Bells Beach Comp Highlights ASP Changes
While all eyes were on the talent in the water at the latest Bells Beach Easter Classic, the 2014 event also showed that change is swelling for the Association of Surfing Professionals.
This is the first year that the ASP has run events under the ownership of US media company ZoSea, which bought out the company in 2013. The deal, which is worth tens of millions of dollars, was partly influenced by the ASP’s struggles to financially sustain the worldwide network of events it runs every year.
As ASP chief strategy officer Graham Stapelberg explains in an interview with the ABC, the organisation’s previous independence led to a reliance on sponsorship deals that were ultimately limiting for the entire industry.
“The endemic brands like Ripcurl and Billabong and Quiksilver were basically sponsoring all the athletes, sponsoring all the events and also keeping the lights on for ASP and it just wasn’t a sustainable model.”
He says the popular Bells Beach competition, for example, costs almost $3 million a year to run, and any scope for innovation was previously out of the question.
Now that ZoSea is on board, however, the ASP has much bigger plans for its events and coverage. Changes so far include an increase in prize money at Bells Beach and other events (up to US$500,000 for men and US$250,000 for women), online expansion and a broader plan for broadcasting events with strategic partnerships with companies like YouTube, Facebook and US television broadcaster ESPN.
“We also want to reach out to a much broader fan base and bring surfing to the lounges of people who’ve never been fans before,” Stapelberg says.
Despite the positivity Stapelberg, ZoSea and the whole of ASP have been promoting around this new structure, its announcement was met with some heavy ambivalence from surfers and fans alike.
This kind of change has the potential to commercialise surfing in a way never seen before and, as a result, has raised the hackles of people passionate about the waves and not the money.
But so far media reports suggest the change is overwhelmingly positive, not just for the ASP and major companies like Quicksilver and Roxy, but also for surfers and the industry.
While the wheels of this deal have been in motion for a couple of years, 2014 is the very first time ZoSea has steered the ASP ship. So, while Bells Beach might be done and dusted for another year, the changes there have helped people get a better idea of what else is in store for the ASP and pro surfing industry in 2014 and beyond.