Nick Carroll On: Uh Oh! Samsung Opts Out
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SAMSUNG OPTS OUT
Tough news for the WSL on the eve of the CT year.
How’s this for epic Internet Irony.
When I clicked on the World Surf League home page early today, up popped a banner ad touting emergency financial advice.
“Australian Recession 2017,” it read. “Free Report Explains Why It's Coming And What To Do.”
It reckoned all you had to do was click on it to download this no doubt life-saving advice. But I didn’t, for I was captivated by the absence of a key ingredient on the page.
And what was this missing ingredient? Samsung Galaxy, that’s what.
Overnight, with no immediate explanation, the WSL’s headline sponsor had vanished from the tour. So silently, in fact, that it took emails from our witty little mates at Beachgrit before anyone at WSL HQ would acknowledge it.*
This may not be some lethal financial blow, such as, say, the WSL’s main investor pulling his underwriting support. Various sources have told us the Samsung deal was worth around $3 million a year, and a fair bit of that was in “marketing support” —you know, those glossy ads, “Every Day Is Day One”, etc.
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But it’s another kind of blow to the WSL’s pro surfing vision, another sign of how cactus Plan A really is.
Samsung is a stalwart supporter of big sport. Indeed it’s one of a handful of mega-names at the top of the global sporting partnership tree. In the same year it signed on with the WSL, for instance, it signed a $100 million deal with the US NBA. It’s probably the biggest single corporate supporter of the Olympic Games; in 2015 it signed up as the main name for the 2018 Winter Olympics, on home turf in Korea, and is fully committed to Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
With smaller sports, it chops and changes. It’s dropped surfing, but it’s signed up with Australia’s new professional women’s netball league. (Then again the netball has something surfing doesn’t: a signed-up network TV deal with Channel Nine.) In recent years, it’s been in and out of team and individual deals in the AFL, the English Premier League, rugby union, NRL, swimming, and numerous others.
These look like experimental investments, testing the water to see if a sport takes off, or does what it claims. The sums involved mean it’s pretty much no harm, no foul stuff, for a company whose sharemarket value is way into the billions.
For the sports involved, however, a headline name like Samsung can mean a lot. Not only is the company willing to spend up on telling stories on your behalf; the doors it opens to other sports and ways of operating can bring new ideas and energy to the table. For a sport like pro surfing, so wedded for so long to its endemic industry, Samsung also provided a kind of psychological boost — a sense that it could step beyond itself and into the bigger game.
That said, it’s not like surfing and Samsung weren’t already acquainted. The company was a partner of the Quiksilver Pro Snapper Rocks for several years, back in the ASP days. Sources have told us that the US-based WSL deal arose after major surf brand Billabong contacted Samsung as part of an event partnership recruitment program. (Coincidentally, Billabong’s former vp of marketing, Graham Stapelberg, joined the WSL as chief strategy officer just two weeks before the Samsung deal was announced in February 2014.)
And Samsung weren’t hands-off about it. They got involved. They took on personal endorsement deals with top surfers like Gabriel Medina and Sally Fitz, they made those glossy storylines hum.
It was a good deal — while it lasted.
You might theorise that Samsung needs to trim the marketing budget, what with the exploding phone thing and the untimely bribery scandal back home in Korea, though there’s no sign they’re trimming their involvement in other sporting areas. You might also theorise that they just didn’t see what they wanted to see from their investment. And sports partnerships do chop and change.
But however you cut it, and despite surfing’s upcoming Olympic appearance, the WSL couldn’t hold its title sponsor.
I’m not suggesting they click that Recession 2017 banner, but … They need another headline, and soon.
(*CW sent a list of questions to the WSL, hoping to include the answers in this piece, but hadn’t received a reply by late today.)
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