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World Surf League CCO on Global Advancements in Sport of Surfing

Hangin’ With … World Surf League Chief Commercial Officer Mark Noonan

Published July 29, 2016
Words by HJ Mai, Assistant Managing Editor at Sports Business Daily

MARK NOONAN is the chief commercial officer of the World Surf League. Noonan joined what was then called the Association of Surfing Professionals in July ’14 — ASP changed its name to WSL in ’15. Noonan is based out of the league’s N.Y. office and tasked with growing the organization’s revenue streams. Prior to joining WSL, Noonan led his own sports marketing and media agency, FocalSport, which he founded in ’05. Before that he was an exec VP for Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing. Since the takeover of ASP by ZoSea in ’12, professional surfing has streamlined its business operation and attracted non-endemic partners to the sport such as Samsung, Jeep or Airbnb. Noonan recently talked to SBD Global about advancements in the sport, digital media and Tokyo 2020.

On changes pro surfing has undergone since the takeover …

Mark Noonan World Surf League WSL | Surf Park Central

Mark Noonan, Chief Commercial Officer of The World Surf League. Photo: WSL

Mark Noonan: Primary advancement has been the convergence of all previously-disparate commercial assets of the sport (broadcast, marketing, sponsorship, content, production, etc.) under a single WSL umbrella and investing in stability, quality and consistency. This has created a public-facing content machine that champions the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves in some of the world’s most seductive destinations. This combination aggregates a large and rapidly growing global audience. It is also providing a unique and hyper-focused opportunity for the sport’s commercial and media partners.

On attracting non-endemic brands to surfing …
Noonan: Surfers and surf fans are some of the most influential, loyal, passionate and engaged groups of consumers on the planet. They’re trendsetting and early adopters of technology. Fostering a harmony between our core endemic partners and our new partners has been one of the greatest achievements of the post-acquisition WSL and all stakeholders are enthusiastically delivering the sport to the masses with authenticity, clarity and excellence.

On improving women’s surfing …
Noonan: Gender parity has been a top priority initiative since the sport was acquired from the old ASP and, in addition to the quantum leap in performance, the investment has celebrated the World Surf League top female surfers as global sporting icons inspiring existing and a new generation of fans, female and male.

On the importance of digital and social media …
Noonan: Imperative. This sport runs in a beautiful and, at times, challenging partnership with Mother Nature. It is not a set schedule, it is a happening, a pursuit to foster the world’s best surfing on the planet in the live arena. As a result, the surfing fan base is incredibly digital and social media-savvy. This has pushed us to innovate and develop unique capabilities such as live geo-targeted mid roll advertising.

On surfing’s potential Olympic inclusion …
Noonan: The Olympic Games are a massive platform and opportunity for the sport of surfing. Even the shortlisting is a validation of the sport’s arrival on the global stage. We have every confidence that it will be included in the 2020 Games. We are enthusiastic about working with the IOC and the ISA, the global amateur organization for surfing, to ensure that the showcasing of the sport in the Olympics is of the highest caliber.

On what’s next for WSL …
Noonan: The biggest action sports festival in the United States in the Vans US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California [from July 23-31] followed by one of the most dangerous venues on the planet in the Billabong Pro Tahiti in early August. All events available live at WorldSurfLeague.com and the WSL app. And with the game-changing acquisition of the Kelly Slater Wave Company we are incredibly bullish on the future.

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