World Surf League originals, HBO docs and going DTC… WSL Studios’ rising tide of content

Erik Logan is operating ten mins in the back of time table. “Sorry I’m slightly past due,” he apologises, becoming a member of the road from his base in California. “I took one too many additional waves this morning.”

It’s not an excuse normally introduced through unpunctual interviewees, however then the Global Surf League (WSL) isn’t your reasonable sports activities rights holder. One imagines executives on the Santa Monica-based excursion ceaselessly to find time to indulge their love for the sea, even though it every so often manner consuming into an early morning interview slot earmarked for SportsPro.

Finally, Logan (left) can also be forgiven. Put in as president of content material and media on the WSL a yr in the past, one in every of a number of senior hires made for the reason that arrival of leader government Sophie Goldschmidt in the summertime of 2017, the American now has the sprawling mandate of overseeing the organisation’s dwell and non-live media – “anything else our customers see and have interaction with and contact”, he says – in addition to WSL Studios, its newly created content material department.

This is a function he’s it seems that savouring, person who sees the self-described ‘child from landlocked Oklahoma’ mix two of his passions after a long profession in TV and radio that integrated a a success seven-year stint as president of the Discovery-owned Oprah Winfrey Community (OWN).

“WSL Studios is among the main explanation why I left OWN after ten years yet to come right here,” he unearths. “As an lively surfer myself, and a storyteller running for Oprah and others, I believed, ‘wow, what an awesome alternative to take storytelling within the game to a brand new degree’.

“The speculation round that is to be only a large storytelling engine the place we will be able to attach the humanity and the facility of browsing to the loads. What we’re growing on our platforms is that this very vast variety of the way to raise and deepen engagement with the game.”

The WSL is in no way the one sports activities belongings that has come to view itself as a media space. It operates, similar to each and every main organisation in world game, as a content material manufacturing unit, one by which the wearing motion is however a commodity to be captured, clipped, packaged and shipped out to world vendors as temporarily because it occurs.

The WSL goals to spotlight the skills and expand the achieve of its athletes, together with 11-time global champion Kelly Slater (above), via authentic content material

The enterprise of game is, in any case, a enterprise of content material, but, in contrast to different entities, the WSL has an ace up its sleeve in terms of showcasing its game and its athletes.

Since taking possession of what used to be then the Affiliation of Surfing Pros (ASP) in 2012, the excursion’s possession staff has, via a sequence of acquisitions, incessantly aggregated prior to now disparate sides {of professional} browsing underneath a unmarried umbrella. The result’s that the WSL now controls just about the entire game’s most useful property – from its main occasions and industrial and licensing rights, to obtained houses such because the Giant Wave Global Excursion and the Kelly Slate Wave Corporate. It is usually helped through having the ongoing reinforce of Global Skilled Surfers (WPS), the worldwide consultant frame for the game’s elite athletes, with which a brand new ten-year pact used to be signed previous in October.

This type of consolidated possession style obviously has its advantages, placing the WSL within the enviable place of having the ability to make sure consistency and coherency in spaces like calendar composition, match manufacturing, branding, advertising and marketing and, in fact, content material introduction and distribution.

“The truth that we now not most effective make the content material, produce it, distribute it, and even have a majority possession stake within the construction of the game, offers us a bonus, undoubtedly, to inform tales in an excessively environment friendly manner,” Logan says.

“Alternatively, I feel it’s essential to in point of fact observe that the way in which we’ve approached it from a studio viewpoint is we view our athletes as companions. If we do our process proper, we will be able to cause them to larger and extra tough stars globally. That now not most effective advantages them, but if that occurs it advantages the league and advantages the studio.”

WSL Studios introduced in August, opening its doorways with a debut slate of programming comprising feature-length documentaries, docu-series, day by day short-form movies, and a podcast community. It’s now Logan’s process to make sure each and every piece of content material reaches the broadest conceivable target audience through pumping it out throughout a rising array of on-line platforms.

“We have a look at content material in two distinct baskets from a distribution perspective,” he explains. “There’s on-platform, which is content material that we’re helping our core target audience via our app, our proclaims, our site, and that content material in point of fact is ready attractive the present surf enthusiasts a lot deeper.”

One on-platform challenge that “has resonated the fastest” with browsing’s hardcore, says Logan, is Remodeled, a three-part collection of quick movies that specializes in “the basic query of the way browsing adjustments lives and cultures”. Every other display, titled Surf Ranch Classes, sees professional surfers industry tales with most sensible artists, athletes and celebrities, with one episode set to function Formulation One nice Lewis Hamilton in dialog with Kelly Slater, essentially the most adorned surfer in historical past.

At the off-platform facet, in the meantime, the purpose is to expand browsing’s achieve through distributing content material “out of doors of the WSL ecosystem”, thereby drawing extra other folks to the game because it prepares to make its Olympic debut subsequent yr in Tokyo.

Logan is particularly “stoked” about 24/7: Kelly Slater, a one-hour HBO documentary that may supply an “unparalleled” and “non-public” have a look at the 11-time global champion’s existence on excursion. Co-development agreements have additionally been struck with third-party publishers like Purple Bull Media Area, Rolling Stone and Pilgrim Studios, whilst every other challenge within the pipeline will see Logan himself famous person in a contest fact display along Pilgrim leader Craig Piligian and UFC frontman Dana White.

