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Volume 25 No. 29
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World Surf League Preps For First Event At Wave Pool Instead Of Ocean

Surfing has always been challenged by its dependence on the unpredictable ocean
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The World Surf League will hold an elite international competition this weekend in Lemoore, Calif. -- notable by the fact that it is at least three hours inland from the Pacific Ocean. The WSL Founders’ Cup of Surfing is the first official event at the WSL Surf Ranch, a wave pool with technology developed by retired world champion Kelly Slater and the WSL. Artificial waves are a controversial notion in the surfing grassroots, but it is a revolution in the eyes of the growth-minded WSL front office. “This technology is phenomenal,” said WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt. “We had a small, private test event a few months ago. I think everyone knew it was a game changer for surfing. But I have to say after seeing it live, I think it’s a game changer for sport presentation more broadly." Surfing has always been challenged by its dependence on the unpredictable ocean to develop the standard revenue streams of sports. Events are booked for 10-14 day windows, and each day during those periods officials evaluate the water and weather conditions before running competitions, making it difficult for media partners and sponsors to plan. Tickets have never been sold before on the tour for that reason. However, the Surf Ranch expects to sell out 5,000 tickets for both Saturday and Sunday. The wave pool, acquired from Slater by WSL parent WSL Holdings Inc. in '16, allows for a precise schedule of events.

SPONSORS READY TO ACTIVATE: Presenting sponsor Michelob Ultra is activating around its new Pure Gold beer for the first time on site, along with Jeep, T-Mobile, Lifeproof, Quiksilver and Barefoot wines. All are planning with a certainty common in other sports but heretofore unknown in surfing, allowing the brand teams to commit to camera-ready signage for the broadcast and streams, and extensive on-site activation, said A-B InBev Senior Manager of Experiential Marketing Joe Geoghegan. “As presenting sponsors, we can count on being there during the broadcast, on the Facebook stream, with event signage, on the surfers’ rash guards,” Geoghegan said. "That level of integration for our brand, with such a new unique event that we know when it will be airing, is another huge reason for us moving forward with this partnership." Michelob Ultra already is locked up as the tour’s beer sponsor through the end of '18. Geoghegan admits there are many unknowns about how inland surfing will be met by fans, but said “We’re willing to share in that risk and that discovery." Officials are planning a wraparound music-and-food experiences to develop a full festival around the competitions as well. “While we’ve set very high expectations, it really is still a test as well,” Goldschmidt said. "It’s never happened before, but the reception has been fantastic."

MORE TO COME IN THE FUTURE: WSL expects to develop between five to seven additional wave pools through partnerships with local operators in key surfing markets over the next several years, with a 10-year plan calling for a broader rollout. They eventually want the wave pools to host regular tour stops and one-off events throughout the year, though Goldschmidt stressed they would not replace the ocean. “At the heart of the sport, the ocean is very, very important,” she said. “While I expect over time we will have more wave facility events, I think a significant portion of, and our most iconic stops, will always be in the ocean."

COVERAGE EXPANDING THIS SEASON: As part of new deals covering the '18 season set to be announced today, CBS will air an hour of Founders’ Cup coverage Saturday at 2:00pm ET, while Turner Sports’ B/R Live will distribute 12 hours of live streaming coverage. All told, CBS Sports has committed to 40 hours this season and B/R Live will become the official home to WSL video on demand. WSL platforms and Facebook will stream the action internationally. This weekend’s event is a one-off outside of the WSL championship tour schedule. Twenty-five surfers will compete as teams representing the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Europe and the rest of the world. The same venue will host an official tour stop in September as well.