Longtom: “Can the WSL crib the UFC playbook and fatten for sale?”

"If there is one thing the WSL should copy it's that sense of a sport, that even as it's grown massive, hasn't sold out the vital interests of its fan base."

So, the WSL is gunna run a reality TV show called Ultimate Surfer, based on the ultra-successful UFC franchise, and we need to find, as Chas has suggested, our hero.

This pivot has been a long time coming.

Are you surprised, like me, it took so long?

Worthy, I think to analyse this new direction and put some scaffolding around the idea beyond the breathless press releases.

No doubt UFC is the business and business model the WSL seeks to emulate. No secrets there, they bought on former UFC exec Joe Carr in 2017 to drive business development.

Carr was best known for driving the sale of UFC to WME-IMG for $4.2 billion. Yep, billion. A tasty prospect for Ziff, who got the ASP for nix.

Are there parallels?

Can the wozzle crib the UFC playbook and fatten for sale?

Joe Carr said in a 2017 interview he sees a “ton of parallels between both companies”. It took him two years to get there but he foresaw back in 2017 that the Kelly Tub would offer content creation opportunities like “reality programming and social media possibilities”.

The UFC itself was a loss-making business, described as human cockfighting, banned in many states when it launched its own reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. The premise of this show was simple enough for anyone, of any country and background to understand. Fight your way through a tournament and get a six figure UFC contract as prize.

The Ultimate Fighter has been a stunning success. MMA historians say the final fight of the first series in 2005, between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar rescued the entire UFC franchise and catapulted it into public consciousness.

That was well before my time, my introduction to the sport came at the hands of the late great Brazilian tube maestro Ricardo Dos Santos. Down by Teahupoo’s boat harbour the young Brazilian and I shared some space and tube-riding sessions were the only thing able to get him off the screen watching MMA.

It was the era of Anderson Silva, and Dos Santos talked me through his greatness.

The parallels, of course, between the Brazilian toying with opponents in the the ring and Slater toying with the tube were obvious.

The UFC has the inbuilt advantage of an inexhaustible supply of interesting stories. Larger than life tough nuts like Tony Ferguson, Connor McGregor, Khabib Nurmogomedov make our middle-class Norte Americano surfers look one dimensional and insufferably tepid.

Absent Slater the WSL Mic’ed Up series has been a snooze fest. The Australian working-class story died with the retirements of Parkinson and Fanning. Coastal real estate prices saw to that.

UFC did experience huge growth post TUF. Multi-billion dollar sale, multi-million dollar broadcast deals with ESPN.

The WSL is trading in smoke and mirrors, hoping enough softball interviews where they pump their own tyres might create its own reality.

“Our growth over the last four or five years has been exponential,” said Erik Logan in his recent Sportspromedia interview, but he’d say the same thing to his cat every morning.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Finnegan, by contrast, began his long form reportage into the inaugural Surf Ranch pro having to establish the existence of Kelly Slater from scratch because there was zero brand awareness of him in New York City.

When your greatest of all time is an unknown with no reco in the Big Apple then you’re light years away from the mainstream.

UFC has other advantages apart from the visibility of genuine superstars like McGregor and Khabib and even the vanquished Rhonda Rousey. They control their whole biz from top to bottom, like WSL, but they ain’t strictly bound by the conventions of a true sport.

They can operate in a pure entertainment space, making blockbuster fights where and with who they choose. No CT schedule or QS grind to navigate. If they want to match up two crowd favourites, like Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, invent a whole new made up belt called the Baddest Motherfucker and stage a card at Madison Square Garden they can.

And they did.

Could pro surfing do the same? Match up John John Florence and Gabriel Medina at ten-foot NoKanduis and live stream it for some imaginary title? We seemed to be on that path with the rumoured tour restructure, but that future looks further away than ever.

Lets not compare UFC pressers with WSL pressers, because one organisation has elevated the presser to a near artform and the other just serves up mashed banana.

It is worth noting the difference in leadership.

If there is one thing the WSL should copy it’s that sense of a sport, that even as it’s grown massive, hasn’t sold out the vital interests of its fan base. Dana is all over it, every day whilst we might get a glimpse of Sophie scurrying around behind the scenes on the webcast and a corpo-speak press release every six months.

Dana White, the UFC Prez, has been there since Day One and continues to steer the brutal sport of cage fighting. In a sense, he’s almost the polar opposite of our Sophie G. Knows the game intimately, is highly visible and accessible to the press.

Fully accountable, manages the sport for the benefit of the fans.

