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Volume 7 No. 81
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Hangin' With ... World Surf League CEO Sophie Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt said that surfing sits "sits at the epicenter of where sport and lifestyle intersect.
Photo: WORLD SURF LEAGUE

SOPHIE GOLDSCHMIDT is the CEO of the World Surf League. She began her career with adidas and has since held positions with the WTA, NBA and Rugby Football Union. Goldschmidt brought her experience helping organizations enter new markets and developing sports in various global regions to L.A. five months ago when she took over the reins at the WSL. Under Goldschmidt's leadership, the organization recently agreed to an exclusive distribution partnership with Facebook. She spoke with SBD Global about that deal, the WSL-owned Kelly Slater Wave Company, which develops man-made wave facilities, and the league's ambition to play a role in surfing's inclusion at Tokyo 2020.

On the recent partnership with Facebook ...
Sophie Goldschmidt: We were delighted that they chose us as their first top-tier professional sports organization to partner with exclusively on a global basis. It's really transformative for us to be able to tap into the biggest distribution platform in the world, with over 2 billion users. Our audience is growing fast but our relationship with them certainly helps to further accelerate that. We love what they stand for. They're about community. The surfing world is a very tight global community, so right back to that main value, we're very symbiotic.

On the appeal of Facebook ...
Goldschmidt: We are able to be very nimble, very flexible. We want to be innovative, we want to be pioneering. Because of how we're structured and we centrally control all our rights, it means that we can maybe afford to be a bit of a guinea pig, unlike some other leagues. So we really want to push the boundaries. ... Another key criteria for us was that our content, for the most part, would still be accessible free of charge and Facebook allows us to do that. We didn't want to go behind a paywall, we didn't just want to be available on pay-TV platforms. So, the fact that the majority of our content is still going to be available for free around the world is hugely important for us.

On the WSL's use of virtual and augmented reality ...
Goldschmidt: We have done quite a bit in the past with one of our partners, Samsung. We were one of the first to go pretty big on VR, and we're about to roll out some new AR and VR projects for this season. It actually works really well with surfing. You can sort of bring to life that amazing experience of surfing a wave. Visually, it's beautiful. Whether you're into surfing or not, you can't help but be attracted to the visual aspect of our sport.

On the impact of the Kelly Slater Wave Company, which is owned by the WSL ...
Goldschmidt: That now allows us to go to any market in the world, even if you're landlocked, with this world-class wave facility that we're able to build. We're just rolling those out at the moment -- we have one in California, we've just broken ground on a second one in Florida, we're planning to build one in Tokyo, in Australia, in Brazil, in France -- and that's just stage one. We plan to expand much more aggressively in the next couple of years.

On how the man-made wave facilities will be utilized ...
Goldschmidt: The first five or six that we'll be rolling out will be controlled by the WSL -- they're being positioned as WSL high-performance centers. We plan to take events to the majority of them -- not just our top-level events but our qualifying series events, specialty events, junior events. … In addition to that, they will be programmed as training facilities; they will also be opened up for the community, some of them will be a membership-type situation. … There's a lot of flexibility from that standpoint.

The WSL hosts combined events exhibiting men's and women's competitions.
Photo: WORLD SURF LEAGUE

On the WSL's role in the Olympics ...
Goldschmidt: We are trying to get a wave facility built in Tokyo in time. Hopefully, if we can get it built, there's a good chance that the Olympics would take place in one of our facilities. I think if we're able to do that, it's likely to be the lasting impression of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. If you can imagine, the best surfers in the world competing in this world-class wave facility, floodlit at night, stadium seating coming up out of the water, surfers surfing towards them, amazing camera angles -- that's a reality; that could happen. ... There's no commitment yet from Tokyo 2020 or the IOC. We need to get it built and tested. But it would be a fantastic opportunity for the sport if we were able to have the Olympics take place in a man-made wave facility. But even if it takes place in the ocean, it's a great chance for the sport and one that we want to do whatever we can to support making it as successful as possible.

On the league's conservation efforts ...
Goldschmidt: We just relaunched our ocean conservation arm at the end of the year, which is called P.U.R.E. -- Protect, Understand and Respect the Environment. It's absolutely front and center of what we're doing as an organization, heavily supported by the surfers. We've repositioned it to be much more inclusive. Previously, we were very much about sustainability but a lot of our focus and attention went toward research, which is still very important to us. But we really want to use our platforms to help amplify all the great work that's out there. We felt that the world didn't really need another ocean conservation charity and we wanted to see how we could just better support all the work that's out there, which will involve financial investment, partnering our commercial partners with important NGOs and local projects and highlighting through our social channels all the great work that is happening.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.