Surfing America Parts Ways With Fosters

When the White House wants to bury a potentially damaging item there’s no better time than the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend to float the story. The theory is that it won’t get attention over the weekend and will be old news by Tuesday.

The announcement that Surfing America has decided not to continue its relationship with Foster’s — buried as it was in the press release about amateur surfing — is reminiscent of this tactic.

But for something that was called “the most important sponsorship opportunity in the history of American surfing to limp offstage in this manner is worthy of a second glance.

In 2002 Foster’s pledged the fledgling domestic pro tour — which is operated by Surfing America — with 300,000 dollars of direct support a year. In return, Surfing America promised sixteen events, a soup-to-nuts marketing blitz, and some form of TV coverage.

A few of surfing’s leading personalities even met with the heads of Foster’s poolside at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to figuratively break the champagne bottle over the bow of the deal. On that surreal day, it looked liked smooth sailing ahead.


But the waters were roiling almost from the get-go. First, the Foster’s management team who signed off on the deal soon left the company. “No one is left, says Bill Sharp, who was the Foster’s Pro Surfing Tour ambassador during 2002 and helped pitch the idea at Miller’s headquarters in Milwaukee. “There’s not one person left from that meeting, he says. “They’re all long gone.

Apparently this eventually hindered communication between Foster’s and Miller Brewing (who bottles Foster’s in North America), and between the beer brands and Surfing America.

It’s also clear that Surfing America didn’t deliver what it had initially promised.

First — and possibly most damaging — was the number of events Surfing America was able to cobble together for the Foster’s tour.

Back in 2002 it appeared the PSTA was the foundation on which the Foster’s Tour would be built. In November 2000, Dynocomm acquired the PSTA, and by the tour’s kickoff event in April 2001 at Trestles it was being heralded as — if not the next big thing — then pretty damn important.

But less than a year later the Foster’s/PSTA partnership was kaput which effectively halved the size of the Foster’s Tour and killed the PSTA’s relevance.

“I feel like the whole situation is a real shame, said an obviously bitter PSTA Founder Jeff Grell earlier this week. “American surfing has never been in worse shape.

A few industry leaders always had trouble with the idea of a beer brand backing the tour (whose primary followers, after all, are teens). There were problems serving beer on the beaches of many contest venues.Nevertheless, the Foster’s Tour and Surfing America soldiered on in 2003 with an eight-event schedule (which was reduced to seven events after Hurricane Isabel lumbered ashore in September), but there was a feeling that the mustard was very much off the hot dog.

But Gerard makes it absolutely clear that it was Surfing America who decided to terminate the relationship. While this in undoubtedly fact, you don’t have to read the tea leaves for long to figure out that now Foster’s has secured naming rights to the ASP WCT (for what’s rumored to be a very good price) that it probably scaled down its dollar commitment to the American WWQS tour — perhaps to a point where it wasn’t worth the effort.

“Foster’s was a great partner, says Gerard. “For us, it’s all about the bigger picture, and we’re kind of seizing the opportunity while we’re fixing the whole NGB thing — hopefully — to reboot the whole program.

“Since the Bud Tour years {which reached their heyday in the late 80s} we’ve run around with our hand out looking for sponsorship deals, he continues. “Whatever came to the table, we took. That’s how the Foster’s deal happened. It was like, ‘Great! Grab it and let’s go.’

We’re at a point right now where, intellectually, it just makes a lot more sense to not run around desperately taking whatever money someone will give us, but to take a step back — as we have with the NGB plan — to take the time to do it right.

Gerard proposes that Surfing America develop a comprehensive sponsorship program that connects to all the aspects of what it’s doing and then present that plan to a sponsor who will step up to the table in a larger way. A daunting task, but who would have thought they had a chance of mending the fences between the amateur organizations?

But in the wake of Surfing America losing its largest financial supporter, how is the organization going to keep the light on? Gerard admits that terminating the deal “will sting a bit but demures on getting specific. He says while there’s no open checkbook from SIMA (who owns Surfing America), he’s confident that “too many people want it to succeed for it to fail.

“Surfing is too good of a property right now for us to put together a bunch of deals that aren’t coordinated, he says. “We haven’t had the opportunity to coordinate because we were too busy trying to keep the lights on and keep the thing going. It’s time to fix it once and for all.