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Competitive Bodyboarding: What Lies Ahead?

by on Saturday 30th November, 2013   12462 Visits   Comments

Ben Player may have named world champion based on a questionable count-back policy, but this doesn't detract from the quality of his riding throughout the year. Here he is en-route to winning the Arica Challenge. © 2014 IBA / Jiminez

Following weeks of silence, on Friday morning the IBA officially named Ben Player as the 2013 bodyboard world champion. Normally a momentous occasion, this announcement comes as a side-note; an anticlimactic full stop to a year of cancelled events, sponsorship withdrawals and poor financial management. Magicseaweed has heard from former tour manager, Alex Leon, to ascertain where competitive bodyboarding goes from here.

Early in November the Bodyboard World Tour lay in the balance. The much anticipated Fronton Pro remained as the final event, in which Amaury Lavernhe and Ben Player, sharing an exact number of points, were set to fight it out for the grand prize. To the desperation of all concerned, with just days to go, a brief IBA press release bashfully announced the cancellation of the event, citing funding issues as the principal issue. 

As the two front runners could not be separated using a conventional count-back system, Player was named world champion due to his superior ranking in the 2012 tour, a verdict which is hard to stomach, even for the victor.

I pity the other contestants, especially Amaury, who didn’t get their final shot at the title due to the event’s cancellation. It’s not a great way to win or a fair way to lose.” Ben Player

“It’s a bitter sweet victory’ Player told the IBA. ‘On one hand I am really excited to be a 3 time world champion and winner of the 2013 World Title, but on the other hand I wanted to win in the contest arena and I pity the other contestants – especially Amaury – who didn’t get their final shot at the title due to the event’s cancellation. It’s not a great way to win or a fair way to lose.”

Amaury Lavernhe was on form throughout the year, equalling Player by winning two of the four Grand Slam events. Here he jams a reverse during the South Coast Crusade. © 2014 IBA / Trouville

Now as the slate is wiped clean, attention turns to the future, and a beleaguered IBA which has consistently struggled to secure sponsors at key events.  Alex Leon resigned from the position as tour manager just prior to Fronton’s cancellation, and has been in contact with Magicseaweed to outline the main problems facing the future of competitive bodyboarding.

Although we were able to have webcast extreme events in Mex, Fronton, Pipe etc it was all underpinned by investors cash and at some point there comes a time when the investment money will cease and shareholders will seek a return for their investment. Alex Leon, former IBA World Tour Manager

“The Iba pty ltd company is a private company created by shareholders investment to lease the tour rights off the IBA non profit association,” Leon told us. “Although we were able to have webcast extreme events in Mex, Fronton, Pipe etc it was all underpinned by investors cash and at some point there comes a time when the investment money will cease and shareholders will seek a return for their investment. The sad fact is we are now at that stage and the sponsorships dollars that was projected are not here to support these events.”

“I resigned from IBA temporarily due to the current financial state of the company. I spent effortless time and money on the tour this year as it struggled without any private investment and there comes a point in my life where I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. My personal debt had reached a point that forced me to resign.”

The legendary Mike Stewart has witnessed the many ups and downs bodyboarding. No doubt he will be there when the sport emerges from its most recent troubles. © 2014 IBA / trouville

The task of generating interest and furthering the reach of IBA video content was subcontracted to the IMG media agency, following an agreement drawn up in March this year. “IMG are regarded as the best media and sports agency’s in the world,” says Leon. “They have found that bodyboarding is a tough sale, and with their corporate reach globally, this is saying something.”

Pay per view streaming is the path we need to take at this stage until we can generate sponsorship support. If this system is in place and viewers are willing to pay $10 per event to stream live then this would enable the IBA to visit locations of extreme waves like again and able to confirm events 12-18 months prior.

“At the moment any management team trying to run an events tour, without the opportunity of ticket sales, will totally depend on government and sponsorship support. If that support isn’t available (as with Fronton) then there must be a form of revenue created through the media by the audience views. Pay per view streaming is the path we need to take at this stage until we can generate sponsorship support. If this system is in place and viewers are willing to pay $10 per event to stream live then this would enable the IBA to visit locations of extreme waves like again and able to confirm events 12-18 months prior.”

Ben Player jubilant in Chile. © 2014 IBA / Jiminez

Considering the fragility of the global economy, Leon claims that absolute reliance on sponsorship is not a viable option; “The major factor here is the fan base of 127,000 YouTube subscribers,” he says. “Imagine 30% of these subscribers paying $10 per event? This would enable us to stream live in HD and increase prize money and expand our media reach globally. Without this system in place, I struggle to see a stable tour in extreme wave locations.”

The proposition of pay-per-view is not unique to bodyboarding. It is a tried and tested business model for the NFL and UFC, and who knows what could happen with the ASP, as sponsor investment dries up to a trickle. 

Leon asserts that he would be happy to return to the World Tour, but not before a sustainable financial plan is put into operation. “If this is implemented, and I am approached to manage the tour again, I will, as the athletes and event promoters need me and have invested trust in me over the past 14 months.”

In criticising IBA management strategies, we do not mean to disregard the quality of the riders on tour. In recent years competitive bodyboarding has witnessed a golden age of sorts, with exceptional events, riders and webcasts at the most revered heavy waves on the planet. Furthermore, despite the precarious state of the IBA, 2013 saw performance levels elevated once more, from Jake Stone’s aerial innovation during the South Coast Crusade, to Ben Player’s domination of El Gringo. The task now is finding a business plan which befits the talent and dedication of those who don the coloured vest. 

 

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