Goldschmidt: Red Bull deal will help enrich World Surf League's content offer
By Callum Murray
A three-year partnership that the World Surf League, the organiser of the annual tour of professional competitions, recently signed with Red Bull will help to enrich the WSL's content offer, and ensure its events are seen on the Austria-based energy drink company’s own channels, as well as those of the WSL, according to chief executive Sophie Goldschmidt.
The partnership will enable the launch of a new series, the Red Bull Airborne Series, that aims to highlight aerial surfing following an initial Red Bull Airborne event held in France last year. This year’s series will take in Gold Coast in Australia, Keramas in Bali, and Hossegor in France.
However, speaking exclusively to Sportcal from the WSL’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California, Goldschmidt stressed that the partnership is not restricted to the new series alone, saying: “Red Bull is a fantastic brand which is very prominent in sport, has a rich history in surfing and is very innovative. Their support is allowing us to expand the Airborne series, but is also a significant content focus. They have their TV channel and we will share content across our platforms and other media partners. It’s also a partner of our [existing] tours. We hope it brings the best of both organisations together.”
Red Bull will help the WSL to invest in new content formats, Goldschmidt said, including ‘All-In’, which she described as “a deep dive behind the scenes which we just launched on our own platforms (initially, it was only on Facebook). There will be other stories and content along those lines. It’s also about enhancing the surfer experience. Surfers spend a lot of time on our sites and we want to make the environment better for them.”
The Red Bull Airborne Series is part of a global partnership between WSL and Red Bull in which Red Bull also becomes the official energy drink of the Championship Tour, Big Wave Tour, and Big Wave Awards. The three Airborne series events will be held concurrently with tour events and will initially be distributed as part of the same media rights package.
In January last year, WSL unveiled a two-year deal with Facebook for the social media giant to become the exclusive digital home of the WSL, building on a one-year, non-exclusive streaming deal in 2017, in which WSL claimed that more than 13.9 million people watched its events on Facebook.
Just last month, WSL struck a major rights deal with Fox Sports to be the exclusive US television broadcaster of the 2019 Men’s and Women’s Championship Tour, as well as the Big Wave Tour.
Asked whether the Airborne series could be distributed as a standalone package to broadcasters that have so far resisted showing the WSL’s other events, Goldschmidt replied: “Maybe. It’s slightly different, and for the new, more casual surf fan, maybe easier to understand. If someone on a board jumps in the air you can’t help but take notice. It also crosses over into lifestyle. Some of the Championship Tour surfers will compete, but there are some free surfers who haven’t competed before and are really interested. It definitely has a different positioning.”
The WSL has recently begun staging events at artificial facilities or ‘wave systems’, which have the advantage of predictable and reliable waves, making it much easier to schedule the events. Asked if future Airborne events could be staged at wave facilities, Goldschmidt replied: “Why not? It’s not in the plans for this year but we’re open to it in future - and potentially in other locations as well.”
Following the initial Red Bull Airborne event held in France last year, Goldschmidt said that, “Going from one to three is a good next step, but we need to evaluate how this year goes. We’re not in a rush; we want to do it in the right way.”
The WSL is disappointed that talks that it held with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020, the organising committee for next year’s Olympic Games, about holding the inaugural Olympic surfing competition in a wave facility were ultimately fruitless. Goldschmidt said: “In the end it was not possible for Tokyo 2020: timing wise, they’d already made commitments. Time was against us, although they were impressed by the technology.”
However, Goldschmidt welcomed the recent news that Paris 2024, the organising committee for the following games, has proposed retaining surfing in its sports programme, pointing out that, “although they do have some good surf [off France’s west coast], it’s not consistent at that time of year.”
The Red Bull Airborne Series will feature an 18-surfer field across two rounds. The first round will host six qualifying heats with six surfers in each heat. The second round will be the six-person Final. All three events will run in conjunction with the 2019 Championship Tour stops on the Gold Coast, in Keramas, and in Hossegor.
Separately, the WSL has also relaunched its longboard series, expanding it from one world championship and several regional events last year to a four-event series in Australia, Spain, USA and Taiwan this year, plus the regional events.
Goldschmidt said: “We’ve had longboard events for a while but we’ve upped our game. From a fan and participation standpoint, most people do longboard. These are iconic longboard stops [this year’s series began at the well-known surfing destination of Noosa in Queensland, Australia]. There’s a real commitment from us and there’s some positive commercial interest too. It’s another element we’re elevating.”