With the rumor mill in overdrive regarding the new pro tour being endorsed by Kelly Slater there’s a lot of talk about ASP survival, the future of pro surfing, and what that future will look like. To separate myth from reality we managed to locate some of the key players involved at the highest levels of this project in their secret underground bunker. Naturally, they were hesitant to talk with all the delicate negotiations underway, but we bribed them with Twizzlers and Diet Coke, and got a couple to speak on condition of anonymity. Here’s how they responded to our most pressing questions…
While Kelly Slater (center) is undeniably the primary marketing force of the proposed dreamier dream tour, the stated goal, according to GrindTV sources, is to draw much more attention and awareness to those standing beside him to better surfing’s future. Photo: ASP/Victor Decolongon via Getty Images
Does Kelly Slater have an ownership stake in this tour?
Absolutely not. No single athlete, brand, or network has or will have an equity stake in this. That’s the crux of this thing. It’s meant to be bigger than any person, brand or event. It’s about the sport. That said, if the league benefits and manages to make good money, the athletes who do participate will benefit from a profit sharing plan, the same way some employees do with the company they work for and the same way pro athletes do in other sports.
But Kelly’s involvement is a must, correct?
Kelly is the most well known surfer in the world, and frankly, his involvement is crucial. Unfortunately, there are a number of other top rated surfers who aren’t as well known and that must be corrected. Our mission is to make stars out of all the top surfers. The only way for that to happen is to bring top surfers competing head to head to millions of homes around the world on a regular basis. That’s not happening now. So ultimately it’s about getting other top surfers as well known as Kelly–because they deserve it, and an effective worldwide media plan will do so much more for them. Kelly understands that and that’s why he’s a big supporter of this tour.
Are you trying to make this tour work within the framework of the ASP?
Yes. Absolutely. We’ve laid out a thoughtful detailed plan to work with the ASP and trust that progressive minds will also see how this benefits the sport, surfers and the fans. It’s no secret that for a long time Surfing has lagged behind other major sports in media coverage. We’re going to bring professional surfing to the same level as the top level of other major sports. We have enormous passion to make the tour great because Surfing is an iconic global sport with passionate and participatory audience and Surfers are incredibly gifted charismatic athletes, and surfing deserves a world class platform for the very top surfers to compete in a thrilling format with best of breed production and widespread global distribution. We have a team that will take will take surfing to new levels. Every member of the team is at the top of his or her field in media development, marketing and distribution. We’ve got every angle lined up from Television, web, digital media, mobile delivery, marketing, etc. While we respect the brands history, passion and commitment to pro surfing, for the sport to now make the big leap, it will require a strategy and execution like other major worldwide sports.
Can the winner of this tour really be considered a world champion if the field is limited to such a small amount of surfers?
One fascinating stat we’ve uncovered is that the world champion in any year almost always finished in the top ten the previous year. So there are only about ten surfers in the world who are likely to win the world championship in any given year. Our goal is to make sure we not only have those guys but the world’s best up and comers who can challenge the proven top performers. And unlike the way the tour is set up today, where top surfers may not surf frequently, our tour is structured so they will. So yeah, anyone who beats the best guys on a regular basis is clearly the world champion.
Right now ten percent of the ASP field at each event is comprised of wildcards. Will you be opening that funnel up a bit to keep things fresh?
We’re looking at 25% of the field being comprised of wildcards. And how those picks will be decided is up to the surfers on tour to decide. They have as much say in this as anyone. Ultimately, this is the surfer’s tour. They care deeply about their sport and have progressive ideas on how to improve the competition, so ultimately their views will shape the competitive and event formats.
Will there still be a place for–even a need for the ASP if this tour goes forward but you guys can’t make something work at the highest levels?
We support the clear path system so that the young surfer can see his way to become world champion. There will always have to be a feeder system that young talent can rise up through and emerge. The WQS and the Pro Junior Series are important competitions, and we think those tours will benefit a lot more as we’re doing a better job at the highest level. Brands have an opportunity to make those WQS events and the Junior events even bigger, which again is a major benefit for all surfers.
But several guys who are on the World Tour today will effectively be sent back to the minor leagues.
As in any sport, the competition to play at the top level is fierce. That’s the nature and beauty of sports. This tour will be smaller than the one today, so yes, there will be intense competition, which will create tremendous interest.
How will it fit with the farm system?
The surfers have expressed interest in a single ranking system, like they have in tennis, which will allow for more mobility up and down the ranks. And the rankings will be weighted more on your records vs. the top ranked guys, so winning a contest with nobody in it won’t get you as far as winning one with a bunch of the best guys. That’s something the WPS and the ASP will likely be enhancing, and we support their position.
Where are you in this process?
We’re in the late stages to confirm all components. The feedback we’ve been getting has been very positive from the surfers, our discussions with the brands are progressing, there’s substantial interest from global consumer brands, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm from the world wide surfing community. We’re also narrowing event locations. While wild speculation is natural for these situations, we hope everyone will wait until we unveil all the details so they can form their own opinions based on the facts.
For new tour organizers, it’s safe to say some of the more delicate issues to resolve include getting the green light for star riders like Mick Fanning, the 2007 ASP World Champion, which is challenging since his primary sponsor, Rip Curl, has been a huge ASP force for decades. Photo: ASP/Jeff Gross via Getty Images.