I would wager that the ASP is thriving, at least from an international branding and fan base viewpoint. This is primarily due to the ASPs wildly successful webcasting. I'm a fan. You're a fan. The average Joe funboarder in the parking lot at Pleasure Point is a fan. Whereas before we maybe only had a passing interest (or probably none at all), now we've been stricken with the ASP webcast bug.
It's no wonder with the world's best surfers, surfing in the world's best waves all beamed directly to our school computer labs, office cubicles and homes, what better way to whittle away the gross domestic product than by watching a WCT event.
However, the real feather in the ASP's cap is that now, thanks to webcasts, people who don't surf are fans. After she watched the Pipemasters webcast, my grocery clerk told me she thought Andy Irons was better than Kelly Slater. My grocery clerk does not surf. Webcasting gives people from red states, people from blue states, grandmothers, psychiatrists, dog owners, unprecedented access to event coverage and it is paying fan base dividends for the ASP.
But alas, with all this good news comes the cold hard mantra of entertainment production bosses, "This year, make it better than last year." And for the ASP webcast producers that means upgrading the talent behind the microphones.
Johnny Miller (golf), and John McEnroe (tennis) are two of sports broadcastings greatest analysts. They offer hard and critical summations and it is validated by their own championship caliber performances. They routinely and rightly criticize players and outside forces such as golf courses, tournament committees, or rules changes and they do so with nary a worry. They are paid to be critical. ASP production team, take note.
The incestuous nature of the surf industry is the root of 99% of the ASP announcers' problems. They are too 'bro brah.' Announcers and analysts are either afraid, or not incentivized enough to be critical. This is understandable. These folks want to keep their marketing jobs and their friends, you know… so that they can, uh, …market. But hobnobbing and kissing ass makes for placid broadcasts. There is no edginess. No hook outside the forces of competition. Johnny Miller is hook. John McEnroe is hook.
Like Miller and McEnroe, the ASP analysts need credentials that are without reproach (former tour vets or champions), and they need a naturally critical eye. Perhaps most importantly they cannot care if their analysis rubs some the wrong way. That's what makes Miller and McEnroe so enjoyable to listen too – they don't care about the repercussions of their words. They don't have to. They are wealthy. Herein lies the problem with the analysts of the ASP webcasts: It's not their full time job. The viewer more often than not receives watered down, 'bro-brah' analysis. This may keep friendships healthy and jobs in-place, but from the viewers vantage, it's unfortunate.
To solve the problem I'm suggesting that the ASP hire Derek Hynd as its fulltime A-team analyst. Hynd would sit side-by-side with the presenting sponsors host du jour (Mike Parsons, John Shimooka, Pottz et al.). Could you imagine Hynd ripping into Taj Burrow's choice of equipment, or chastising Mick Fanning for not strengthening his legs. Now that would be an entertainment upgrade.
ASP announcers are required to fill up voluminous quantities of dead airtime, and they are often asked to do it for lengthy periods of time. It is not easy. I recognize that. In general all of the folks behind the microphone do a good job. I also recognize some do it better than others. My hope is that a little constructive criticism will help 2007 webcasts be better than ever. Here's my take on some of the lot from 2006.
THE BEST ANNOUNCER OF 2006
LIAM MCNAMARA: McNamara's Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters analysis was spot on. I know, I know, hard to believe. But when you look closely at McNamara's credentials and persona it makes perfect sense. McNamara's a former champion at Pipe (HPAC). He is a guy with tons of knowledge at that particular spot. McNamara's not shy and that candidness was apparent this December. Another huge plus is that McNamara's not a corpo guy. He doesn't carry the shareholder's banner for anybody and therefore feels no pressure to dress the picture up too much. McNamara's insight this year was incredibly refreshing, sincere and straightforward. No punches pulled. I was happily surprised. Shocked really.
THE REST OF THE BEST
MARTIN POTTER: Pottz holds a champions position and he's not afraid to call BS on underperformers. His technical analysis of specific maneuvers is unrivaled. I get the feeling he wants to go out there and bang rails with the flick-turners on tour. But he's a corpo guy and he carries the banner. This issue surrounds all of the ASP analysts.
MARTY THOMAS: Perhaps it was the sweltering heat in Mexico, but Rip Curl's Thomas kept a casual pace during down time and throttled it up just enough during the years most talked about tour event (respect to the Pipemasters final). Thomas also carries solid competitive credential into the booth. He's the Merlin Olsen of webcasts. Steady, Strong. Even tempered. Not afraid to call out a blown opportunity.
SEAN DOUGHERTY: The Australian journo is a natural with words so it only makes sense that he would thrive behind the microphone. His Aussie charm segues throughout the day's heats and downtime. I always seem to learn some tidbit of useless Australian surf trivia when listening to Dougherty.
KELLY SLATER: If you were lucky enough to catch Kelly's analysis during those rare times that he stepped behind the mic, you were lucky. His technical breakdowns are the best–bare none. His expertise is well documented, and his ability to articulate it is phenomenal.
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