Samsung’s Actions Serve As a Reminder that Competitive Surfing Can Survive Post-Ziff

Samsung’s support is a good sign of competitive surfing’s health. Photo: WSL

The Inertia

In the surfing world, there is often talk about an impending armageddon. The premise usually goes something like this: “What will happen when Dirk Ziff decides to pull the plug on funding the World Surf League? Surfing is screwed.”

While professional surfing as we know it would likely go through changes, and perhaps a short period of instability, after reading recent comments by Samsung about the phone company’s adoration of surfing, I was reminded that the situation isn’t so dire.

In a recent story on The Drum, Samsung Electronic executive vice-president and head of marketing, Stephanie Choi, explained why they’re dumping money into, and aligning with, surfing, skateboarding, and breaking (break dancing) ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“We believe with an open mind, a lot of what comes with that is more experiences, more diversity and more connections,” Choi said about the brand’s decision to include the WSL and other professional Olympic sports leagues in its latest marketing campaign. “That is what the brand stands for. It’s not about always winning, in terms of having to win a gold medal, but it’s about the fact you are participating and meeting new people.”

“I know there have been comments around how the Olympic games aren’t really for the new generation,” Choi continued. “But for a lot of the younger generation, these sports are really neighborhood sports that they do with their friends day in and day out. So, it could be a great motivation for those people to look up to the athletes in the Olympics.”

I know, I know. That sounds like a bunch of corporate marketing jargon. But if you read between the lines, the point is that Samsung, the 23rd most valuable company in the world with a market cap of USD $390 billion, thinks it’s beneficial and valuable to align the brand with…surfing. Samsung’s partnership with the WSL has already produced the start of a documentary series “The Next Wave.”

Samsung is just one of many multi-million and billion-dollar companies that think it’s wise to put marketing dollars into one of the Olympics’ newest (and coolest) sports. The WSL’s non-endemic partners also include huge brands like Lexus, Jeep, Corona, Apple (via the Apple Watch), Shiseido, and Yeti, among others. They’ve inked TV deals around the world with the likes of ESPN, Seven Network, Globo, and Eurosport.

Samsung is one of a dozen or so mega-companies that partner with the Olympics. Consequently, the interest to include surfing  in this campaign is undoubtedly due to surfing’s Olympic status. And with surfing confirmed as an Olympic sport through 2028, and likely beyond, the sport’s stock is only rising. 

When Dirk Ziff’s investment group purchased the WSL in 2013, Olympic surfing was still a distant dream. That didn’t come to fruition until 2016. Perhaps the doubts about surfing’s financial solvency were slightly more valid then, but I don’t think they are now. 

Selling sponsorships – convincing other people to give you money – is hard, especially with a niche sport like surfing. I’ve seen it firsthand on the other side of the industry’s curtain. But given that surfing’s endemic sponsors will also always exist to some extent and the non-endemics are increasingly gaining interest, I don’t think there’s reason to fret.

While no one knows what the WSL books look like, the common belief in the surfing industry is that they operate at a loss. So maybe a world post-Ziff would look different – perhaps slightly fewer $12,000 participation checks for those who get last in contests? But to think that the survival of the professional tour is at the mercy of one man is foolish when a company like Samsung believes it’s wise to pour cash into the sport. 

Let’s also not forget that reports say surfing is the fastest-growing water sport. There is a steady supply of new athletes and consumers. And while surfing’s interest may be relatively niche compared to traditional ball and stick sports, its culture, allure, and attractiveness are much more expansive. That doesn’t sound like a sport in decline.

It doesn’t appear that change is imminent, but it will come eventually. And when it does, there are certainly other creative people out there who could leverage the existing interest of some of the biggest brands in the world to usher in the tour’s new era.


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