In different places, WSL Studios is operating on a impending docu-series with Field to Field Movies, the creators of Formulation One’s seriously acclaimed ‘Force to Live on’. Manufacturing is scheduled to start out in March 2020, with the filmmakers given unique get right of entry to to athletes all through subsequent yr’s elite Championship Excursion.

“They have been approached through golfing, they have been approached through baseball, soccer, rugby, main sports activities,” Logan says of Field to Field Movies. “They see the facility and the potential for browsing.”

All of this content material is meant to underline browsing’s place on the intersection of popular culture, track, movie, model, and conservationism. However it’s also designed to capitalise on emerging passion in authentic programming extra extensively. For Logan, the game of browsing – with its inviting mix of aesthetics, athleticism and journey – is ripe for on-demand intake, and lends itself specifically neatly to the type of crossover, narrative-rich filmmaking that has develop into so sought-after amongst on-line streaming firms.

“Surfing is a universally authorised world game, it’s an excessively non-public game as a result of the person nature, and it’s at all times you towards mom nature,” he gushes. “On account of that alchemy for what exists within the ocean, it in point of fact offers an excellent area for wealthy and layered tales.”

There are factions throughout the browsing group who’ve their doubts, alternatively; briefly, some hardened purists aren’t purchasing what the dapper, suit-wearing pros on the WSL are promoting. One author for the satirical surf outlet BeachGrit not too long ago described the excursion’s newest ventures in content material as possessing ‘a schmaltz drawback’, singling out Good Corners, a slickly produced but syrupy trip collection hosted through former Eu longboard champion Sam Bleakley, as ‘really nice, very lovely and as obedient as a tame animal.’

Nonetheless, the WSL’s manner is, a minimum of underneath its present possession, unapologetically business-minded. With WSL Studios now up and operating, Logan confirms that the excursion is within the strategy of exploring the release of a branded direct-to-consumer (DTC) club providing. What sort that may take has but to be determined, however obviously the organisation – which expenses itself as ‘the worldwide house of browsing’ – is pondering extra extensively than a video streaming provider.

We really feel in point of fact, in point of fact just right about the place we’re located as our game. Our expansion during the last 4 or 5 years has been exponential.

“We predict there’s an amazing alternative round how we will be able to monetise our enthusiasts on a one-to-one foundation extremely neatly,” says Logan, whose resume features a spell at XM Satellite tv for pc Radio, the place he controlled relationships with the likes of Primary League Baseball (MLB) and the PGA Excursion. “We would like to check out to determine the precise manner to do this. What a broader content material providing does is permits us the chance to do it past simply what our play-by-play rights might be.

“We see an excessively holistic ecosystem available in the market across the game of browsing this is inclusive – now not most effective content material, but in addition obtained content material, dwell play-by-play, ecommerce, endemic partnerships. We see an excessively tough horizon for us.”

Whilst the providing remains to be within the works, it might be that the WSL seems to be to create for browsing what Discovery Inc. is operating to construct for biking and golfing – two in a similar way participative, extremely aspirational way of life sports activities that boast dependable world fanbases.

Discovery’s world GolfTV platform, as an example, has got down to develop into an all-encompassing electronic vacation spot, providing dwell streaming and highlights from main occasions, along with archive content material, video tutorials that includes most sensible golfers, and different authentic options designed to stay {golfing} lovers engaged a ways past match protection.

“Unquestionably what [Discovery Networks International president and chief executive] JB [Perrette] and [Discovery Inc. president and chief executive] David [Zaslav] are doing over at Discovery is an effective way to start out interested by what we’d be doing,” recognizes Logan.

This type of product would constitute the following segment within the WSL’s push to develop into a actually DTC enterprise. However, even for a consolidated, digital-first organisation that successfully owns its core vertical, devising an international content material technique inside lately’s media panorama calls for cautious attention.

The WSL is growing a direct-to-consumer club providing however desires it to be greater than a streaming product

Despite the fact that the WSL does now not have big-money legacy broadcast relationships to offer protection to like different main leagues, it stays in the middle of an unique international streaming partnership with Fb, which carries dwell contests in addition to further displays and programming on its Reside platform. That deal, which expires on the finish of this yr, is price a reported US$30 million, making it the biggest contract within the historical past of the excursion.

Keeping this type of important income circulate while pursuing new media alternatives – each via third-party products and services and any long run owned and operated platforms – might be a “difficult” balancing act, accepts Logan, who says the complexity of the present market can also be tricky to fathom for any rights holder, regardless of their measurement or stature.

“That matrix of rights, and that matrix of concept, in the case of how the league is maximising our rights and likewise rising our target audience on the similar time is what we and the possession staff are in point of fact speaking about so much,” he says. “How that needle is threaded is person who we spend numerous time interested by and making an attempt to determine the place we wish to put the ones bets.

“However we really feel in point of fact, in point of fact just right about the place we’re located as our game. Our expansion during the last 4 or 5 years has been exponential. The truth that we’re making the bow into the Olympics in a yr is super. We predict that the inertia that the studio has created off-platform most effective additional accentuates the momentum that we’ve got.

“Given the formative years of our game, the electronic nature of our game, the expansion, the globalisation, we’re very uniquely located within the panorama of sports activities to convey super price to a provider and/or to ourselves, if that’s what we make a decision to do. It’s an excessively difficult however, most significantly, an excessively thrilling time to be sitting the place we’re.”

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