If Elo can't turn the Wozzle into something like Redbull Media house and lay down some black ink how much longer before the WSL slips sweetly into unconsciousness?
I feel a bit sad Sophie has left the building: Farewell Soph, we barely knew ye.
It can be hard to decipher the denseness of the wozzle corpo-speak but what we know is Ziff called Soph in for a little chat and the upshot was “we mutually agreed it was time to make a change.”
That, if I’m not mistaken, is just a very polite way of saying our Soph got the sack, that the three-year experiment in making pro surfing work as a (mainstream) sport under Sophie’s reign has failed.
An objective analysis of her time at the top is warranted, I think. An office farewell party with spritzers and pu-pus and maybe a bare arse on the photocopier if things get out of hand.
The origin story is compelling: former tennis pro, come Adidas, Rugby Union and tennis marketing exec. gets headhunted by a WSL recruiting arm while holidaying in Bali.
Has barely heard of the sport. Knows none of the surfers.
Wozzle were explicit in their desire that Sophie G would continue the Quixotic quest to mainstream the sport of professional surfing, saying in an opening presser that
“Goldschmidt will advance a range of athlete development programs to help grow interest in the sport, while creating tailored fan experiences through new formats, live content and other media.”
She claimed that the sport was in “audience growth mode.”
The shiny new contraption that Sophie was headhunted to sit astride and ride into the glorious future of mainstream sporting success, was of course, the recently acquired Kelly Slater wavepool. Sophie gestated and birthed the contest debuts of the Slater tub, first behind closed doors with the Future Classic, in September 2017, then the Founders Cup in May 2018 and first CT event September 2018.
It was the highpoint of her tenure as CEO, a time of unlimited possibility and purple prose.
“We’re only scratching the surface of how this technology can be applied,” said Sophie, “and it is completely game-changing for the sport. If you can imagine in future, we’ll have world-class waves, ten-foot-plus waves, coming towards an audience with a stadium coming up out of the water, with amazing broadcast and camera angles, just an electric atmosphere, it can be floodlit at night – it’s just a beautiful thing and it’s so interactive.”
Her assessment that “I think the fan experience was significantly enhanced” was strangely out of touch with the brutal assessments being made in the real world by the real fans of the sport.
The bigger problem for her captaincy was losing momentum with the tub build-outs as the timeline got away from her.
Early 2018 with the Tokyo Olympics looming on the radar and it still appeared that the WSL would be able to take total control by holding the event in a Slater tub.
“We are trying to get a wave facility built in Tokyo in time,” said Sophie in February of that year. “Hopefully, if we can get it built, there’s a good chance that the Olympics would take place in one of our facilities.”
Wishing and hoping wasn’t good enough and surfing in the Olympics will take place in Mother Ocean, at least through Paris 2024.
The roll-out of the tubs and the whole promised revolution in pro surfing that was built around that vision looked moribund by the end of Freshwater Pro 2019.
Strangely, it was the release of the Mic’ed up Slater Ep from that contest – with it’s solipsistic atmosphere-less atmosphere – that seemed to kill it.
The closing shot of Slater addressing what looked to be 50 people meandering in front of a stage where Jack White was about to play was a whack with a cold spoon to any pretense of surfing ever being a mainstream sport.
It couldn’t even be a mainstream sideshow.
With all her eggs in the wave systems basket Goldschmidt lost Cloudbreak and Trestles from the roster in her first full year of stewardship. The loss of Cloudbreak she blamed on a lack of Fijian Govt support despite Kelly Slater’s Outerknown company inking a three-year deal to support the event just the year before.
The loss of Trestles was never explained.
Despite an incredibly successful, for fans anyhow, Keramas/Ulu double after the Margaret River cancellation in 2018, she was not able to cement that obvious Bali leg as a permanent part of the Tour schedule.
Keramas has been lost from the 2020 Tour. Grajagan has been gained.
Soph bobbled a bigger ball at the start of her reign when a proposed Tour revamp threatened to go horribly wrong. The paperwork for a proposed Feb Pipeline contest to start season 2019, with a play-off style ending proposed for the Mentawais to decide the World Title went tits-up when Honolulu refused to sign off.
Hastily jettisoning the radical restructured Tour idea, Soph resurrected the original December Pipeline permits to finish the Tour.
End result: a shaky status quo maintained.
Growing the sport via growing the audience looked like it was going to get a filip with a two-year exclusive deal with Facebook proposed in 2018.
A huge propaganda programme preceded the roll out, scheduled to start at J-Bay. Exclusive, which meant all fans were now harvested in the Facebook ecosystem. It was a debacle, with a massive fan backlash forcing a public apology and a retreat from the exclusive nature of the deal.
No word on an extension of the deal as it expires this year.
Soph went hard on pushing the Wozzle as a friend, even defender of the environment, especially Mother Ocean. It relaunched WSL Pure as an activist organisation and made pledges to be carbon neutral by the end of 2019.
Silence about whether they achieved the goal is probably a good indication they failed to reach it.
Greenwashing looks even more hypocritical when the proposed Coolum wave ranch is tied in with a massive canal estate development on coastal floodplain. The QS, with a massive footprint which dwarfs the CT, was left out of the pledge to be carbon neutral, with no roadmap to include it.
Our outgoing CEO had a low-key style. Sophie spotting at events, usually scurrying around in the background, or last person on the stage to deliver something just as the broadcast was about to be skyhooked, was a small but culturally significant sub-genre of hardcore surf fan activity over the last three years. It’s peculiar delights will be missed by connoisseurs.
Her press strategy was the by now familiar route of backdooring the surf media and talking straight to the business mags, effectively in the process treating the surf fans she held in such high esteem like shit on her shoe.
No-one has yet been able to demonstrate how this strategy leads to the kind of “it’s all about the fan” outcome so earnestly touted. Surely you’d go straight to the surf media, booze up and make pals with some editors/journos and bask in the eternal sunshine of positive coverage.
No? Not the way to win friends and influence?
She didn’t give us much to swing for. Elo promises to be far more “our guy” in that respect. More fun. More fan interaction. The teeth, the hair, the tan. You could build a league on those teeth alone.
But that dream’s dead.
Whether Sophie killed it or just happened to be holding the baby when it stopped breathing will be determined by the historians of tomorrow. We’re in the post-sport, story-telling world now.
For how much longer, who knows.
Sophie let slip that the owners (Ziffs) were in it for “business reasons” for the long haul.
How long is a long haul?
“Five-to-ten years,”she said.
Well, we are past the five and trucking towards the ten.
If Elo can’t turn the Wozzle into something like Redbull Media house and lay down some black ink how much longer before the WSL slips sweetly into unconsciousness?
Sophie will be remembered most for her push to gender equality. Whether her hand was forced by the publication of a podium shot featuring male and female winners with different size cheques or had the intent all along is irrelevant. She made it happen.
From top to bottom of the WSL, guys and gals now get equal pay.
For equal work?
Debatable, especially in the big wave realm.
Still, Sophie bequeathed a WSL with blue sky everywhere you look for female athletes.
With utmost fairness, what grade should we write at the bottom of her report card, after a less than three-year spell with her hands on the tiller.
She kept the lights on and the broadcasts free.
For that alone I give a C.
Howbout a C-minus?
What say you surf fan?