Monday, August 18, 2014

CEO Paul Speaker Sees Surfing Holistically

ESPN is arguably focused on only three major sports - football, basketball and baseball.  Sure, hockey has a tab, as do collegiate sports, but the online, TV and radio coverage for these is second banana to that of the Big Three.  Take the case of surfing, and we're talking about a sport that is rarely on the radar.

Enter, Paul Speaker, CEO of the Association of Professional Surfers: After top stints in the NFL, at Time, and with RKO Studios, Speaker is undoubtedly battle-tested, sharp-eyed, and business savvy. 

In terms of absolute financial numbers, ASP is a paltry thing, when compared to the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL:  $12 million in revenues and $2 million in operating income in 2013.  But with an ability that I don't think many top executives truly possess, Speaker (a) saw a rather fractured sports industry in holistic fashion, (b) had a pulse on a large market of rabid fans, and (c) knew how to pick the sophisticated locks of media, social and digital.

But with relationships now with media giant ABC-ESPN and online beasts Google-YouTube, in less than two years Speaker and ASP have produced other crucial numbers that actually beat those of other sports:
Surfing is made for the digital and hand-held device consumption of content. The ASP produces more live sports event coverage on the web than any other sports entity, with an average of 1 million hours watched online per event in 2014, 3 times more than 2013. About 40% of surfing fans consume ASP content on phones and tablets, and surfing fans use social media 2.3 times more than sports fans and 8 times more than the general public.

There are also live TV broadcasts to 10-million homes w/ Fuel TV in Australia, ESPN in Brazil and MCS Extreme in France, and ABC event recaps reach an average of 824,000 viewers per show.
Reference:  Surfing Catches a Big Wave.

In another interview (April 2013) - New ASP CEO goes on record about the present and future of professional surfing - Speaker laid out a clear vision, set of priorities, and sure knowledge about the sport, media and technology landscape.  Moreover, people are very much on his radar, in ways that other CEOs seem to pay only lip service to and inevitably neglect to engage:
  • He has to bring onboard the best and the brightest of talent, for they are the knowledgeable foot soldiers and on-the-ground leaders who realize his vision.
  • To talk about grasping the DNA of what makes fans love, or not love, the sport resonates with Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm
  • Last, but certainly not least, ASP must support, protect and celebrate the surfers themselves.  They are the show that ASP delivers to those rabid fans. 
I am not a surfing fan per se, but I admit to being a sports fanatic.  I love surfers' deft handling of their board vis-a-vis the waves, and I appreciate the harmony of men and women in the most foreboding, yet most beautiful of nature.

What Speaker has done, and plans to do, is definitely a great case study for any CEO.

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