“We Have The Luxury Of Appealing To A Very Broad Fanbase, Both As A Sport… And A Lifestyle”
By Taruka Srivastav | June 7, 2021
According to a recent report by Hookit, the World Surf League is the most followed adventure sport on social media. After the enforced lay-off during 2020, WSL has restarted with an all-new season in 2021, so iSportConnect’s Taruka Srivastav spoke with WSL CEO Erik Logan to know more about their marketing strategy and sponsorship plans.
How would you describe the overall impact of the past year on the World Surf League?
In March last year, we made the decision to cancel the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then the WSL team has been working hard to resume the Championship Tour and we are proud that we’re now halfway through our 2021 season having completed our opening events in Hawaii and most recently four events in Australia.
While the tour was on hold we ran a series of one-off regional events in the US, Australia, Brazil, France and Portugal called the Countdown Series. We learned a lot from those events and were able to test our safety protocols, which put us in a really good position to restart our Championship Tour this year. We conducted in excess of 700 COVID tests throughout the Countdown Series, which were all negative.
“The WSL embraces a sustainable ethos and in 2016 founded the non-profit WSL PURE, which is on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower ocean lovers while addressing critical environmental issues.”
The complexities of international travel during this pandemic create significant logistical challenges for a global league like the WSL and there have been a number of adjustments to our schedule as we’ve moved through the year. That said, we feel really confident in our protocols and our ability to safely run events and look forward to crowning World Champions at the Rip Curl WSL Finals in California in September.
What precautions have you taken to restart the league and what has the response been like from the fans?
The health and safety of our athletes, staff, and the local communities that host us are of the utmost importance and we have a robust set of procedures in place to keep everyone safe. We’ve collaborated extensively with public health officials, medical experts, as well as local and state officials in each event location, to develop these protocols, based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and best practices established by other sports.
Our COVID Safety Plans are unique to each Tour stop and include measures like testing for athletes and essential staff, masks and strict physical distancing measures, temperature checks, and minimal personnel on-site. As an example, we’ve just wrapped a four-event series in Australia where all athletes and staff who traveled into the country undertook a mandatory 14-day quarantine and testing protocol before entering the general population.
We’ve seen an incredible reaction from the fans who, like us, are happy to have professional surfing back up and running.
There have been concerns about environmental damage with WSL tournaments, how do you as a league combat this and make a positive difference?
No sport relies on the ocean as much as surfing does and the WSL takes seriously its responsibility to protect our oceans and beaches. The WSL embraces a sustainable ethos and in 2016 founded the non-profit WSL PURE, which is on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower ocean lovers while addressing critical environmental issues. We work closely with the local communities that host us in order to minimize any environmental impacts of our events and take any necessary precautions to protect the natural environments that we visit.
“The pause for COVID really allowed us to accelerate the content side of our business.”
The WSL’s existing ocean conservation efforts include a series of sustainability commitments across all WSL events and offices that set a new standard for global professional sports. This included going carbon neutral. We’ve been able to offset our carbon emissions from 2018, 2019 and we are finalizing our offset for 2020 using a portfolio of 100% nature-based solutions.
We’ve also recently announced our WSL PURE grant program, which supports the work of organizations in key WSL regions working to protect and conserve the global ocean.
What are the digital offerings of WSL and how are you attracting new fans to the sport of surfing?
WSL’s primary digital offerings, and the core of our business, are our live event broadcasts and shoulder programming. The pause for COVID really allowed us to accelerate the content side of our business, WSL Studios, as well as reimagining our digital products, with our redesigned website and app.
In addition to a six-part documentary series that is in production for Apple TV+ by Box to Box Films in December and our upcoming ABC series, “The Ultimate Surfer”, which will be premiering in the US on Monday, August 23, 2021, at 10 ET and PT, we’ve released a number of new on-platform content franchises while the surfing world was on hold.
We have been experimenting with various strategies around distribution for the past few years. In 2020 we primarily focused on driving traffic to our owned and operated platforms, which told us a great deal about how our consumers interact with our content in the WSL ecosystem. In 2021, we are testing a more ubiquitous approach to the distribution of our live event broadcasts and original content by working with an expanded network of global linear partners, YouTube, Facebook, and third-party digital distributors – like Outside TV who we partnered with on our BILLY docu-series, in addition to our O+O.
What would you say is the focus of your marketing strategy and which brands do you look to partner with?
First and foremost, the incredible brands that we partner with align with our core values. We’ve worked with brands in the endemic surf community like Billabong, Rip Curl, Quiksilver and ROXY for years, and continue to build on these incredible relationships.
“We have the luxury of appealing to a very broad fanbase – both as a sport with some of the best and most dynamic athletes in the world, and as a lifestyle well beyond that.”
Additionally, we’re now partnered with a growing roster of brands outside of the traditional surf space, including Red Bull, Jeep, Corona, Hydro Flask, Shiseido, Gillette Venus, and IKEA amongst many others! We have the luxury of appealing to a very broad fanbase – both as a sport with some of the best and most dynamic athletes in the world, and as a lifestyle well beyond that.
We are able to offer partners custom and specific integrations – across our competitive events and our extraordinary athletes, as well as through storytelling about the incredible locations we visit or sustainability and love of the ocean. Our partners can help us bring to life narratives of the world’s best surfers, on the world’s best waves, through their own channels, as well as amplifying ours.
WSL announced a global campaign called We Are One Ocean earlier this year, can you tell us the strategy behind the campaign?
We’re really proud of the work of our non-profit, WSL PURE, and we’re excited about the We Are One Ocean campaign and the impact it could have. As a global professional sports league, the ocean is our arena, our office, and our inspiration. The future of not just professional surfing, but all surfing, is directly tied to the health of the global ocean and we want to do what we can to ensure that it’s healthy for generations of surfers and aspiring athletes to come.
We Are One Ocean is focused on inspiring surfers and ocean lovers to use their voice and sign a petition calling on world leaders to adopt a target at the 2021 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the global ocean, including international waters, by 2030. We’ve built a growing coalition of more than 80 Non-Governmental Organizations and businesses from across the world, in support of the campaign.