The World Surf League May Be On the Verge of the Impossible – Nick Carroll

15 Mar 2018 42

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Surfing's biggest stars (minus Tyler and John) at the WSL's favourite investment, the Kelly pool. Will it pay off? Photo: WSL/Morris

Surfing's biggest stars (minus Tyler and John) at the WSL's favourite investment, the Kelly pool. Will it pay off? Photo: WSL/Morris

BLOOD FROM A STONE

If you were as glued to the Snapper broadcast as I was, you’ll have noticed a key ingredient by its absence.

Barton Lynch was nowhere to be seen or heard. Yep, BL — who brought the Australian CTs to life last year, with his astute observations and willingness to roam the event site looking for stories — was informed a couple of weeks ago that his services wouldn’t be required in 2018.

Reason: costs.

I bet some of the fan base just went “Damn!” And if you were given to omens and portents (I’m not really), you might deduce from the hacking of a popular commentator that this is an organisation in a bit of fiscal strife.

But you might well be very wrong.

In fact the WSL may be on the brink of doing something that two years ago seemed almost insanely unlikely, if not completely impossible: making the tour pay for itself!

They’re getting there via the time honoured corpo methods: cutting costs, raising revenue and squeezing blood out of anything they can.

SEE ALSO: Nick Carroll On The Controversy That Is Plan B

The cost-cutting began last year with a much harder-headed approach to CT events, and has continued into this year, with a number of staff and contractors being let go, and tougher budgets being enforced on regional offices. Say what you like about dropping Fiji and Lowers, but both moves were driven by this no-BS approach to costs. One saved millions in direct expenses. The other occurred after Hurley balked at a significant increase in the naming rights fee, which showed that when it comes to event ownership and naming rights, the WSL isn’t in discount mode any more.

That’s playing into the revenue raising bit by the way. We’re reliably informed that men’s CT naming rights prices are now safely up where they were supposed to be originally: ie, well past the million dollar mark, rather than the mega-discount rate of $600,000 negotiated by several surf-industry CT backers at the start of the WSL’s tenure. Tour partnership revenues are also well up; while Samsung’s departure early in 2017 is now off the books, we’re told that Jeep has upped their involvement, and while some of the $30 million mentioned in the WSL’s PR around their Facebook team-up is based on hope, not all of it is. There is actual cash there too.

The blood squeezing is another thing again. For the first year or so of its tenure, the WSL barely looked at the QS. They were too busy trying to figure out the CT.

But recently they seem to have twigged: the QS is actually a rich source of funding.

The WSL charges a licensing fee for each QS event, and while it’s not in the CT naming-rights ballpark, it’s in the six figures for a big men’s event. But that’s not all: the WSL, through its online entry portal, also takes 100% of every QS surfer’s entry fee.

What are we talking here? The minimum men’s entry fee for a lower ranked QS event is $200. For a QS10,000, it’s $350. When you consider that smaller QS’s typically have 96 competitors and big ones have up to 144, and there’s currently 64 small ones and six 10,000s on the current schedule, you can see how that might just add up. Like, into the millions.

The women’s QS take is lower, with less events, and entry fees between $100 and $150. But it’s still a bit more blood going to the bottom line.

Add up all that, plus the levels of government tourism support and other bits and pieces, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the world tour is now bloody close to revenue neutral.

This means the WSL can now direct its investment dollars toward its favourite thing, the Kelly Pool.

If that thing ends up paying off, Plan B might actually succeed.

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