ASP Podium For Sale
Story by Lucas Townsend The ASP podium houses the champagne-soaked portrait that goes viral following a world tour final. And the opportunities this affords are not lost on the new, commerce-savvy ASP. This year, they’ve taken steps to vacate this property for a potential buyer. This is nothing foreign to sports broadcasting; Formula One worked […]
Story by Lucas Townsend
The ASP podium houses the champagne-soaked portrait that goes viral following a world tour final. And the opportunities this affords are not lost on the new, commerce-savvy ASP. This year, they’ve taken steps to vacate this property for a potential buyer.
This is nothing foreign to sports broadcasting; Formula One worked through it in the early years of racing, so too did V8 Supercars and even triathlons are starting to make a similar play. The Olympics don’t even allow any branding on athletes unless the company sponsors the Games.
But this is new to professional surfing. And it could be a problem for some entities.
Michel Bourez doesn’t strike as the kinda gent who’d get caught in the middle of surf politics. And yet here we are. Photo: Trevor Moran/Red Bull Content Pool
For example, drink companies. Hat space is their most valuable commodity. They’ll rarely sponsor an athlete without owning the area (Mick Fanning’s the only one who’s negotiated otherwise with Red Bull) and they don’t like sharing with head-to-toe brands.
Considering it adds roughly 30 to 40 percent more to a sponsorship deal, you can imagine how the surfers want things to play.
From the company standpoint of, say, Red Bull; they keep their custom caps rare, and online message boards are stuffed with fans trying to acquire them, real or fake (I know, right?). Athletes from their stable have lifted world tour trophies on eight occasions this year. So, why would they invest in podium branding when their entire team is already the headline act?
This whole party started with the 2014 ASP Surfers Agreement and for that, we’ll rewind to the day before the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. Every World Tour surfer, male and female, attended a conference at the Coolangatta Hotel at the request of the new ASP. No managers or coaches were allowed to attend. At the meeting, each surfer was handed an individual 2014 ASP Surfers Agreement that’d been collectively negotiated on their behalf by the World Professional Surfers (the surfers’ union). All surfers had to sign the agreement before the following day’s first heat. And every surfer signed it.
Within the agreement was a clause that concerned branded headwear on the podium. The abridged version is that a surfer can wear his or her cap on the podium if their existing sponsorship contract says “on” the stage or podium, and was signed prior to February 25, 2014, but it could not simply say “to” the podium. The general “promote brand at all opportunities” line that’s in every surfer contract ain’t enough either. Obviously there’s some exceptions until existing contracts run out but the door is well and truly shut for the future: In the next stanza, each surfer who signed the document agreed not to enter into future arrangements that would require them to wear their brands on any ASP stage (this does not include branding on surfboards, wetsuits, boardies, kicks, sunglasses or watches).
No hat. Or drink bottle, for that matter. Here’s how it’s played out since:
No one’s happier about the absence of Riss and Sal’s hats than their male fan-bases. ASP/Kirstin
At this year’s Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, Carissa Moore collected her trophy on stage without her Red Bull cap. It was loud in its absence. Riss then carried her form into the Rip Curl Pro and again stood on the podium without headwear. Red Bull hats were also absent from both Sally Fitzgibbons and Riss’s heads on the podium in Rio. This would be unheard of in years prior.
After Michel Bourez won the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, he was allegedly asked backstage by ASP staff to remove his cap before scooping his trophy. With Red Bull’s support back of mind, he politely declined. The incident led to a warning, and further conversations featured suggestive use of the word “fine”.
Rio was another notch in Michel’s career-best year, but he again found himself being requested by ASP staff to remove his hat pre-ceremony; A request he politely declined again.
Michel told Stab he wasn’t able to talk about the hat situation.
Stab tried to contact the ASP for an interview regarding the tour’s sponsorship arrangements but had no response.
There’s no reason why our sport’s governing body shouldn’t absorb the same fiscal benefits as other sports. The problem is finding a balance: Surfers maintaining their salary, headwear branding income included, and the ASP perpetuating enough income to maintain their new and pleasingly-high standards of operation. It’s just that nobody wants to see a surfer conflicted by two contracts just before being handed a trophy.
The most interesting element of this will be, as always in surfing, Kelly Slater. If Kelly doesn’t come to an event then attracting a mainstream audience looks a whole lot tougher – them’s the breaks. But when Kelly unveils his new brand in a few months, (hopefully) commits to another year on tour and wins the first event on the Gold Coast, who’s going to tell him to take his hat off?
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