[João Capucho explains how fragile ASP is - and how strong a simple Country can be]
In 2013, the ASP’s two professional male surfing tours will grant a total purse of 8.6 million dollars, 4.5 of which being given to surfers at the World Championship Tour (WCT) 10 stops and the remainder coming from the World Qualifying Series ‘(WQS) 29 events throughout the globe. Despite surfing’s increasing popularity, this means total prize money has decreased for two consecutive years up from an historically record figure of roughly 11 million dollars and 50 events in 2011. This has coincided in time with a radical change in ASP’s governance model which has been (wrongly) named as a takeover on the ruling body of professional surfing. Basically, what the ASP did was a full sale of its rights over its major competitions to an apparently freshly incorporated, unknown media group named ZoSea Media. Towards event license owners – corporate surfing brands - ZoSea assumed the responsibility of putting in place the WCT and, regarding surfers, it has promised them the much awaited pension plan and, of course, extra prize-money, in exchange for their voting rights on the organization. This allowed Zosea to appoint a new ASP management team bringing new marketing and business skills and probably the end of the historical governance model by ex-professional surfers and more salted eyebrows.
With the WCT funding needs highly dependent on a troubled RipCurl / Quiksilver and Billabong troika, this deal came with no surprise as these companies – who had voting rights on the former ASP – dramatically need to cut their costs to cope with falling revenues worldwide. However this will fuel a dramatic change in the ASP’s business model and revenue breakdown in the world surfing tour(s). In fact, ZoSea will have to speed up some measures that have been postponed or skipped by former managers f the Organization. First, the WCT must rapidly find an umbrella or naming sponsor. Second, the ASP (ZoSea) will have to (re) sell its TV rights either as a bulk and/or to as a pay-per-view scheme forcing its million fans worldwide to start paying for something they’ve always had for free in the past. Moreover, as an umbrella sponsor pops up it will probably go beyond on merchandising products and, last but not least, the end of this-absolutely-free show (the WCT) may be closer as paid tickets is probably needed as another source of revenues. Definitely this will put surfing side by side with mature, developed and solid sports where sponsorships, tv rights, merchandising & tickets account, in equal portions, for every event revenue breakdown.
These much needed changes would first crystallise on the WCT and may be incompatible with the so-called Dream Tour, surfing events in remote tropical places with pristine water, palm trees and scarcely populated areas. Even in the aftermath of three stand out events in Bali, Fiji and Tahiti, the sale of TV rights and pay-per-view turn spectators into owners, fans into clients and, for example, time differences with Europe, the US and Brazil will probably have more to say than the intrinsic value of any given surfing spot. Urban beaches events like the ones of Rio, coupled with artificial wave events and shorter waiting periods will account for a larger portion of an WCT that will most likely include not 10 but 14 to 16 stops as the Formula 1 or the Moto GP world tour. Core ASP events such as Hawaii, Tahiti, Jeffrey’s Bay, Bells Beach will hopefully be kept as virgins but new venues, shorter events and, most probably, lower quality or artificial surf sports will bring the much needed extra dollars to surfers and organisers (ZoSea) and, as it happens with Moto GP and Formula 1, their schedules will rely more on the timetable zones and availability rather than offshore winds or adequate tides. The last Volcom event in Fiji was anecdotic and amateurship seemed to rule. On a week night, at 11 pm, Central European Time, millions of fans were waiting for the action to start in epic conditions but event organizers decided to start with a non-official competition (which, by the way, as a very similar name to the WQS of the ASP) leaving the fllet-mignon of the world’s top surfers to late night hours in Europe. Ridiculous.
However this is a mere realistic preview of what may be yet to come. The WCT is, no doubt, a prime sports show but it is totally free for both the spectators at home and at the beach and this has proved to be unsustainable. Sponsors either lacked or put their money on safe harbours (events) causing serious damages on the WCT foundation: the WQS. Since 2007, total purse in the (male) WCT posted a compound annual growth rate of 9% but, in the same period, prize money in the (male) WQS grew by a mere 4% per annum. Moreover it experienced a dramatic fall since 2010 when surfers had 46 events worldwide quite above this year’s 29 stops. Sovereign debt crisis and sluggish economies in Europe had an important role on this. From 2007 to 2010, the Old Continent had 12 WQS events but, in 2013, you can count them with the fingers of one of your hands. As we say in Portugal, someone put a blanket to cover its head but its feet (the WQS) ended up being uncovered, cold, with a long lasting flu with breathing problems, metaphorically speaking.
This means that the WQS itself will have to face, perhaps, its biggest revolution since it was created back in 1992. In order to avoid cannibalisation, the new ASP must put an end to the so called Prime events which are nothing but a vague concept, something in-between a cheap WCT and a 6 star WQS yet much more expensive. It should get some inspiration in the ATP 250, 500, 750 and ATP1000 events and get a new grid with only four level of events. It should also take in account that the current model is obsolete as it is very expensive for, say, an aspirational European surfer to start its international career with qualifying events in Brazil, Australia, Mexico or Japan. This means that surfing should also get further inspiration with soccer and start thinking about continental rather than global entries to the WCT. This would mean, for example, that Europe, Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia would have allocated entries to the WCT thus reducing the costs of participation of surfers, broadening the number of ASP members, turning surfing into a truly global sport and eventually bring new regional or continental sponsorship opportunities. Just look for the Portuguese example. In 2013, Portugal, a small 10 million people country in Western Europe, will account, in 2013, for more than 11% of the ASP total (male) events purse, up from a mere 3% in 2007. Moreover its first ASP event was held in 1989 and it has always belong to the ASPs calendars since then. However, on one hand, this has absolute no relation with the percentage of surfers ranked in the .WQS, judges in the judges panel or even managers in the ASP scope. Ironically, out of the 3 events held in Portugal, 1 is a WCT and 2 are Prime WQS all of them with closed doors to a significant number of good young Portuguese surfers.
More changes may be seen in the horizon: girls. The ASP has historically disdained the Women tour. The girls, themselves, also have their share in the fail. However, in the past two years, female surfers have been granted a lot of media and air time, as both their sex appeal and performance raised to unprecedented levels. This may force a peaceful spin-off on the ASP like the one we saw 40(!) years ago in WTA (Women Tennis Association).