At last, the waiting is over. The Piping Hot Surf Festival, the 2014 ASP season debut and your favorite one-star ASP-Australasia event, ran this week in sunny Victoria, Australia, with ‘CT hangers-on Jay Thompson and Nathan Hedge as headlining performers (Hedgey’s your winner). “This is it,” you’re no doubt saying to yourself. “The new ASP is finally here!”
Except, well, is it? Take a close look at the ASP website. See any changes? No. Not really. Nothing much different from last year’s ASP homepage, except maybe there’s a bit more attention given to the ASP’s twitter feed (better than you might think, by the way). Bit of movement on the schedule, with Margaret River added to the World Tour, and a slightly more filled-out Women’s Tour. But as far as I can tell from my regular Internet perch, it’s business as usual for the all-new and much-ballyhooed ASP-ZoSea partnership.
Of course, the Tour hasn’t started yet. Maybe the grand unveiling is being saved for the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast extravaganza in March. But why? How would that possibly be a good idea? We’re weeks past the end of the 2013 season, off and running on the new year, and at this point even the ZoSea-ASP PR machine has nothing to say about what’s in store for 2014. No teaser trailer on the ASP website. No YouTube announcements. Nary a tweet or Facebook post. Not even a new corpo-speak press release to the surf media. Wave your antenna toward the ASP-ZoSea front and all you get is the faint sound of crickets chirping. The only other real news to surface about 2014 was that longtime Tour sponsors like Quiksilver were pondering whether or not it’s even worth paying for Tour events. This might have resulted in an all-out damage control campaign by the ASP, but again they offered no public comments.
I shot the shit with new ASP commissioner Kieren Perrow last month on the North Shore, and he was as nice as could be, but all he was able to tell me was that the ASP doesn’t want to toot its own horn and then not be able to deliver on that tooting. (He wasn’t being evasive—he’s not the PR arm) OK, fair enough, but that shouldn’t really fill pro surfing fandom with a great deal of confidence. Pretty easy to deliver nothing when that’s all you’ve promised.
I guess, in some bleak way, I’m feeling some relief that the whole show isn’t being fed into the gears of some new high-end marketing machine, which seemed inevitable back in 2012, when the ZoSea deal was set up. Incoming boss Paul Speaker, remember, was hired in large part because of his association with the NFL—where the actual playing of football has just about vanished under layers of marketing, futuristic analysis, and enormous uncountable stacks of cash. Kieren mentioned that Speaker was chosen by the ASP in part because of the NFL’s success at presenting itself as an internationally-recognized “brand,” which, presumably, Speaker had some kind of role in. Speaker himself claimed that the 2013 “transition year” would include “refreshing the ASP brand” and “establishing a new commercial model for the sport.”
But here we are, at the dawn of the “new” ASP era, puttering along in what very much looks to be the old commercial model. So two choices. 1) There is in fact no new model, no new brand, no real changes in the works, and the ZoSea folks are sitting on their hands, or out to lunch—pick whatever do-nothing metaphor you like—hoping we tune in anyway. 2) Changes are in the works, but they’re so deep and profound that they haven’t even sprung to the surface yet. Like some kind of amazing rare flower that blooms in, I don’t know, early winter or something.
Anybody out there holding their breath for option No. 2? Anybody?