Are the WSL more worried about people who don't watch than the people who do?
The Internet has ruled on the WSL decision to exclusively stream events on Facebook. On the opening day of J-Bay it rained angry emoji’s as “fans” began sniping over how lousy the broadcast was. A #bringbacktheapp campaign even began circulating with many up in arms over the defunct app and WSL website which had previously offered the livestream.
Overnight pitchforks continued to be squarely pointed at CEO Sophie Goldschmidt who many believe has ruined pro surfing as we know it with the Zuckerberg deal. Of course, with any new platform there would be bugs. But the loss of the heat analyser from the WSL site has tipped many over the line. The option to review key moments in heats, re-live post heat interviews and scoop up all the drama you might have missed was one of the best things about the WSL’s production. Its loss, and replacement — a condensed heat or the option to watch the whole heat again just doesn’t cut it.
I get it social media is the new normal. But social media is an invasion on our daily lives. An addiction of dopamine hits for likes from Facebook and Instagram is a global epidemic. Yes, it’s a great place for the latest viral video, sound bites of the news and a forum to rage but to watch surfing? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m over-cooking the whole thing. It’s a free service. So what if my data is mined? Privacy in the digital age is more and more harder to find. But the WSL’s decision to take $30million from Facebook in return for exclusive streaming rights for the next two years makes me feel like our fun little past-time has fallen into the hands of the Devil. Sure, professional surfing is like any other sport comprising of athletes that deserve to get paid. The more eyeballs they reach the more opportunities they have to market themselves and the league on the whole. Unfortunately, judging from the English livestream audience numbers for J-Bay, a blue-ribbon event by WSL standards, has been between 4,000 and 11,000 only. A far cry from the 6.6 million Facebook fans the WSL boasts or the trillions of surfers worldwide former WSL CEO Paul Speaker used to spruik to his pals at Fox Business. Granted the time zone means the US is asleep, but everywhere else it’s a reasonable hour to tune in.
Are the WSL more worried about people who don't watch than the people who do? It certainly appears that way. The backlash against CEO Goldschmidt has been building for some time. A bungled permit application and subsequent loss of the Pipe Masters for next season certainly lost her some cred. Not to mention the scratching of Cloudbreak from this year’s CT (it’s rumoured to be reinstated in 2019). Then as “Dream Tour” waves were falling off, man made ones filled the void. The WSL added Surf Ranch as an event stop this season after Trestles was axed and have already held two trial events at Surf Ranch (a closed media event and The Founders Cup) in an attempt to court the attention of the International Olympic Committee ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. If they get their way, Chiba beach will be bumped and a KS Wave Pool (which is currently under construction) will replace the venue.
The amount of attention the WSL has placed on wave pools has been like nothing seen before. The league owns Kelly’s wave pool so it’s a given they will try to build pools around the world to tap into a revenue stream and market surfing as a global sport. But as they do a great divide between core surfer and newbie surf fan has begun. Many core surfers believe that wave pools are merely a money-making exercise and feel alienated from participation due to their pay to play model. An hour at the Kelly/WSL surf ranch will cost you close to $10K. An unreasonable sum of money for those who live in the real world. We can’t all be Chris Hemsworth. But the Facebook livestream has the potential to really turn people off. The WSL has already been accused of alienating fans with some their decisions this season. But nothing spreads quicker then hate on the Internet and if they don’t quell the core who have been 100 per cent all in with pro surfing since day dot then they better hold on.