Matters – Contesting Contests
By Trever Maur
I’m just gonna be blunt. The wakeboarding boat contest scene needs to change. In a big way. The Toronto Boat show had more people watching riders going across a freezing-cold-water-filled hockey rink in winter than most pro boat contests have had this year. The last few boat events I’ve been to have been horrible, and there really isn’t another way to put it. The last one I went to most of the people who were there were the riders, vendors, industry insiders, or friends and family. There were maybe 200 spectators. Two hundred. For a professional wakeboarding contest featuring the best riders on the planet throwing down the most insane runs, that just isn’t right. BINGO night at the local Kiwanis club gets more people than that! When you’re talking about a pro event with a fanbase like wakeboarding, there should be numbers in the thousands, not the hundreds.
So I’ve been left to wonder, why are companies putting so much money into live events when nobody is coming? I would imagine it has to be one of the worst returns on investment ever. How many eyeballs are really being exposed to the brands putting so much time, money, and energy into some of these boat contests? Why keep wasting those dollars when there is seemingly huge potential in other areas like sick web content, or full length movies, or RV tours? Those are the types of things that will really have a big impact on fans and the growth of the sport. But instead brands seem to be putting large amounts of marketing budgets toward sponsoring contests where the same tricks go down, the same four or five guys rotate around the podium, and nobody shows up to watch. Some of my friends ask me why I don’t go to more contests or do the tour, and in my mind why would I want to go spend a weekend to ride for ten minutes, interact with minimal amounts of fans and provide myself minimal exposure, and end up giving all my money to Harley or Dowdy? Who really knows who even the top ten guys are right now? Outside of the top three or four, is there really a point? Believe me, I’m a follower of wakeboarding. I love wakeboarding. I try to watch all the videos, I get all the magazines; I can’t get enough of it. But it’s very hard to follow all the different contest series. There are some contest updates and stuff in the magazines, but there isn’t anything that truly creates a following. I believe that is what is hurting wakeboarding contests the most.
As a freerider and filmmaker myself, I would obviously love to see more marketing dollars go toward video projects and things I believe could really help provide a legit return on investment for the brands. But I also know that a sport like wakeboarding needs pro contests, and we need them to be legit. Without a true pro series for top riders to compete in, the sport would look amateur, and we’d become the next rollerblading. In my opinion the boat contest arena needs to do something to make itself cooler, and therein become cool for fans to follow. If you look at Street League Skateboarding or the World Surf League there are tons of people who follow each contest like hawks and know who is in the overall lead and everything that’s going on. In wakeboarding I never hear many other riders, let alone fans, talk about contests in that way. I know a couple of the younger riders that really want to make the pro ranks to compete, hopefully do well to try to make a name for themselves, but I advise them to make sure it’s worth their time and money. When we ride together and they tell me they want to practice and train for boat contests, I tell them to try to do things differently with a variety of grabs so that they stand out from other riders. Truth be told in this day and age they’re going to get way more notoriety from making a couple sick web videos than getting 10th place at an event.
The boat contests need more hype in order to get more prestige and a bigger following, but to create that hype they need a better product, and a more viewable product. Some cues can probably be taken from SLS and WSL, like legit live streaming, which can be truly fun to watch. If you have announcers calling the play-by-play, and during downtime between riders or when a rider falls, talking about that rider, his style, his story, what makes him special, etc, it brings more to the viewer and keeps them engaged. If you show instant replays during that downtime and to help highlight what about that trick or run made it special compared to others, it adds clout to what the rider is doing. Wakeboarding could tap into live streaming and reach thousands of more people. In my mind a better viewing product, and better recap videos, would give the contests that much more prestige and then make more people want to attend the live events.
In the big picture, contests are created to bring the sport to fans to gain exposure for the brands putting up the money to create them. Those brands care about their image and identity. Brand identity is huge these days. Wake brands want to be cool and have a cool identity, and they love it when their athletes post legit stuff that tags them. But putting marketing budget into a contest that makes their identity look anything but legit isn’t the way to do it. Why have your athletes work during the winter to create rad content and then in the summer season have them go sit on shore at a contest nobody is at? I know it sounds like I am just ranting against contests, but I don’t have anything against the idea of them. I just want the application and execution of them to be better, because it’s what the sport needs, especially now. Contests are good for an industry, and it’s good to have a professional aspect to a sport. There are some wakeboarding contests that are super legit, too, but if you’re going to sink a ton of money into contests that aren’t working you need to make changes. Something has to be figured out. I think we have enough unique riders with awesome personalities, enough talent – amongst the riders and event organizers, and one of the best sports/lifestyle combinations in the world. That should be more than enough to create a legit series that fans can really buy into and feel connected to. That should be more than enough to get 2,000 spectators to an event instead of 200. For wakeboarding’s sake I hope we can figure something out.