Stab Magazine | In The Future, Would You Pay To Watch WSL Events?

In The Future, Would You Pay To Watch WSL Events?

Which ones, Chopes, Pipe, Kelly’s Wave? 

news // Apr 15, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Let’s make a case for the hypothetical, yet foreseeable future of the World Surf League. If the WSL were to charge for the 2018 season, would you spare the change? 

The debate over the tour’s sustainability is pervasive, the rumour mill is stirring and a possible restructure for the 2018 season isn’t an outlandish notion. Currently, the WSL sits without a major sponsor (so long Samsung), have swapped CEO’s from original architect Paul Speaker to co-owner and billionaire and interim elect, Dirk Ziff. According to a source close to the WSL that’d prefer to remain nameless, “the lights would go out if he (Dirk) stopped cutting cheques, it’s as simple as that.”

However, the webcast, the contests and venues still shine bright! And, the WSL’s growing at a rate estimated to be five times that of the NFL. Both endemic and non-endemic brands have joined the family, most recently VISA and Michelob Ultra. The WSL also has tour and media sponsorships and in the case of events without major sponsors–think Fiji–they allocate funds to keep those events afloat. 

The significant difference in the global sport broadcasting entity of the World Surf League is everything is provided completely free of charge; there are no tickets for events, no PPV for the webcast, or the WSL website features like Fantasy surf, heat analyser, video content, etc. Other, individual sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing events run at a PPV price in the $50 USD range. While, sports packages for football, baseball, basketball, in addition to monthly payments for basic or premium cable, cost up to $120 USD for the year or $23 USD per month, all the while having significant financial backing, sponsorships and support. The average NFL team according to Forbes is worth $2.35 billion, while reigning world champ, John Florence brought in a personal $6.1 million dollars in 2016. Which, admittedly is like comparing cocaine to salt, but take into account that the highest paid NFL athlete, Drew Brees in 2016 earned a cushy $31,250,000. 

The WSL is a private company and does not reveal their finances. Considering that it costs an estimated three to five million to run each men’s CT event – this includes the cost of judges, staff, permits, insurance, etc. For the Men’s CT season, on the low-end spectrum, it runs the WSL $33 mill. 

Billabong Pro

A quick punch of the Amex to watch the world’s best compete in this? Billabong Pro Tahiti 2014. Photo: WSL

We reached out to the WSL for estimated webcast viewership numbers. However, they do not disclose such figures. In 2014, during the Billabong Pro when Chopes pushed triple overhead at times, and Kelly and John tied in the semis, the ASP reported 1.9 million unique visitors with a total of 6.1 million visits throughout the event. Ignoring the respective audiences of the app, Facebook live and international broadcast partners, three years later, considering the growth of the WSL, let’s assume that each event, swell and location depending, garners a one million unique visits throughout the 13-day waiting period.  

Now, imagine that ten percent of those million viewers (100,000) are willing to pay $10 USD to access the webcast spanning the entire event. The total revenue brought in by PPV would be an additional million dollars per event, and that’s at the bottom of the spectrum. Therefore slicing off 1/3rd to 1/5th of the event’s expenses, a substantial chunk of change. 

Sticking with our estimated one million viewers, if the WSL were to charge $100 USD for a season pass, advertising 11 events for the price of ten, our estimated ten-percent pool of 100,000 die hard professional surf fans (there are more out there) the WSL would bring in an extra $10 million each season. 

It’s no secret that these are desperate times for media, and the WSL is not exempt from the drains of this 21-century climate.  


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