Facebook Partners With A Younger Crowd
The World Surf League and Facebook have inked a groundbreaking agreement which makes the social media platform the exclusive digital home for the WSL’s live events for the next two years. It is the largest deal in the history of the WSL and includes significant promotional aspects in addition to the annual rights fee. The WSL is expected to net an estimated $30 million over the two years, according to industry insiders.
Facebook’s pact with the WSL comes on the heels of the social media giant eschewing a bid for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package, according to Bloomberg, after making bids for TNF rights in past years. The WSL offers a younger demographic with an average age of 32 for its fans compared to 50 for the NFL (two-thirds of Facebook users globally are under 35).
Facebook had non-exclusive rights to live WSL events last year with the competitions also broadcast on the WSL’s website and mobile app. Nearly 14 million people watched a World Surf League event on Facebook in 2017. “The exclusivity of this deal will elevate the profile surfing and the WSL have within the Facebook platform,” says Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO.
Events are available globally on Facebook, but U.S. users can use the newly-launched Facebook Watch platform for the broadcasts. Additional programming, such as Surfing Sundays, will also be available on Facebook Watch.
Facebook is currently looking for a new executive to negotiate sports rights and the person will have a budget of a “few billion dollars” to spend, according to SportsBusinessJournal's John Ourand. The WSL is a natural partner because the league has a history of building and engaging community on Facebook with things like surf checks around the world, pro surfer Q&As and a five-part series of crowdsourced surfboard design sessions with viewers providing real-time direction.
The WSL is a digital-first sports league thanks to the nature of the sport where events don’t happen until the waves roll in and last for 10 to 12 days. WSL can leverage Facebook to notify a global community of surf fans whenever events begin and reach people no matter what devices they're on.
Twenty-eight million hours of video content were consumed on the WSL website, apps and social in 2017. The WSL ranked third among sports leagues around the world in social interactions and video views, behind just the NFL and NBA, according to data from social measurement firm Hookit, who conducted the study last summer for the SportsBusinessJournal.
Goldschmidt says fans can expect numerous enhancements to the viewing experience on Facebook this year (the first WSL Championship Tour event is scheduled to start March 11 in Australia). "We are looking at scoring, education perspective, judging, different languages and other kinds of graphics and technological enhancements," says Goldschmidt. "We want to bring what is happening in the ocean to life through this digital relationship with Facebook."
Surfing is riding a wave of popularity that will see the sport included in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 for the first time. It is part of the Olympics goal to attract a younger audience. Goldschmidt relishes the opportunity for surfing with the Olympics. “The Olympics is truly global and it reaches markets we are still developing in,” she says. “If we get it right, I believe the surfing competition will be the lasting impression of those Games.”