The World Surf League’s On-Site Partner Activations Add to the Fan Experience

Describe the ideal sports sponsorship activation.

It adds to the fan experience in some way and leaves them feeling positive about the team/league and the brand. It effectively activates the brand, so the message and the what/why is communicated to the fans. It helps create a pathway to a lifelong customer of the team/league/sport and its corporate partners.

It’s not easy, but there are a lot of properties out there doing it well.

The World Surf League is an entity that has existed and thrived for decades, and is seizing the moment now, fueled by more exposure and opportunity with the growth of social and digital. They stage events all over the world and give fans that attend the competitions an experience that engages and immerses them with the sport lifestyle and the league’s partners.

I recently visited the Vans US Open, a World Surf League competition held over the course of a few days in Huntington Beach, CA. My day was full of watching some surfing, and having my experience enhanced by WSL’s partners. Here are a collection of partner activations and integrations that did make for memorable, effective experiences.

I was thirsty…

And there were two partners happy to help. I had my own bottle, so didn’t need a Hydro Flask (but I could still play some Jenga and Skee-ball to spend some time around, and enter to win Hydro Flask product). Right next to that was a setup from Flow Water, an environmentally friendly water provider. I filled up a bottle multiple times and remembered Flow Water fondly for it. And read their messaging on the machine each time I filled up.


Lifeproof helped protect against the elements

An accessory designed to help protect one’s phone, surely a need for the surfing or boarding audience on hand (but anyone, really), Lifeproof was showing off their product. But their messaging was enhanced through a value-add, offering fans a respite from the heat with a cooling area, complete with misting fans to surround you. They also had a social sharing photo element, as well as product on display, to engage fans while they were cooling off.


Another way to beat the elements, while featuring a brand

World Surf League gave enormous exposure to their featured sponsor for this event, Vans. It was the Vans US Open, after all. Among the many ways Vans was featured all over was on tons and tons of umbrellas out on the shore, to give fans some shade while they took in the surf competition. One of many effective ways to inculcate the Vans Off The Wall brand to fans all day and all event long.



Michelob Ultra facilitated a good time

You head out to check out the World Surf League event with some buddies. Well, Michelob Ultra was there to provide some good seating to see the surfing, as well as some fun games to compete amongst each other. Helping to provide a memorable, fun social experience.


Hungry? WSL has the perfect food for an active fan – courtesy of Clif Bar

I began noticing a lot of fans chomping on Clif Bars as soon as I got to the event. It was already evident on the signage that Clif was a prominent partner. And before long, I walked by their setup, which featured a surf-themed backdrop for photo opps, and, yes, free bars being handed out featuring a new flavor, Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter. They satiated a lot of famished fans and in doing so won a little of good will and perhaps the taste of fans to come back to Clif for more.


Absorb the culture and the brands

Throughout the day, I was continually exposed to all aspects of the Vans brand – from its logo over and over, eye-popping imagery with huge ads, shoes to wear and shoes to pose next to, and aspects of their brand’s involvement in surfing, BMX bikes, skateboarding, and, yeah shoes and apparel. Vans was ubiquitous, and the strength of their impression upon fans was commensurate. And throughout the parts where their brand was seen, something of value was there – the actual competition, a screen, the official store, a photo opp.



Need an energy boost? There was a brand for that

Red Bull and action sports seem to always go together, and the World Surf League competition was no exception. They had a couple of promo team members going around handing out free cans of Red Bull product and even had a kind of isolated vending machine that stood out like a sore thumb, in a good way.


I could also relax in the lounge area

There were ping pong and foosball tables, bean bag chairs, and food. A little piece of home on the beach. While I did not see Airbnb branding here (I did see they were a prominent WSL sponsor), I couldn’t help but think of the brand, kicking back on a beanbag chair.


Surfers and athletes need to keep track of time

While I’m not a surfer myself, I do imagine it’s easy to lose track of time. And sometimes you gotta go to work. Or you at least gotta spend some time out of the water. The WSL has a watch partner for that, and G-Shock was showcasing their brand, including helping to keep time for each round of the event. They also had a setup with product on display for fans to check out.


They helped hook up an experience in the surrounding community

The WSL worked well with the city of Huntington Beach and some of the surrounding businesses to also make for a better fan experience. I was able to park at a school and jump on a public shuttle running to the event, which was made for a really smooth transit and ingress/egress for the event for me. Then, on the walk from the shuttle stop to the beach, I saw lots of businesses, retail and restaurants, featuring deals for WSL fans, including convenient, beach-friendly takeout meals to bring down to the event.


Focused on building fans

While the WSL could have filled more space with sponsors and more signage with advertisements, they are still focused on cultivating fans, and it showed. The WSL logo was plastered all over – from banners and signage to buoys and airplane banners. There were also several opportunities to buy WSL merchandise, with no shortage of deals and variety. The WSL had put a lot of inventory to in-house use, driving merchandise sales, and no doubt driving a reinforcement of the brand.


The World Surf League is a young brand that is beginning to grow beyond endemics, as its fan base grows all over the world and its events get bigger and bigger. Activating partners for such an international audience can be difficult, but when value is being added, brands are being activated, and fans are taking it all in, enjoying the experience – well, that’s something for which you can hang ten.

