New ASP CEO Paul Speaker On Building The Sport Of Surfing

From left to right: Laura Enever, Joel Parkinson, Lakey Peterson, newly-appointed ASP CEO Paul Speaker, newly-appointed ASP Interim Commissioner Kieren Perrow and Brett Simpson.

During a special press conference Tuesday, March 19, for endemic surf media, new ASP CEO Paul Speaker addressed the public for the first time since his company, Zosea Media, partnered with the ASP, a deal first announced in October 2012. Speaker, who has served as president of Time Inc. Studios and a former board member at Quiksilver, founded Zosea Media with Terry Hardy, Kelly Slater’s manager and a backer of 2009′s failed “rebel tour,” which launched numerous changes at the ASP.

Speaker was appointed as CEO in February, and says the ASP is looking at 2013 as a “data acquisition period” during which the surf community will not see any significant changes with the association. The ASP, which is in the process of electing new board members, and recently appointed a new Interim Commissioner, will be zeroing in on ways to better engage fans, build awareness of the sport through global multi-media broadcast platforms, and tapping into research on reaching “fringe” fans and participants to turn them on to the sport, says Speaker.

“This year is a bit of an anomaly,” says Speaker. “Though we own the ASP, and I’m acting CEO, the events will still be run by the brands—they’ll be run as they’ve been run in past and we’ll be spending time as guests of those events to better understand what we can do to make this sport better, make the events better, and make the fan experience better.”

While the ASP is still in negotiations for a final deal with a global broadcasting partner, Speaker says the association has no plans to explore the Pay-Per-View route because it presents a barrier to entry for potential fans.

“In the last five years, there’s been a significant change in the way we consume media, and companies that maybe have not been on your list are now at the table. There are new players like Google, Apple who have come to the table, that have said, ‘hey listen we have distribution, we have resources, and we have consumers that are actually participating with us in a way that’s different—more inner activity, diverse platform distribution.’ So we’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking to all those groups to decide what is the best distribution model for us. It will probably take another month or two, maybe even three, for us to announce global broadcast partners.”

Check out photos from this year’s 2013 ASP World Surfing Awards, held in Queensland, Australia:

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Mick Fanning and his lovely wife Carissa. Photo: ASP

The goal is to minimize any roadblocks that are currently deterring the general public from learning about, watching, and participating in surfing as a spectator sport, says Speaker, explaining that the technology behind these platforms needs to have the functionality to deliver live content and alert fans in all areas of the world to let them know when events are on and off due to wave conditions. “We are looking to remove any stop signs that are in the way and flip them into welcome mats for fans trying to enjoy our sport,” Speaker says.

The ASP will aslo be zoning in on the women’s side of the tour, and will be announcing a specific women’s advisory board within the next month, which will look at ways to highlight female athletes and improve the locations and waves made available to women surfers on the tour.

“Idon’t know if in the past we have given them [women] the best waves to surf on or that we’ve delivered the best experience for their fans,” says Speaker. “There are way more brands that target women than men, and I don’t know if we’ve done a good enough job of getting this sport in front of them for them to realize how powerful this sport is. I also believe that the athletes themselves are at a historic high level of competition and are unbelievable role models. I have daughters, ten-to-fourteen years old, and I’m excited to deliver to them an experience, whether it’s at an event in the water or on the television or computer screen, that will blow them away. I think it’s really about distribution and connecting the dots, way more than it’s about the product itself. These women are extraordinary and we take it very seriously to make sure they get the exposure they deserve.”

At the same time, the ASP will be naming several key roles inside the company within the next week who will concentrate on non-endemic sponsors. The strategy behind selecting these partners will be a carefully executed, with the ASP staff hand-picking those brands outside the surf industry that have an authentic desire to to align themselves with the sport and bring that message to a mainstream audience, says Speaker.

“It is a business and the health of the business is based on us taking a fan-centric philosophy with all our initiatives and endeavors,” Speaker says. “Everything we are doing inside the business thus far is with the fan at its center from the standpoint of moving things forward and internally from the athlete standpoint—making sure that the surfers understand that the commitment we have to surfing is not only to expose them to new fans, but also has in its breadth and in its depth, a keen understanding of keeping the intergriy of the sport in tact.”