Inside the World Surf League’s “Digital First” Broadcasting Stream

By Zach Seybert, @zlseybert

The World Surf League has partnered with Facebook Live. Photo via Tav Calico.

The World Surf League has partnered with Facebook Live. Photo via Tav Calico.

As a Clevelander, I am not normally exposed to the world of professional surfing. Believe it or not, the shores of Lake Erie are not exactly conducive to catching major swells – kite surfing during the windy weather maybe. After traveling to Hawaii on a family vacation and seeing how popular the sport is, as well as taking a surfing lesson, it is apparent why so many enjoy the sport.

When going to eat at local restaurants, instead of watching SportsCenter or a basketball game, surfing competitions are broadcast for patrons. While people on the mainland might follow any of the four major professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) closely, a league that most might not be aware of is the World Surf League.

Unlike its mainland, more popular counterparts, the World Surf League flies under the radar in a variety of aspects. First, it acts as a niche league of sorts – only those who are very in tune with professional surfers and the sport are likely to know about it. Second, in a move seemingly unique to the league, the league has collaborated with Facebook to become a “digital first” organization.

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According to Mark Burns of SportTechie, the league has to be digital first, by default, based on how the events rely on wave patterns and weather conditions. Due to the fickle nature of the weather and wave patterns, although every day seems like paradise in Hawaii and other locations as to where the league holds competitions, it is next to impossible to create a normal broadcast schedule like that of other professional leagues.

Facebook made waves (no pun intended) in the sports industry over the past year or so with signing partnerships with leagues to broadcast select games and events via Facebook Live. Over the past few weeks, the social platform has struck a deal with the MLB to stream a few innings of select Spring Training games and is reportedly working on a deal with the league to stream full regular-season games. Additionally, Facebook has agreed to carry 46 Liga MX (Mexican soccer) games and NBA D-League games.

The World Surf League followed suit. After experimenting with Facebook Live, the two parties agreed to a partnership to stream every WSL event on the platform this year. According to the league’s website, “Fans can now watch all the action in real time on the WSL Facebook Page. All Championship Tour events and Big Wave tour events will be broadcast live, enabling followers to experience the sport’s top moments together.”

According to WSL’s Chief Community Officer, Tim Greenberg:

“As a truly digital-first league, streaming the entirety of our season on Facebook speaks to the pioneering nature of our sport. With Facebook’s scale, we can better serve even more fans by bringing the magic and drama of professional surfing directly to their feeds. It’s an incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of sports media distribution.”

Social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) have been venturing more and more into live streaming sporting events. This past NFL season, Twitter made headlines by agreeing to a deal with the NFL to live stream Thursday Night Football games.

For the average fan, these games were often difficult to watch as they were mostly broadcast on the NFL Network. Now, however, fans could stream the games from anywhere with an Internet connection via mobile device, tablet or computer.

As more and more people and companies take part in “cord cutting,” the competition to secure live streaming deals is heating up.

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