For years, professional sports have been the mainstay of top-rated and most-watched programs on traditional TV. Now, perhaps more prominently than ever, they are growing to dominate the big screen and streaming services.

THE NFLking of American sports television, is leading the charge. by Tom Brady80 for Brady“, a comedy on the road featuring the greatest of the quarterback superbowl to come back, exceeded box office expectations for Paramount Pictures. This summer, Netflix will launch “Quarterback”, a new series after Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins And Marcus Mariota. HBO Sports will follow with its latest series of “Hard Knocks.” And “American Underdog”, Lionsgate’s biopic about Rams legend Kurt Warneris still celebrating the accolades of its late 2021 release.

But football is just the beginning. The entire sports landscape is both connected and expanding on screen. Nike, the official apparel partner of the NFL, is front and center in Ben Affleck’s upcoming Michael Jordan movie, Air. LeBron James, the Jordan of his time, hired filmmaker Ryan Coogler as producer on “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021), a sequel to Jordan’s cult classic. Coogler is also the producer of “Creed III”, the current box office hit by Michael B. Jordan. And now Skydance Sports, fresh off a production credit on “Air,” is build a partnership with NFL Films to create more feature film content.

What’s behind all these teams? Why is the sports genre particularly relevant and successful right now? We sat down with several key figures on the scene — Alex Convery, screenwriter for “Air,” and Mark Ellis, editor of Rotten Tomatoes — to dive into:

Note: The following interviews are edited for length and clarity, and consolidated as a panel.

What is fueling the recent and current success of sports content at home and in theaters?

Ellis: In our most basic sense, humans love competition. Even if you don’t consider yourself a sports fan, there’s a reason everyone watches the Super Bowl. We love the human element of it. How do you make conversation? Usually it’s weather or sports, and it’s not always so interesting to make films about the weather. And as to why sport is relevant now, as a cinematic force, if you look at how fragmented our society has become – politically, on the internet – we still want that massive sense of community, and the kind of a movie sports a safe landing place for that. The issues are clear as day. There is a kind of redemption factor. There is an outsider.

Conversion: Sport can unite people, and it has been common ground around the world for centuries. There’s a reason we always sign up for a season knowing we’re going to be heartbroken 99% of the time. Sport is a tremendous expression of human emotion. You go through everything. Even in a baseball season, the best teams lose 60 games per season. Sport breaks your heart, makes you fall in love, excites you, makes you sad. It’s a painting of the human experience, really, which is why they’re so resonant.

Are there other factors that make sports movies so appealing?

Ellis: A sports film can belong to any genre. It can transcend normal boundaries. Some people might come to watch “The Sandlot” for the laughs, some for the nostalgia, and some just love the baseball. For example, Red Sox fans will watch “Fever Pitch,” and to them, it’s a great romantic comedy. For Yankees fans, this is a horror movie.

Conversion: It’s interesting, I’m a huge sports fan who generally doesn’t like sports movies, for some reason. Probably because I love the real thing on the pitch, on the pitch, whatever sport we’re referring to, I love it so much that often watching a game is difficult. So the best sports movies aren’t much different from the best movies basically, which is like having great characters. … This one (‘Air’) is obviously adjoined to sports. There’s, like, a fast-paced basketball scene. So yes, it’s a sports movie, but is it a “sports movie”? I don’t know, it’s probably up for debate.

Is sports content really and measurably growing as a hit genre?

Ellis: Most highest rated sports movies in history, at least according to the Tomatometer – critical review and fan reviews – have been published quite recently. ‘Creed’ (2015), ‘Creed III’ (2023), ‘Moneyball’ (2011) are all very high and relatively new. I don’t know if we understood exactly how to do it better sports movies, but people are trying to find common ground. That’s kind of the reason we watch real sports in the first place, isn’t it? You love the game even if it breaks you. … We have an insatiable appetite for sport. There’s a reason sports talk shows air all day and all night.

“Air,” which documents the beginnings of Nike’s partnership with Michael Jordan, taps into that reality.

Ellis: It will land in “Certified Fresh” on the Tomatometer for sure. And why is that? I think because it makes these guys human. It shows us Michael Jordan, his family and those big names when they were just humans trying to build something big, when they were just people with dreams, taking risks.

Conversion: One of the goals of the movie was to show how the equity part of the deal was a game-changer and how that kind of started this wave of — I mean, that’s what people say in the NBA now, player empowerment. We see it in college sports now, with NIL. It all really started with this agreement. A shoe had never been so personified by a player himself. And listen, at the end of the day, we don’t just watch sports for the teams, do we? Otherwise, you’re just rooting for the laundry. I think Seinfeld is the one who said that first. But you do it for people. I mean sport, at its best, is like, wow, it’s amazing what humans can do. And it’s the people in uniform, not the uniform itself, that create value.

There’s also a meta quality to it all, considering the sports fans who play in “Air.”

Conversion: Each day (on set) had its own little memory. It was such a dream to work with Matt (Damon) and Ben (Affleck), obviously. For me, as a sports fan, the most fun part of the production was that the NBA Finals were happening while we were filming. And Ben and Matt are obviously huge Celtics fans. And one of the film’s producers is Peter Guber, owner of the Warriors. So there was a little back and forth every day, those two weeks of finals, which were just hilarious to watch unfold.

By the way, was there a Michael Jordan from the cast of “Air”?

Conversion: I try not to write with that attitude (to envision certain actors), just because you’re going to break your heart 99 times out of 100. That would have been the only time if I actually imagined the dream cast, we actually got it. But look, especially on true stories, you almost don’t have to imagine the cast because they’re real people. So I was imagining Sonny Vaccaro and Phil Knight and Rob Strasser and Deloris Jordan (Michael’s mom) when I was writing it. … I would certainly never, even in my wildest dreams, choose Matt, Ben, Viola, Jason, the two of Chris, and so on. …And look, everyone was great. Matt obviously has the bigger role and had more work to do on it. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say Viola because Deloris is sort of the gravitational pull of the film and ultimately the heart of the film and in many ways the protagonist of the film. I will always remember being able to watch her play that role and go to work. I mean, she’s next level in the movie.

What else can we expect on the horizon in the sports content space?

Ellis: I don’t know if people remember this, but one of Brett Favre’s last games with the vikings (in 2009), Fox had a camera where you could just watch Favre all the time. I feel like, in real sports, that’s where we’re going – making these events more cinematic. Sports films highlight the humanity of these athletes. This sort of thing does something similar. You know, we mentioned ’80 for Brady’, which is certified fresh: if it was a fictional quarterback in this story, no one would believe it. Nobody would care. But we all know Tom Brady really did, so we’re watching. Reality feeds history.

Conversion: I’m writing another sports movie now, which I can’t quite talk about. It has not yet been announced. But it’s another basketball movie that I’ve been trying to do for a long time. Hope you read about it sooner rather than later. And it’s all about character. The best sports movies can never talk about the final score. Otherwise, you’re just going to watch a game. You’re never going to capture that on camera the same way. So it’s just finding those human stories in the games themselves.