The ASP: It's on but who's watching? - Part 2
Back in May Swellnet published an article that tracked the viewership of each World Tour contest since ZoSea assumed control of the ASP. ZoSea's business model – Dirk Ziff's benevolence notwithstanding - presupposes a large live audience to attract corporate sponsorship, yet the live webcast traffic has been far below expectation making ZoSea's job a tough sell.
Since that article there have been four World Tour events – The Billabong Rio, The Fiji Pro, the J'Bay Open, and the Billabong Pro Tahiti – each held in very different time zones and surf conditions thereby attracting a broad range of fans. This article will disclose and compare the numbers from all those events. There's also been one Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) event – the Billabong Pico Alto. In the previous article it was stated the BWWT has the potential to reach more viewers than the World Tour, so we'll assess that claim given the traffic the Pico Alto event garnered.
Before addressing the above issues one matter has to be attended to: The ASP's reaction to Swellnet's last article. Two weeks after the last article was published the ASP issued a press release to Surfline – no other outlet received it – titled “ASP Update: After four events, ASP releases webcast viewer stats + more.” The press release was unprecedented and it's hard to avoid the assertion that due to its limited release and content it was a rebuttal to Swellnet's article.
The press release included a 'by the numbers' breakdown of the ASP webcast, the first point being: “Over 1 million uniques to the event during window.” The insinuation being that over a million different people watched each event. However the use of the term “uniques” requires clarification, because the term on its own is somewhat ambiguous and as an internet metric can mean several things. Swellnet tried to contact the ASP to clarify the claim without success. At any rate, we'll revisit that number at the end of this article.
The last four ASP World Tour contests
Swellnet's first article covered the first three contests of the 2014 World Tour, each held in Australia and each in similar time zones so it was unknown if they were true representations of the ASP's global reach. Convenient viewing time is an obvious restriction to a live webcast, so how many fans weren't tuning in because of unfavourable viewing times?
Following Bells Beach the World Tour travelled to Rio which aligns favourably with South American viewers and North American viewers, both significant surfing markets, each anecdotally as large as Australia. Australian viewers could watch the competition late in the evening, European and South African viewers could wake to it in the morning.
Despite the low expectation for quality surf Rio could be watched conveniently by a large cohort of fans and so has a potentially large audience. The peak concurrent viewers for Rio occurred in the Final with a count of 37,687, which is comparable to the three Australian finals. However, the Rio Final was 20% below the peak concurrent viewership of 47,000 reached during a Quarter Final heat at Bells Beach featuring Kelly Slater vs. John John Florence. The average viewership for Rio was approximately 25,000 which was roughly in keeping with the Australian leg.
From Rio the tour moved to the Fiji Pro. Fiji's timezone makes it ideal for Australia and American viewers but inconvenient for much of the rest of the world. It is, however, a popular contest due to its consistently good waves and so makes for an ideal experiment. The proposition? That good surf attracts the fans. The experiment has its limitations but the numbers watching the 2014 Fiji Pro contest suggest the hypothesis is true; peak viewership occurred during the Final with 55,216. That's almost 20% above the previous 2014 peak of 47,000 at Bells Beach, and it should also be noted the Fiji Pro didn't get great waves this year, at least relatively speaking.
The average viewership throughout the Fiji Pro wavered between 25,000 and 30,000. By comparison Margaret River peaked at 25,781 and averaged considerably less. Also, the 'Kelly Slater factor' didn't come into effect quite as much in Fiji. As stated in Swellnet's last article, during the Australian leg the live viewers “jumped significantly whenever Slater surfed. Typically the figures would rise 25%-30% just before his heat and drop off soon after.” At Fiji the same pattern was observed though the rise was only between 15%-20%. Viewers, it seemed, stuck around to watch the waves.
Jeffreys Bay was arguably the most keenly anticipated contest of the year. Its cancellation two years ago was met with dismay by fans who conversely rejoiced when ZoSea announced J'Bay was back on the calendar. It presented another intriguing scenario: would the welcome return of J'Bay mean viewers flocked to the webcast?
For most of the competition the concurrent viewers of the Jeffreys Bay Open sat around the low 30,000s. Then on the final day, curiously just after the Final between Mick and Parko finished, the viewership peaked at 43,739. Again, that was very much within the range set by previous Finals. The resurrection of J'Bay didn't bring any extra eyeballs.
The Billabong Pro Tahiti was the most recent contest and everyone knows how that event unfolded. “Best contest ever,” said Kelly, and Occy, and a hail of online punters. It had incredible performances in amazing waves, and the ASP knew what they had on their hands. From the time the first positive surf forecast was written the ASP PR machine went into overdrive priming the audience with regular updates across social media.
The online blitz worked. Day 1 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti peaked at 57,721 viewers topping the 2014 record set at Fiji. Except for one webcast outage – which we'll discuss shortly – the viewership plateaued all day hovering between the high 40,000s and mid-50,000s.
The webcast outage (which happened during a heat between Mick Fanning, Mitch Coleborn, and Alejo Muniz) gave an insight into viewer patience. The broadcast went down at 6:23am (AEST) and by 6:28am the numbers had halved. Also, when the webcast returned – it was down less than 10 minutes - it took an hour to reach the previous viewership (see graph below). The take home lesson? Stoppages, even short ones, hit the audience numbers hard.
As it happened the Day 1 audience, although a 2014 record, was insignificant compared to finals day. A better campaign scenario couldn't be imagined: great waves were approaching, the winner would be decided, and the ASP knew the day it would happen. All the viewers had to do was tune in to be entertained.
