But would you be willing to pay to see surfing?
Earlier this month the World Surf League released an official statement confirming their partnership with Neulion, a US-based digital streaming platform. While the unexpected change looks to some like the first step in a movement towards pay-per-view content, the WSL still adamantly denies this possibility.
“We have no plans to implement a pay-per-view model,” said Dave Prodan, the Vice-President of Communications for the WSL. “The WSL, from the beginning, has been about removing stop signs and putting out welcome mats. We have no plans to prevent our fans from watching the world’s best surfing.”
Prodan was less clear about why the WSL chose to switch from broadcasting through YouTube to broadcasting with Neulion.
“The company mantra at the WSL is to champion the world’s best surfing to the largest possible audience on the best platform possible,” he said. “YouTube… was a great experience for fans… [but] the WSL is thrilled to be partnering with Neulion in terms of bringing high-quality live action from some of the world’s most remote locations.”
When probed further about what some of the other reasons behind the change might have been, Prodan did not comment.
Some surf commentators believe that this lack of transparency about the reasons for the switch to Neulion is an early indication that the WSL is gradually preparing for a shift to a system of paid subscription.
“The big question isn’t if, but when the WSL will go full retard and lock everything down,” screeched Rory Parker on Beachgrit.com. “Monetisation is the name of the game, and Neulion provides a platform that excels at locking content behind a paywall.”
Neulion broadcast the NHL, the English Premier League and the 2014 FIFA World Cup to the US on subscription packages. YouTube, on the other hand, does not have the infrastructure to allow for such subscription and/or paywall models. In fact, if the WSL were to maintain its mantra of completely non-subscription-based broadcasting, it would be one of Neulion’s only partners to do so.
Before endorsing the negative sentiment surrounding pay-per-view coverage in the surf media, it’s worth considering that the subscription service that Neulion has provided for the NHL has been extraordinarily in depth. Extended highlights packages as well as HD and multi-platform broadcasting have been ways of bettering the fans’ experience of the sport.
“Hockey fans around the world have an insatiable demand for NHL content and want a multi-platform experience that includes their wireless handsets and tablets,” said Perry Cooper, SVP of digital media for the NHL in 2010, when the NHL was first introducing Neulion’s services. “Our mobile products put the best NHL content in the hands of our fans — no matter where they live, what time of day it is, or what mobile device they own.”
These changes saw massive increases in the number of viewers for the NHL, something the WSL will no doubt want to mimic.
The WSL constantly harp on about “improving the fans’ experience” and introducing pay-per-view could be the best way to make such a statement more than just a marketing pitch. If broadcasts were drastically upgraded and the WSL could use funds to enhance the entertainment value of contests (more exciting locations, more contest mobility, etc) then why not pay to play? It’s worth asking yourself what would you be prepared to pay for a year-long subscription and what extras might you expect for say an annual fee of $55 which averages out at $5 a contest for the men’s events (devising a price point and package that maximises value for the mens and womens tour would be a tricky prospect).
Paying for the product would hopefully improve the sport we love in the same ways as it has seemingly improved leagues like the NHL. As Brodie Carr, former CEO of the ASP has said, "if you are getting gold then you should hand over a little silver”. It’s worth asking yourself what would you be prepared to pay.