This Has Everything To Do With Surfing
Kelly Slater now owns the ASP World Tour. In truth, he has owned it for the last 20 years or so, minus a three-year Andy Irons hostile takeover, but now he owns it owns it. Like, his manager, Terry Hardy, actually took semiofficial ownership (it will not be official until the long form agreement is signed by both parties in December) of the ASP alongside his business partner, Paul Speaker, through their group ZoSea Media.
Terry Hardy has managed Kelly for the bulk of his career and also manages John John Florence. Paul Speaker has worked for the NFL, is a former president of Time Inc. Studios and is on the board of directors at Quiksilver.
And ZoSea now semiofficially owns the ASP, which, most importantly, means it owns the media rights. Media rights were previously owned by the brands themselves for their signature events. So, for example, Quiksilver owned the media rights for the Quiksilver Pro, Billabong for the Billabong Pro, etc. It was a headache and a recipe to never make real money. It would be like the Jacksonville Jaguars owning the media rights to the Super Bowl. Senseless! But now, semiofficially, ZoSea owns it all and then will sell packages to sponsors, reaping the financial rewards. And how did this semiofficial takeover come to be? What does it mean for professional surfing? Is Kelly Slater guaranteed 11 more world titles? Is John John guaranteed multiple Triple Crowns?
I received some emails from an irate insider before the short form of the deal was voted on and signed in October. He intimated that Terry Hardy was forcing the ZoSea agreement on the ASP without the ASP actually shopping for the best deal out there. He intimated that it would be bad for professional surfing, that the ASP could have received much more favorable terms had they taken it public and that it is fraught with duplicity. He suggested that Terry Hardy might, might, have signed a previous contract with the devil and that the devil is a third unnamed partner in ZoSea. I responded, “Interesting. The devil’s involvement would certainly answer why Kelly Slater gets younger every year. And ZoSea does look very much like Zoso, which was Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page’s occultish, Satanic symbol. Very, very interesting.”
Now, I generally dislike conspiracy theory but I love reckless, unchecked capitalism and agreeing to a deal without a bidding process does not feel like the best usage of egregious wealth creation. We don’t live in North Korea, for Jimmy Page’s sake, we live in America. Home of Bain Capital. Land of Lehman Brothers. What leverage, aside from the devil, could Terry Hardy have had to lock the ASP up before a bidding war guaranteed the hugest possible payday? Did he say, “Kelly, don’t surf the ASP, and John John, don’t surf the ASP, unless I own the ASP”? I called Dave Prodan, the international media director of the ASP, since Terry Hardy didn’t want to go on record before the long form deal was inked.
He was getting his car washed and responded, “You know, the board of directors felt that between media rights and the governance structure this was one of the better offers they were going to get. It’s not like Terry said, ‘Kelly and John John aren’t doing the tour unless you do this.’” Bummer. Blackmail is a delicious component of reckless, unchecked capitalism. He continued, “A lot of the brands are restructuring and so this was just the perfect time for something like this to happen, I think. And the surfers still have a great deal of power. There is an office of the commissioner now and the office decides dates and locations of the events and the commissioner can only be appointed with the surfers’ approval. I think it is good.”
I love that Dave Prodan believes. I love that the media rights live in one home and that the ASP might really have some power now. But I am still angry that there was no bidding process. I would have liked to throw my own hat in the ring with an ownership group including Eddie Rothman, Mick Jagger, Marlon Brando (RIP), Dave Eggers (the surfer, not the writer) and Lance Armstrong. It would have been the greatest tour on earth and I’m sure we could have somehow involved the devil. How many souls do you reckon Terry promised him in exchange for Kelly’s perpetual youth? Regardless of who owns the ASP, John John Florence is guaranteed multiple Triple Crowns. Have you watched the boy surf Pipe recently? I think he’s pretty good. —Chas Smith