And from the opening heat of finals day they did. The viewership started around 60,000 concurrents and steadily headed north, curiously tapering off just after the second Semi Final between Kelly Slater and John John Florence. The numbers then spiked sharply and peaked near the end of the Final. The viewership topped out at 118,911 concurrents, more than double the previous record.
Once again the Kelly Slater factor wasn't as pronounced, the Kelly vs John John Semi Final garnered 20,000 people fewer than the Final. And if the 'good surf attracts fans' idea was suspected after Fiji it was proven, overwhelmingly, at Teahupoo.
The Finals for each ASP World Tour contest are as such:
- Snapper Rocks - 32,633
- Margaret River - 25,781
- Bells Beach – 40,417
- Rio - 37,687
- Fiji - 55,216
- Jeffreys Bay - 43,739
- Teahupoo – 118,911
(Note: These numbers are for the English speaking stream only. The Portuguese stream is generally 10% of these numbers. During the Tahiti Final, however, they rose to approximately 25% no doubt on the strength of Gabriel's victory).
For the first three contests of the tour the peak viewership occurred outside the Final and always during a heat featuring Kelly Slater. Curiously that trend didn't continue for the following four contests where the peak viewership occurred in or around the Final. This may be a result of the ASP's social media campaign getting traction.
After seven contests the World Tour has been spread across many time zones allowing us to gain a more accurate picture of their concurrent viewership. Average numbers during a 'normal' contest waver around 25,000 and peak around 40,000. At a spectacular contest such as Teahupoo they rise exponentially regardless of the local viewing time.
The Big Wave World Tour
In Swellnet's last article it was said the BWWT (along with the XXL Awards), “arguably have the potential to reach a larger audience than the World Tour.” In early July we had the first opportunity to see if that argument is true. A deep low pressure system formed in the far South Pacific Ocean skirting the South American continent as it raced northwards. Both the Quiksilver Ceremonial at Punta Lobos, Chile, and the Billabong Pico Alto in Peru went on amber alert. Winds associated with the weather system ruined the waves in Chile but they eased in Peru. On July 3rd the first BWWT held under the auspices of the ASP with all the concomitant resources they provide was held.
Contestants had four days notice the contest would be run, and in that time the ASP orchestrated a campaign across social media platforms and their website notifying fans of the impending contest. On the day waves between 15 and 25 feet (surfers height, not face height) broke at Pico Alto, a mile offshore from Punta Hermosa on the coastline south of Lima.
The first heat started with less than 5,000 concurrent viewers watching the contest. After an hour and many Tweets and Facebook posts from the ASP this number reached 10,000. It steadied around 11,000 viewers and remained between there and 12,000 for most of the day. The Final attracted the most viewers and the numbers peaked at 12,829 at around the same time Makua Rothman was celebrating his win.
So despite its potential the viewers of the Billabong Pico Alto were approximately half of the worst performing World Tour contest to date, that being Margaret River, and less than a tenth of Teahupoo. Part of this is can be attributed to the type of wave Pico Alto is. It's a shifting, grey, crumbly peak, that lacks the striking aesthetics of Hawaii's blue water or Mavericks' pitching lip. There's also another explanation: this was ZoSea's very first BWWT contest so it was a work in progress. Marketing and promotion being part of that exercise. Real answers will be found when (or if) the Peahi contest runs this season. The waiting period begins on October 15th.
How do these numbers check out?
The numbers that we've provided in these articles are for concurrent viewers, a quick snapshot of how many people are watching the contest at a particular moment in time. They aren't the total viewers although there is a relationship between the two. We have no way of knowing the exact total viewership for each contest as the ASP won't release those figures. The closest number we have is the somewhat rubbery “over a million uniques for each event” issued in the press release following our last article.
Although ZoSea assumed control of the ASP in 2014 they acquired it back in 2012. They spent all of 2013 doing market research with the help of sports marketing firm Repucom. "One of the first things we did was invest heavily in research by Repucom,” Paul Speaker said to Marketing Daily this year. According to their website, Repucom “Understand target markets through focused research,” and provide “Comprehensive market analysis.”
Last October ZoSea's Chief Marketing Officer, Michael Lynch, was interviewed by Marketing Daily and said of surfing's fan base, “the ASP found through research via Repucom that there are 130 million “hand raisers,” and 120 million bona fide fans of the sport.” As for the future, Lynch said in the same interview that “we are in business to celebrate and grow the sport worldwide; there's a potential to have some 250 million real fans.”
By any measure 120 million bona fide fans is way beyond any previous estimation. In 2012 the Kelly Slater Wave Company gave a very generous figure of 35 million surfers worldwide, yet the “120 million fans” discovered by Repucom has become part of ZoSea's media lexicon. See the number quoted by ZoSea staff and industry figures here, here, here, and here.
Obviously there's a huge shortfall between the surveyed “120 million bona fide fans” and the “million plus” that reportedly tune in, although of equal interest is Michael Lynch's current employment. After securing sponsorship with Samsung, GoPro, and Orbitz, no doubt on the strength of the reputed huge audience numbers, Lynch left ZoSea after just eleven months in the position. His current employment? Head of US Consulting at Repucom.
The ASP: It's on but who's watching? – Part 3
In the third part of this story we'll analyse the concurrent viewers of each of the final four contests on the World Tour, plus any BWWT events if they happen. We'll also investigate the shortfall in viewers further. Lastly, Swellnet has discovered a way to track the location of the ASP's traffic – where their audience is located. We'll breakdown the numbers for each of the surfing markets. //STU NETTLE