July 14, 2014
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

The “Showdown” Just Signed A Major TV Deal With CBS Sports Network; Aims To Push SUP Mainstream

Ultimate SUP Showdown (17)

While the focus is on Hawaii throughout July thanks to SIC’s Downwind Month, the spotlight will continue to shine on the Islands deep into next month courtesy of one major event. From the 16th to 18th August we’re going to see one of the most competitive (not to mention most interesting) races of the year: Honolua Surf Co’s Ultimate SUP Showdown in Waikiki.

As we revealed a couple of weeks back, the Showdown is aiming to go next level in 2014: The prize money is top tier ($25k), the lineup of talent runs deep, the after party is expected to be something else and most paddlers I’ve spoken to were stoked on the novelty of Draft Day. However it seems the real story behind this event is a major TV deal that Showdown organisers signed last Friday with CBS Sports Network.

CBS has given the Showdown three air dates in total, with a prime-time premiere penciled in for late September. Sounds like it’s going to be pretty big. This isn’t the first time stand up paddling has been on TV but it’s surely the most significant deal in the sport’s brief history. Forget about a quick plug on SUPracer.com or in the magazines, this is the athletes’ chance to get some major airtime on national television.

So what can we expect from the Showdown event and broadcast?

For one, we can except some serious talent in the water out front of the famous Duke statue in Waikiki. Almost all the top guys have committed, including Danny Ching, Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny, Travis Grant, Zane Schweitzer and a few dozen other contenders from the SUP surfing and SUP racing worlds. The “Draft Day” invites are still going out, with around 90% of the invitees having already received their personal call from the chief organiser Boyd Jeffery, so hopefully by the end of the week we can publish the complete list.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Showdown format, it basically combines SUP surfing and SUP racing into one event. There’s a SUP surf contest, a regular SUP race and then the “Showdown” finale featuring the top finishers from each side of the draw. This finale is a full on surf race in and out through the waves, kinda like the BOP but on steroids (it’s shorter, sharper and hopefully the ocean plays nice and offers up some good swell to produce the carnage we all love).

Ultimate SUP Showdown waikiki

Though it sounds like organisers want the CBS broadcast to be much more than just a replay of what happens on the water. They’ve spared no expense in hiring Los Angeles-based Executive Producer Rick Schwartz and an elite army of camera crew, who are tasked with turning the event into a sixty minute show the average sport fan would wanna watch. Apparently it’s going to be a complete TV show designed to bridge the gap between the paddling world and the average sports fan. The hour-long broadcast will obviously feature the action on the water quite prominently (including the 15-minute ‘Showdown’ finale race being shown in full) but there will be a lot more other stuff on top.

Rick and the production team want to highlight the history of the sport and pay respect to its local origins in Hawaii. They also wanna give some major face time to some of the athletes, which means a hell of a lot more exposure for the paddlers and their sponsors than any other event.

Every time I speak with the Showdown team or any of the paddlers already associated with it, the theme I keep hearing is “This is for the athletes.” Of course it’s about building a business as well, but I feel the Showdown is much more than that. It’s about elevating the sport and giving athletes the opportunity to earn careers where they’re not having to solely rely on their board sponsor to afford a plane ticket to the next race.

From my viewpoint it looks like the main guy (Boyd) isn’t motivated by making money. He’s been very successful in past ventures and has created a long term business plan for his event, but for now all the energy and investment is going into promoting the sport and its the athletes first and foremost. There’s also a lot of love and respect being shown for the brands that backed the Showdown from day one, such as Rogue and Honolua Surf Co.

I’m hearing some very excited whispers out of the Showdown camp, but so far the team have kept their word on every promise they’ve made over the past twelve months (which is crucial in a small sport like ours), so I have no reason to doubt Showdown 2014 will be a success. As Zane Schweitzer said after the inaugural event last August; “Boyd and the Showdown have gained the trust and respect of the paddlers and in Hawaii respect is everything.”

Ultimate SUP Showdown (20)

But back to the TV deal: CBS Sports Network evolved out of college football broadcasting, so you can expect it to have a fairly passionate sports fan demographic. The sort of demographic that might just be interested in watching a novel new sport they’d perhaps heard of but never given much attention to. Until now. Or maybe they won’t be interested at all… We won’t know for a few months but we can already be fairly certain this is a great opportunity for stand up paddling to get some major exposure.

Sounds like the entire production is being used as a platform for an expanded Showdown franchise next year. Organisers hope the TV deal will be renewed and help launch a bigger string of events in 2015 that’ll be more lucrative for the athletes.

No word yet on if/when/how fans outside North America will be able to view the broadcast, but hopefully something happens there. CBS will own the rights to USA/Canada but organisers expect to eventually sell it to international markets as well. And of course if all goes according to plan, there will be many more broadcasts from 2015 onwards.

The crew behind the Showdown are certainly betting big on this CBS deal – it’s not exactly cheap to get a Hollywood-level production, not to mention the cost of running the event itself. And that’s exactly I’m so excited to see how all this unfolds. The Showdown could be that next big thing that truly elevates the sport or it could be a moon shot; either way it won’t be left wondering what could’ve been. I’m usually pretty cynical about things that get hyped up but I just can’t help getting excited about this one.

In the wider sporting world, the average SUP event gets a tiny drop in the ocean in terms of exposure. Rarely do we see anything approaching mainstream attention. Now suddenly the sport is on CBS. That’s not something SUP gets every day and that’s why I feel the Showdown is worth supporting.

I’ll be there on the beach in Waikiki next month and I can’t wait to see Danny, Connor, Kai, Travis and co. battle it out up close and personal. Then I can’t wait to see what the producers come up with for the TV broadcast the following month…