Rewriting The Playbook: Creating a portal for a Netflix documentary series

In our overwhelming world, entertainment provides much-needed escape. People become engrossed in entirely different worlds as a way to deal with life’s stresses. We immerse ourselves in games, books, social media, or the latest binge-worthy TV series.

Yet we’re also seeking to improve our lives and find ways forward, especially in challenging times.

Lifting the curtain on other people’s ideas, successes and ideals is one of the most compelling ways to get inspiration and momentum for our own journeys, while simultaneously quenching a thirst to get the inside track and go behind the scenes.

Netflix documentary series The Playbook aims to bring together these two worlds of entertainment and improvement through the lens of sports coaches.

Co-produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill production company, The Playbook profiles legendary coaches as they share their guidelines for greatness in sports and life. Season 1 features coaches from soccer (US Women’s team coach Jill Ellis, and Tottenham Hotspur manager José Mourinho); tennis (Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou); and basketball (US national basketball coach Dawn Staley; and Philadelphia 76ers’ Doc Rivers).

Each episode focuses on a handful of rules close to the coach’s heart, interspersed with the element of their personal and professional stories that helped forge them.

However, although many of the episodes do a good job at providing an understanding of the humans who coach world-class athletes, there’s frustration.

If you’re watching a show like The Playbook you’re probably a sports fan. You could be curious about what goes into making the magic happen. Maybe you’re interested in bringing these lessons into your personal or work life. Perhaps you’re a keen amateur player or coach. You could be working in the sports business, or are even a professional athlete yourself. You may not just be a sports fan; you may be a sports fanatic.

The Playbook is the kind of show where a huge group of viewers who press play want to go further: to get the inside track; and to explore how the hard-earned learnings from those at the top of their game can be applied to their own lives.

Beyond the desire to get inspired and extract new learnings, there’s also a hunger for connection. Now more than ever we’re seeking the connection that comes from shared interests and experiences.

But a 30-minute broadcast format just isn’t able to fulfill these desires. Beyond the show itself, you can hunt for a Reddit or Twitter thread that discusses an episode, but there’s little on offer that holds long-lasting insight or value.

What would it look like to go further?

What if there was a ‘had to be there’ shared experience, featuring all the main players?

What if there was a dedicated portal for deeper discovery?

And what if you were invited?

For fans, this kind of experience can be magic. And, as we’ll see, creating a new kind of portal has huge value for creators and IP owners too. Fandoms are set to become a hugely powerful force, and they’re being largely underserved.

So, what could an invitation into deeper discovery look like?

Let’s take a look. It’s time to rewrite The Playbook.

Perhaps the most compelling episode of The Playbook’s debut season focuses on NBA coach Doc Rivers.

The episode documents his ascent from struggling young player to top-of-his-game coach, and unpacks some of the strategies he used to turnaround flailing teams like the Boston Celtics of the early 2000s.

But as well as being a leading coach, Rivers is among a group of NBA coaches who aren’t afraid to speak out about racism. In fact, Rivers addressed racism in the NBA as far as back as 1994 in his book “Those Who Love the Game”. In The Playbook, a segment highlights how he and wife Kristen, who’s white (Doc is African American), were targets of racially motivated harassment.

This sub-plot alone provides plenty to think about and explore, but the time constraint and passive nature of the format mean there’s only a couple of minutes of screen time to utilize.

Elsewhere in the episode, one of Rivers’ rules is “Ubuntu is a way of life”. The show explains Ubuntu — a philosophy used by Rivers to motivate his teams — as something embraced by African luminaries Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, but doesn’t get into how it’s a spiritual, collectivist ideal that was key in South African’s abolition of Apartheid. Again, there’s plenty of rich and valuable texture here that had to get left on the cutting-room floor.

Using River’s episode as a blueprint, here are 4 key areas we’d focus on when it comes to extending The Playbook.

1. Creating the portal

What do we mean by a ‘portal for deeper discovery’?

The portal is where the action happens. It’s an online space for exploration and discovery, and is the centre point of the experience. In post-pandemic times, it may become a blended experience, but whether it lives online or offline, the portal is built around the 3 C’s we use at Wavetable: curriculum, coaching, and community.

The levels of each of these elements varies depending on the type of experience and the needs of participants, but we’ll need all three in our portal.

When it comes to the construction of the space, there are a number of approaches to take, and some good off-the-shelf products are starting to emerge. Our preference is to use one or two products at the core and then build on top of them, effectively creating a ‘stack’ depending on the needs of the space. Of course, there’s also the option to build proprietary tools to serve some or all of the needs of the portal.

When it comes to The Playbook experience, we’d make it ephemeral. Participants can come together in this space for a finite period of time before it suddenly disappears — gone forever. You just had to be there. However, the learnings and connections made in the space last much, much longer.

A key part of the experience design is that participants can get involved in all of the 3 C’s, and do so either asynchronously (in their own time) or synchronously (one-off live sessions). For example, coaching may happen asynchronously, with a coach providing some questions or comments on a response in the online space. Community could be built through small, intimate breakout groups.

And when it comes to interaction, there are 4 ways to engage:

  1. With the principal (in this case, Doc Rivers)
  2. The support team: these are typically experts — they could include the 76ers’ nutritionist, shooting coach, or commercial manager. Maybe it’s Doc’s agent, or even one of his kids
  3. The facilitators: They aren’t necessarily subject matter experts, but they are experts at designing space, challenging and supporting participants, and ensuring the whole experience feels engaging and rewarding for everyone involved. The facilitators are the guide and glue of the experience
  4. The peer group: most important of all are the other participants. So many of the breakthroughs, learnings, and connections happen through interacting with peers. We’ve seen this happen again and again

These multiple mediums and modes of engagement allow for different learning styles, interests, time commitments, goals.

That’s a very brief overview of our portal. What about the content?

2. Content Extensions

Let’s start with the content that didn’t make it into the broadcast version.

With documentaries racking up 20, 50 or 100+ hours of content for every hour that makes the final piece, there’s lots to dive into.

Perhaps there’s a special extended version of the main episode, or select cuts, outtakes and other common elements of ‘behind the scenes’ content that can be reimagined in a ‘choose your own adventure’ online library — all available in the portal.

There’s also an opportunity to highlight the key moments from the episode in more depth, as well as place more focus on the tension points and lulls in the protagonist’s career.

For Doc Rivers, there could be emphasis on questions like:

  • When did he hit the buffers and not know what to do next?
  • How did he deal with rejection?
  • What’s the team talk when they’re getting pulverized in a road game?

These low points are touched on during each episode, but there’s opportunity to get further into those pivotal moments — that connective tissue that sits between the peaks and troughs. The low points are where much of the learning happens — both for teachers and students.

But it’s not just the content from the show. There’s more to explore.

3. Unlocking IP

Beyond the material from the edit suite, there are also the assets the episode’s guest has created and contributed to during their storied career. In our version of The Playbook, we could open up these assets, and unlock the IP.

What kind of assets could we have for the Doc Rivers sessions? Here are a few examples:

  • Playbooks (like Rivers’ team plays from historic games)
  • Audio and video clips of interviews and game highlights
  • Team stats from the training floor
  • Case study scenarios from games, trades, or business deals
a few items from the NBA Replay Archive

You may be thinking all this is just extra content. Nothing extraordinary here (although there’s plenty of NBA archive footage that still doesn’t seem to have been made easily available…yet).

On its own, maybe. But there are two things we can do with it.

First, we can bring this content into the portal so it can be engaged with in that range of ways we touched on earlier.

Second, we can think about not just transferring information, but transforming it.

4. Content Transformation

As well as extending content and surfacing some dormant assets, there’s the opportunity to augment and transform to augment it. To illustrate this, let’s take The Rules.

Each episode of The Playbook is loosely based around a handful of rules chosen by each guest. Here are Doc Rivers’ 5 rules that punctuate his playbook:

  1. Finish the race
  2. Don’t be a victim
  3. Ubuntu is a way of life
  4. Pressure is a privilege
  5. Champions keep moving forward

Each rule gets 3–5 minutes of screen time, an inevitable constraint of the format.

How about having the option to dive deeper into each one?

There are a multitude of ways we could explore The Rules, and again, the different engagement methods from our design can be utilized for each one.

Let’s start with a very simple question relating to Rule 4:

“When’s a time you’ve felt pressure?”

This can be posed to the whole group, or set up as a question for a small breakout session. It could accompany some special live-streamed content from Doc or the support team. Maybe it has follow-up questions or some worksheets connected to it.

Or perhaps it’s even a jump-off to something more sophisticated: creating an interactive case study or hands-on micro-experience that can be researched, explored, and dissected. We could even use a game engine like Unreal to offer something truly immersive.

Whichever method is used, the transformation is exciting in two ways: we’re using real assets and ideas; and then handing them over to participants to explore, discuss, and test out for themselves.

All this, when combined with the content extensions, portal, and intentional design and facilitation, can create magic, connections, and revelations that go far beyond a broadcast TV format, while still maintaining the integrity of the original IP.

Fans feel more connected to the game, the team, and the personalities. They can find new friends, new ways of seeing and understanding, and spin up new ideas and opportunities.

They may not even be fans anymore — they’ve become advocates and collaborators.

Bringing it together

Here’s a quick sketch of our playbook for The Playbook:

  • A multi-week experience for fans to connect, learn, and discover
  • Built with a customizable ‘stack’
  • Exclusive, but not elite
  • A blend of live (synchronous) and asynchronous (self-paced)
  • Peer group focus
  • Guest appearances from the principal, plus their expert support teams and special guests
  • Guided by trained coaches and facilitators
  • Plenty of ‘You had to be there’ moments, and never-seen-before content and assets

Hold on, why would I [talent, team, production company, studio] do this?

What makes this interesting for a documentary producer, studio, sports team, or IP owner? Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. A new way to engage: beyond a forum or a fan club, the portal provides a completely new, multi-modal way for a team or personality to connect with fans
  2. People want to come back: Sure, you can rewatch a show whenever you like, but what’s really going to make you come back is something new, something different. The portal is always changing, always developing, always evolving — and you never know what’s coming next. More engagement, more connection
  3. Cost-effective: the portal doesn’t need a multi-million dollar budget to set up. Much of the content is already available — the magic is in careful, intentional design and delivery to bring it life.
  4. Brand stories, content, and PR: this experience provides plenty of opportunities for sharing the deeper story of The Playbook — whether stories from the unlocked assets, the participants, or what they create together
  5. Discover what matters most: Is it Ubuntu that people are most interested in? Or is it Doc’s way of getting the team to fight back in the fourth quarter? Season 2 may look a lot different from season 1 once you have richer fan insights that go beyond a screening room
  6. New growth and revenue opportunities: whether it’s ticketed access, partnership deals, or follow-on membership opportunities, the portal provides numerous opportunities for generating revenue and growth

Anything else? Glad you asked. Let’s take a quick bonus round.

Bonus: Extend the Experience

What else can we do with this? Well, there’s always more than one portal.

For the Doc Rivers episode, there could be a portal for young basketball players.

Or a portal for Clippers or Celtics fans to geek out on the seasons Doc was in charge. Maybe there’s a portal to learn about the intertwining of sports and Black culture during the past 30 years. There could even be a portal for Ubuntu in sports.

And on top of the portal, there could be physical swag that participants receive — Doc’s book, a 76ers jersey, a season of NBA League Pass. Maybe there’s an opportunity to co-create a training session, or design part of the team’s training gear for next season.

The possibilities are truly endless.

How does this make sense for my brand?

The world of sports is built on fandom and playbooks, so it’s an obvious contender for this kind of activation.

However, what about food, fashion, beauty, or books? They all have intense fandoms too. In fact, there are hundreds of topics that stoke fandom, and fandoms are set to become a dominant force, both culturally and commercially, in the next decade.

This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to big hitters. As Kevin Kelly has famously stated, 1000 true fans is all you need. Venture capital firm a16z has suggested you may even only need 100. And the portal has the ability to scale up or down accordingly.

Smart brands of all shapes and sizes — whether the world’s most famous athletes or fledgling coffee startups — will come around to better connecting with and activating their fanbases.

And they’ll create powerful portals to do so.

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