The World Surf League (WSL) is the first global digital sports league, pioneering innovation in one of the planet’s fastest-growing sports. Each year, WSL streams more than 800 hours of live surfing competition to fans worldwide via its app, website and connected TV—without paywalls or authentication.
Headquartered in California with regional offices in locations including Hawaii, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Europe and South Africa, WSL is the exclusive governing body of professional surfers and surfing events and produces more than 170 events each year.
The WSL app, downloaded nearly two million times to date, delivers competitive series such as the Men’s and Women’s Championship Tours, Big Wave Tour, Qualifying Series, Junior and Longboard Championships and the Big Wave Awards.
The WSL has leveraged digital to achieve double- and triple-digit growth in live viewing and social media, with impressive stats including a 440% increase in its global audience from 2013-2015; a 129% increase in fans on Facebook, +176% followers on Instagram, +90% followers on Twitter and +38% followers on YouTube.
— World Surf League (@wsl) April 19, 2017
It’s one of the few sports and entertainment entities creating VR content and the first sports league to publish 360-degree/virtual reality video on Facebook. So far, WSL has delivered more than 2.7 million views on Facebook and more than 15 million views on YouTube.
Among other first, WSL was the first sports league to live stream on Facebook (from the 2015 Billabong Pipe Masters); create the world’s first drone capable of taking Snapchat photos and videos; and the first to live-stream surfing directly from the ocean via Periscope.
Millennials are a major sweet spot for WSL, comprising 81% of its audience, with an average fan age of 32 years-old (as opposed to averages of 37 in the NBA, 47 in the NFL and 53 in the MLB).
As a 100% digital sports league pioneering an over-the-top (OTT) distribution model, WSL delivers one-stop shopping for global, geo-targeted ad insertion solutions.
The location of the sport creates a unique challenge for WSL, with fickle weather and ocean wave patterns making a fixed broadcast schedule, as is common for other professional leagues, a challenge.
A solution was found with Facebook Live. “As a truly digital-first league, streaming the entirety of our season on Facebook speaks to the pioneering nature of our sport,” WSL’s Chief Community Officer Tim Greenberg noted.
“With Facebook’s scale, we can better serve even more fans by bringing the magic and drama of professional surfing directly to their feeds. It’s an incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of sports media distribution,” he added.
Helping build on and monetize this momentum, Beth Greve this week joined WSL as Chief Revenue Officer. Formerly a senior consultant to Jaunt VR and Chief Partnerships Officer for YouTube’s Awesomeness TV, she also led strategic development for digital sales across Discovery Communications’ digital properties.
A seasoned sports marketer with experience managing top professional athletes and a proven commercial track record, Beth brings a diverse background to the role. She began her career working with athletes such as NBA Champions Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, before joining Google and subsequently YouTube to manage and lead various sales, strategy and business development divisions.
As Chief Partnerships Officer for YouTube’s Awesomeness TV, she was responsible for building up the brand’s revenue business and strategic partnerships to create unique marketing programs—skills that will stand her in good stead in her new role. She spoke with us about the opportunity for WSL and how she plans to grow the brand.
brandchannel: Congratulations, Beth! What’s your first order of business in this new role?
Beth Greve: My first objective is to be a great listener and learn as much as possible from our team members, our partners and our athletes. Professional Surfing has a 40-year-plus history and has been a part of an incredibly influential culture, impacting multiple industries well outside the surfing world. Being able to collaborate with executives with decades of institutional knowledge as well as top-of-class resources from the sport, entertainment and business worlds is a great opportunity.
bc: Given that your broadcasts are live and simultaneous, what are the biggest challenges in delivering WSL events seamlessly in real-time?
Greve: With audiences embracing video viewership on mobile devices all over the world, WSL events are available to everyone at the moment they want to watch, whether live, on full replay or post show highlight programs. This mitigates the challenge presented to us via exotic and remote locations/time zones considerably.
bc: Who are some of your larger brand partners running simultaneous campaigns across different regions with specialized content for each market?
Greve: Our global partnership with Anheuser-Busch is one that features Corona across multiple markets and highlights the Corona partnership during our competitions, through social and through a custom content series called the “Bucket List” where WSL pros grab a friend, get in the helicopter and find their private wave.
bc: What are the biggest changes in the sport of surfing and its fans over the last decade?
Greve: Certainly the acquisition of the sport in late 2012 was seismic for the sport of surfing. It now exists as one of the only global sport and entertainment properties where all the previously-disparate mechanisms are under the discretion of the WSL—sponsorship, partnership, events, marketing, athlete servicing, broadcast, production, etc. That we have that kind of arsenal combined with such a dynamic product is truly game-changing from an impact standpoint.
bc: How important is the social aspect in building a digital sports league, and why?
Greve: Social is emerging as a primary avenue where our young global audiences consume content and communicate with each other, with us and our amazing athletes. This complements an incredibly-strong global footprint in digital (app, website) and social to give our fans immediate access to our content wherever they live.
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