The Architect Of The Glorious WSL, Paul Speaker Is Stepping Down
This can’t be a good thing, can it?
This morning in a letter addressed the World Surf League community, co-owner and CEO Paul Speaker announced his resignation at the end of January. Paul owns equity in the WSL and has been the man heading the shift from the ASP into what we know today as the WSL. The multi-billion-dollar duo, Mr Speaker and co-owner Dirk Ziff (net worth: $4.8 bill) ensure their “close and collaborative partnership” and that they “will work together on a seamless transition” of power. At the end of January, Dirk will take over Paul’s role until they find the best candidate for the position. “Dirk Ziff is stepping in as interim CEO, then they will be identifying a successor in the CEO position,” WSL VP of Communications, and always kind when bothered, Dave Prodan tells Stab. “They are looking for someone who shares the core values of the WSL and are looking forward to bringing the league to the next level.”
It’s hard to believe it’s possible that this is a good thing for the WSL, who have been making huge strides in their media, commentary and consistent flow of competition. “From the time that Paul started, he’s always intended to transition from the CEO position and crystallise his time as co-owner,” Dave says when prompted if the announcement came as a surprise. “He targeted three-to-five years as CEO and with the acquisition of Kelly Slater’s Wave Company, the inclusion of surfing in the 2020 Olympics and a new cooperation with the ISA (International Surfing Association) he felt like it was the right time to step down.”
If you subscribe to the WSL email blast, then you’re aware there is a contest running at nearly any given time, a lot of them sans corporate sponsorship, leaving the question of where the money to fund such events is flowing from? The WSL first and foremost is a business and it’s easy to assume it’s one that’s haemorrhaging money. But, as a private company, the WSL doesn’t publicly report on financial. The pre-acquisition model for an event sponsorship was a certain way, in that the ASP would have a licensed event sponsor who would fund that event. In the case the event did not obtain a sponsor or the sponsorship was pulled, the event would not run. The WSL, alternatively, has tour and media partnerships that are able to allocate funds across all of their events, therefore, just because an event doesn’t have a sponsor, it doesn’t mean it’s not funded. However, the amount of funding available to spread across non-sponsored events such as Rio and Fiji (Corona has sponsored J-Bay) in 2017 on the CT level (men and women), Pe’ahi, Todos Santos and Puerto Escondido on the BWT, a slew of QS, Juniors, and longboard events remains unknown. And, each CT event costs an estimated three to five million dollars to put on, that money is spread across the webcast, staffing, insurance, logistics–the whole production. It’s questionable how sustainable the above business model is.
Still, the level of coverage of the WSL under CEO Paul Speaker is miles from what is was when he took office five years ago. It’s worth asking where professional would be surfing be left without a circuit tour pinning the world’s best against each other? For surfing to be taken seriously on the world stage, there must be competition. In 2017, surfing’s at its pinnacle, a major notion of this is its inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Among our many accomplishments together are: the remarkable increase in fan engagement; the highly professional quality of the broadcast; our stellar event production; the various athlete development programs, and the introduction of the sport to a new group of non-endemic corporate partners,” Mr Speaker states in the letter released earlier this morning.
“The commitment to our athletes in and out of the water has led us to many firsts for surfing, including: a pension plan for our athletes; the creation of the commissioner’s office to secure the integrity of the sport; prize-purse parity between the men and the women of our championship tour, and the first multi-year surfers’ agreement.
“The WSL has pioneered new technologies and digital strategies that have been ahead of the curve, and have led to recognition throughout the sports industry as a first-mover in many areas. With a focus on the fan, surfing is now enjoyed on multiple media platforms around the globe, through traditional broadcast, but most frequently on our mobile app, website, and social media channels. We have also acknowledged the global nature of our sport by delivering our live event broadcast in English, French, Portuguese and Japanese.
“I am incredibly excited for our future. The Kelly Slater Wave Company offers a tremendous and unprecedented opportunity for the League to dramatically shift the landscape of high-performance surfing around the world with guaranteed conditions, total fairness for the competitors, greatly enhanced live viewing, and major television coverage at a scheduled time. Our sport’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics is a testament to the continuing rise of surfing as a global participatory and spectator sport, and will allow WSL athletes to represent and compete for their countries for the first time ever on arguably the greatest sporting stage in the world.”
Chew on that for a second.
For more information read the entire letter here.
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