If there is one thing the WSL should copy it’s that sense of a sport, that even as it’s grown massive, hasn’t sold out the vital interests of its fan base. Dana is all over it, every day whilst we might get a glimpse of Sophie scurrying around behind the scenes on the webcast and a corpo-speak press release every six months.

We have a ready-made Dana White waiting in the wings and his name is Kelly Slater. Not that Kelly would do the right thing, but at least we know, that if followed his instincts, he knows what direction to head in.

The other great impediment facing WSL in following the UFC to the path of mainstream acceptance and riches is its embrace of woke culture, particularly greenwashing.

You can see the thinking and the desire to get out ahead of the curve, but when the rhetoric don’t match the reality all you are creating is what I believe they term in corpo-speak: “reputational risk”.

“It’s always you against mother nature,” Elo gushes in the sportspro story. “Because of that alchemy for what exists in the ocean, it really gives a great arena for rich and layered stories.”

But you put the reality series in the Tub Elo, a hundred miles from the ocean.

The WSL claims to become carbon neutral in 2019, but makes no mention of offsetting the immense carbon footprint of building a massive wavepool development on a Queensland floodplain nor attempting to deal with the Q’ey. To have some credibility in this space, Ziff would have to buy Brazil and reforest the Amazon to account for the carbon footprint at current rates.

See what I mean?

The WSL claims to become carbon neutral in 2019, but makes no mention of offsetting the immense carbon footprint of building a massive wavepool development on a Queensland floodplain nor attempting to deal with the Q’ey.

To have some credibility in this space, Ziff would have to buy Brazil and reforest the Amazon to account for the carbon footprint at current rates.

Will they stick with the green direction? Probably.

Will a sceptical public buy it? Probs not.

Is that bad faith criticism or realistic observations? Tell me where I’m being too harsh.

You can see, in this Age of the Storyteller phase of the WSL why they would want what the UFC has.

Money, broadcast rights, huge fan base.

What we can’t see is how this latest gimmick gets ’em any closer to it.

New York Times dubs honeybees “world-class surfers” as scientists reveal they create own waves and ride them; Kelly Slater thrown into fit of jealous rage!

"Gnarly, right?"

But what is your favorite animal? For years I loved the camel above all, that proud desert animal capable of making or breaking empires in the Middle East. Now, I’d say its the hummingbird fluttering so delicately on the wind though though I might swap with the lowly honeybee as it was just revealed in The New York Times that when they fall into water, they can create their own waves and ride them to safety but don’t take my word for it. Take the Grey Lady’s.

If their honey-making and pollination prowess weren’t enough, there’s a new reason to appreciate honeybees: They’re world-class surfers.

Beyond pollinating flowers, worker bees — which are all females — are given the job of searching for water to cool their hives. But if they fall into ponds, their wings get wet and can’t be used to fly. A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology found that when bees drop into bodies of water, they can use their wings to generate ripples and glide toward land — like surfers who create and then ride their own waves.

Gnarly, right?

“When they fall in the water, they have to find a way to get to shore as a matter of survival,” said Chris Roh, a Caltech research engineer and lead author of the study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It’s a ‘to bee or not to bee’ situation.”

On the piece goes, detailing this and that and it is very interesting but I became distracted by the guffaws and “yeah rights” emanating from Hawaii, being blown on gentle trade winds to Lemoore, California then rushing straight into my ears.

“Create their own waves and ride them?” the voice bellows. “I’ve been doing that for years.”

And what sort of backhanded compliment do you think Kelly Slater, the greatest of all-time, will deliver to the honeybee? How will he both diminish their accomplishments while shifting the spotlight to his own?

Will he get “caught” during his HBO 24/7 episode making a cup of chamomile tea, stirring in stevia instead of honey while declaring, “Studies show honey is super bad for you…” as the camera zooms in for a tight shot?

More as the story develops.

Professional surfers? Basically.
Professional surfers? Basically.

Evil Empire: Maoist China abducts native Muslim Uighur university students in order to “cleanse their brains of religion!”

The bastards.

The plight of professional surfers, and their lack of freedoms, really got me going late last month. The fact that none of them, no not one, can speak freely about their lives thanks to an article baked into the just signed 10-year contract which prohibits any negative statement about the World Surf League or the “sport of surfing.”

My blood boiled for them, for gagged peoples everywhere, and so I became an activist. A megaphone for the silenced. A voice for the voiceless and while Ace Buchan, Wade Carmichael, Caio Ibelli need recognition and action, China’s native Uighur population needs both much more, especially from the free folk.

From us.

