storytelling and unscripted, that has been the right place [for us].”
Religion of Sports has raised $66 million to date, most recently a $50 million Series B last July that was led by Shamrock Capital and featured investment from Elysian Park Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sankaran said that in terms of revenue growth, there’s “more and more demand for our core business” of originally produced sports content. Just look at Ben Affleck’s “Air,” “The Last Dance,” “Free Solo,” and “Athlete A.” Not to mention, a freediving documentary called “The Deepest Breath” from Netflix that debuted at Sundance last December.
The rise in documentaries’ popularity could be traced to the concurrent increase in streaming users, Sankaran theorized. “I do think it traces back to the growth of streaming, and being able to make the world – especially with Netflix – much more expansive,” he said. Adding that, “unscripted documentary filmmaking has just exploded.”
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