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Since Sophie Goldschmidt took over the World Surf League as CEO, there have been a lot of changes.

Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO. Photo: WSL


The Inertia

Since Sophie Goldschmidt took over the World Surf League as CEO, there have been a lot of changes. Depending on where you stand, some are good and some are bad. There is a tour event in a wave pool this year, which you can buy tickets to. Pipeline is off the schedule. Lowers is gone, Fiji is gone, and Bali is on. Even before Goldschmidt, things were changing. When the ASP became the WSL, a different course was set—one that looked to put surfing squarely onto the world sporting stage.

The changes were huge, even then. The broadcasts became watchable. Surfers got numbers. Fans could buy jerseys. Professional surfing, as it were, seems to have passed that awkward teenager phase. Sophie Goldschmidt’s a very nice woman. She’s soft-spoken with a lilting accent and an easy smile. She’s open about the fact that she doesn’t really surf, which is a thorn in the side of many—but the CEO of the World Surf League doesn’t need to surf. The CEO needs to run a business. She’s worked at high levels with the Rugby Football Union, the NBA, and the Women’s Tennis Association. While she was with the WTA, she wrangled an $88 million title sponsorship with Sony Ericsson. The deal with Facebook is expected to generate somewhere around $30 million in licensing revenue. But yeah, the WSL blew it with the whole Pipeline debacle.

Sophie Goldschmidt, as far as I know, isn’t a world-class rugby player, basketball player, or tennis player. She’s an executive. ESPN sat down with Goldschmidt for a profile. Here are some of the more memorable quotes from it:

On learning to surf later in life
I actually didn’t get into surfing until I was in my mid-20s, when I went on a holiday to visit my sister who was living in Bali. And as you do when you go to Bali, you have a surf lesson. That was when I first got intrigued by the sport, actually because it’s really hard. I sort of pride myself on that I’m semi-athletic and have a bit of coordination. I’m also very competitive, so when I tried surfing for the first time, it just floored me by how difficult it was. But I loved it.

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I remember the first time I ever tried it, I had gotten up once in three hours, but I had a blast. Like, how can I be so bad at something and actually enjoy it? It kind of went against my normal psyche in these situations. Since then, I’ve become closer to it. I’m still a very average surfer, but I have always found the sport fascinating and beautiful and very adventurous.

On surfing in the Olympics and the rise of the wave pool:
I think the Olympics is a big opportunity to grow. Now, countries that previously were not focused on surfing, either because it’s not in their culture or they’re landlocked, are now looking at the opportunity slightly differently. I think you combine that with our wave technology, so now we can build these facilities anywhere in the world. In theory, any country could have waves where you can compete and practice at a world-class level.

One of the challenges for us is the uncertainty of when our events are actually going to take place, whereas in a wave system, you push a button and there you go, 8 o’clock on a Saturday night. We’re close to securing the land and will have to go through the permitting, but if we get a facility built, I hope there’s a good chance they would use it for the 2020 Olympics within the Tokyo district. We also have plans for building facilities in Florida and Brazil.

On paying to watch:
We feel for our long-term growth, we need to invest in technology in our events, in the infrastructure that we’re building out around our operations, in the Kelly Slater Wave Company, in our marketing and communications resources. I wouldn’t say we’re niche, but we’re not nearly as mainstream as we’d like to be. We’re really in audience-growth mode. We were so excited to expand our Facebook deal, which was pretty groundbreaking for us. One of the key reasons we went with it is because it’s free. You don’t have to pay to watch content on Facebook, and that’s really important to us. Maybe some at some point down the road, we will have some kind of subscription service for content, but I think, philosophically, it’s always going to be important that a significant amount of our content is available for free. It’s kind of the surfing ethos to a certain extent.

Read the whole piece on ESPN