The Uighur, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority who live in China’s western Xinjiang province, have been the target of Chinese ire for decades. They are not Han, the ethnic group making up 92% of China’s population, for one, and mostly Muslim, for two, flying in the face of Mao Zedong’s utopian cult of personality. A real affront to total control and according the a just-released New York Times report, the focus of an unprecedented crackdown. Shall we read? It is our duty and our right.

China’s Communist Party has a special manual instructing officials on how to deal with Uighur university students who get back to find that their families have been imprisoned as part of the mass repression of the Uighur people.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has installed a high-tech police state in the region and detained at least 1 million Uighurs in prisons and camps. Former detainees have described physical and psychological torture in those centers.

The 403 pages of internal documents published by The New York Times detail the extent of China’s efforts to deflect questions and criticism of unprecedented crackdown.

The documents include instructions for local officials to corner Uighur students returning home, as soon as they arrive, to stop them from speaking more widely about what is going on.

A seven-page guide for officials in Turpan City, in eastern Xinjiang, includes 13 questions and model answers to tell students when they ask about their vanished families. The Times described it as “chillingly bureaucratic.”

On and on it goes and… really fuck China. First punk pop “surf” brand Vans had to disappear a gorgeous shoe, fearing that sales in Beijing would tank. Now, Beijing is trying to brainwash the best people on the mainland.

There is a fantastic Uighur restaurant in greater Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley if you’re down for a culinary adventure.

Otherwise, fuck China.

Rumour: Hurley family tried to buy biz back from Nike; Bob Hurley on “forced absence of leave” while Bluestar deal goes through…

Leak to Wall Street Journal kills deal 'tween Bob and Nike…

Three weeks ago, Nike cut a deal with brand management company Bluestar Alliance to buy Hurley for an undisclosed amount.

The sale followed Volcom, which was sold in April to a maker of velour tracksuits and Rip Curl in October to camping retailer Kathmandu.

Bob Hurley, of course, cashed in his chips to Nike for a hundred and twenty mill in 2002, three years after Hurley International was launched, although he continued to run the show until 2015.

Bob, a legend in the game, first as a shaper then as a biz-man, spent sixteen years turning a little-known brand called Billabong into a hundred-mill-a-year biz. When the US license came up for renewal in 1998, he knocked it back and Hurley Int was born.

Now, according to a source, the Hurley family were in the process of buying the ol biz back from Nike, their movements were leaked to The Wall Street Journal, and they were subsequently outbid by Bluestar Alliance, owners of clothing brands for the “confident, sexy modern woman!”

As a consequence, and according to the yet-to-be confirmed rumour, Bob’s sons Ryan, who was supposed to become the new Bob, the new face of Hurley, and Jeff, the chief of marketing, and two other family members, have been let go by Bluestar.

Hit up Bob on DM, I’ll let y’know when he hits the keys back.

Peace in our time!
Peace in our time!

Bombshell Rumor: Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch, crown jewel of World Surf League, a “break even at best” proposition!

Pennies from heaven!

And you trust me don’t you? You trust my various little birds trapped behind the World Surf League’s Santa Monica Wall of Positive Noise who peep out rumors so hot that they take months to substantiate? Oh you should because they are always right, even though they take months to substantiate, and when they are not right it is due some massive billionaire posturing behind the scenes, derailing certain true scenarios and writing their will upon bad ideas.

See Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in the otherwise drought-stricken California central valley. I reported, two months ago, that Santa Monica’s powers that be were set to shutter the KSWaveCo. Solana Beach offices and lay off basically everyone. It just came true. I also reported that the Freshwater Pro would be abandoned as the competition was hated by professional surfers, did horrible viewership numbers and was otherwise generally unloved. It didn’t come true but only because the Santa Monica powers that be are running a just announced reality television show there and also it is the only part of the entire World Surf League that makes money.

How much does it make?

As just revealed by a little bird… zero.

And let me quote…

Bottom line is that KSWaveCo has total operating costs per month between $800k – $1m and are renting the place on average of 15 – 20 days per month with an asking price of $50k per day so are grossing $750k -$1m per month. In other words, much sound and fury and make-believe surf but capitalism-wise much ado about a basically break even proposition. On top of that, research and development plus getting the place up and running was an easy $10m+ so they’re servicing $10m in debt and running at roughly break even. Not how the Rockefellers, or even the Ziffs made their fortunes.


Are you happy that the Freshwater Pro is back for another year as the lone success story of co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff’s reign, equalling a break even proposition, at best?


If Dirk Ziff was a character on HBO’s Succession who would he be?



More as the story develops.