(Check out a gallery of sponsor activation at the WSL Vans US Open)

Episode 100: Garrett Downing Crafts Content and Voice for the Baltimore Ravens

Listen to episode 100 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Garrett Downing, Social Media Manager and Digital Host for the Baltimore Ravens.


61 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

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A Sports Biz Tour of the World Surf League Vans US Open

On August 6, 2017, the World Surf League Vans US Open held its final day out at Huntington Beach, CA. The event attracts thousands of visitors and many more viewers online.

There were activities, merchandise, sponsors, and surf out in full swing. Come on a trip with me around the event with a sports biz lens. Check it out!


Episode 99 Snippets: Delmondo’s Mike Metzler Knows How to Play and Win the Snapchat Game

On episode 99 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Mike Metzler, Director of Client Strategy for Delmondo.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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It Pays to Be Thoughtful and Mindful in Social Media and Sports

We’re all looking to win the game. Analyzing the content, the metrics, and the strategy to get more reach and more engagement.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s being human and appreciating the humans on the other side. That’s how connections are created and fans are left feeling good.

This was a motif that was carried throughout the recent Sports PR Summit Social Media Workshop (I gleaned this from Twitter, unable to attend this year myself. I highly recommend others check out the Sports PR Summit conferences). When you put forethought into strategy and execution, when you treat audiences distinctly, when you think beyond the silo – that’ll lead to wins on social media.

Prepare for every element prior to an event

Lauren Teague has spent several years in the digital and social sports space, working across a number of sports and clients. So when she gives simple, but oft-overlooked tips for success, it’s a good idea to pay attention. It’s a real-time world and not a single second can be wasted – there is always more content to capture and everything must be prepared and practiced to a tee as much as possible. Do you have a pre-event checklist? Do you have a plan? Are you prepared to be spontaneous?



Don’t just sit back and wait

Jeremy Thum has helped lead successful social and digital strategies for several years, most recently making magic for the Chicago Bulls and now the Golden State Warriors. Customer service on social is no longer a bonus, now, but an expectation. Top teams have systems in place for monitoring and response. But there’s passive listening and there’s seizing opportunity to create incredible experiences. Don’t wait for a problem to solve, create an unforgettable experience for a fan that will take their night from a 10 to a 12. That’s how you can create superfans and a reputation for service and GAF that truly goes beyond.



Speak with the audience and the platform in mind

Can you picture the person on the other side of those social media posts or inquiries? Do you really ‘get’ the platform and how real people, not just teams and brands and celebrities, use it? It’s not just about understanding the method of response, as longtime social media and sports vet (and former Director of Social Media for the UFC) Shanda Maloney described (and Sports PR Summit paraphrased via Twitter). It’s also important to know the actions you and the fan can take on each end of the exchange. Empathy, putting oneself in the fan’s shoes is key for customer service, in general, but certainly in the high-speed, high-volume world of sports. Be a student of the platform and create personas, potential scenarios, and best responses. That’s how you’ll pass every test on every platform with flying colors.


Content buckets can organize your content calendar

We’ve all created content calendars. Whether it’s day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, or beyond. But creating some sort of category system can help get a better window into your content mix and performance. The more you can parse your content, study and compare and benchmark more apples to apples, the more effective your data-based insights will be. Consider another column in the spreadsheet or some system of denotation in whatever system you use and try to mold a method from the madness.


Benchmark your metrics

Some of the best advice is to try and get 1% (heck, 0.1%) better every day. But it’s not about trying to beat the competition. Finishing first in social media metrics, whatever that may mean, does little more than fuel the ego. If you focus on making your content and content performance better, that’s how you win in the end. It still helps very much to pay attention to how others are also trying to improve upon their content every day, but when it comes to social media metrics, don’t live by the latest Nielsen study. Let it inform, but ultimately, the best benchmarks come from samples closer to what you do every day. Aim to beat those metrics, not what the national average is. It’s also a good way to show the suits in the organization success and upward trajectory. (Every suit likes a good hockey-stick graph)


Create content with the audience in mind

It used to be just creating a single piece of content and sitting back and watching it succeed or fail (okay, this was, like, decades ago). But now we’re beyond simply A-B testing, beyond educated guesses, too. You can’t just create one persona when devising content, but several segments of fans and consumers. This doesn’t just affect branded content (as Learfield VP of Social Media Jack Patterson was referring to below), but all of it. Particularly with the audience targeting that is now a part of every brand’s and team’s social media marketing strategy, it’s no longer ‘advanced’, but is simply a best practice to craft different content for different consumers. The right content for the right person at the right time, fitted properly for the platform.



If anyone thinks or says that they’ve mastered social media, that thought won’t last long. If you’re not seeking new knowledge, remaining a student always, and using it like a normal person often, you’ll get left behind quickly. But simple principles will remain true. The more a social media presence feels and seems human, the more one keeps in mind the people on the other end, the more we seek continual improvement – that’s how you can at least chase mastery and perhaps achieve sustained success along the way.

Episode 99: Mike Metzler is Building Better, Smarter Content in a Post-Snapchat World

Listen to episode 99 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Mike Metzler, Director of Client Strategy at Delmondo.


73 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn