If it is true that timing is everything, then maybe an announcement about surfing coming smack dab in the middle of one of the bleakest January's in New York City history is what the Apple needs.
Yes surfing, and not of the channel variety and not in Coney Island. Actually not in the city proper at all, but in Long Beach, just outside the borough of Queens and hard by Kennedy Airport's runways. And no not in January, in September, usually the time when New York's sports eyes are watching the US Open wrap, the pennant races heat up, and the Jets and Giants get the 2012 season kicked off.
The event, run by the Association of Surfing Professionals as part of their World Tour, will make Long Beach its first-ever East Coast stop, at a time when the water is warmest and officials say the surfing is actually world class. Sponsored by Quiksilver, the event will feature the world's best surfers, superstar Kelly Slater among them, for a shot at $1 million in prize money.
So surfing? In the New York area? Could it work? Take a look at the recently completed PBR season opener at Madison Square Garden as an example. Three days of brand exposure in the middle of Manhattan... a chance to showcase the sport to a non-traditional, casual fan base, an opportunity to give dedicated fans from a large metropolitan area a chance to experience the live event, a chance to give TV partners the ability to bring brands in to feel the event in their backyard, and a way to create a unique showcase for the athletes (and yes the bulls) in front of major media to start the season. It is the type of event that auto racing has always craved and never delivered up, because of lack of venue. Last summer Red Bull rolled their air race through lower Manhattan on a sweltering weekend, and although not the mega-media hit that the PBR has been, still drew large crowds and the type of brand exposure that the energy drink loves around the world.
Now in some respects the surfing competition will be different. It is in Long Beach, not New York City, so there is a bit of out of sight, out of mind. That is the issue the AVP always dealt with when bringing pro beach volleyball to the Apple. For such a great experiential brand, the cost and the distance, even to the sands of Brooklyn, was an issue. Like AVP, surfing is definitely an experiential lifestyle brand, so all the positives and potential brand activation will be there, along with some great athletes. Those athletes can easily make the jump for some great guerrilla events around Quiksilver's Manhattan locations or other places to stir buzz and showcase their personalities, and the "first time" nature of the event should also draw interest. There are also the Long Island and New Jersey surfing communities who love the lifestyle and have never had a chance to embrace a large scale event, so all those opportunities play in the sport's favor.
While many elaborate X Games events have found New York a strong but cost prohibitive market, maybe surfing's controlled costs for execution can play in their favor as well. There is probably a strong digital play and push for the demo as well, and maybe even some new technology that can be displayed and tested as a showcase to break through the September clutter.
One thing is for sure though. The move to at least try and elaborate, high scale event in the New York area shows that the sport is willing to try and elevate itself in the sports lifestyle marketplace. Like others that cater to the demo (MMA is another example), the realization that no matter how successful you are in your core group, you still need to find a way to ratchet up brand, television and marketing dollars by playing right to Madison Avenue, is a fact. Especially in a challenging sponsor marketplace, the need to deliver across all platforms is key, and by giving the New York market a strong test, surfing will find out if its rise in popularity will continue, or whether it will plateau and stay strong where the waves are best.
It will not be easy even under the best of conditions to draw interest and buzz consistently in September, but by taking a step to give winter weary New Yorkers a little taste of summer this week, the sport and its title sponsor have shown they are ready for to take on the challenge.
Not a bad brand message to send midway through a cold January.