The most common question we’ve gotten over the past month is some version of “what’s going on with/why can’t I watch the America’s Cup like I could last time around?” With the Gothenberg ACWS event ready for action this weekend, here’s the very bizarre explanation.
Last month, Organizers of the America’s Cup rolled out perhaps the most embarrassing display of cluelessness we’ve seen in sports broadcasting in years with the “AC+” App. At the same time, Russell Coutts went from the guy who so famously and recently promised to bring yacht racing to the ‘Facebook Generation’ and share the excitement of the sport’s pinnacle with the world, to the guy who has completely given up on whatever lofty goals he once had for the America’s Cup sailing’s penetration into mainstream sport.
The pullback really began way back during the buildup to the last AC; a huge broadcast and media budget slash and organization-wide layoffs just after the San Diego ACWS event signaled Cup Watchers that Ellison had cut off the funds necessary for a lasting push into mainstream media. With tens of millions already spent and the AC looking like a walkover, producers lucked into a dream scenario that included a massive lead for the underdog and tapped into the public’s intense dislike for Ellison and Coutts. The free, live, Youtube coverage of the actual America’s Cup was, without a doubt, the most compelling sailboat racing we’ve ever seen.
The problem, as we’ve discussed ad nauseam, was that outside of New Zealand no one watched. To us, that wasn’t a surprise at all; huge budget cuts and poorly negotiated contracts with the TV networks who agreed (for a fee) to carry the AC broadcasts meant almost zero promotion or advertising in the mainstream; Official Broadcast Partner NBC couldn’t even be bothered to add ‘sailing’ to the sports listed on their website menu – a menu that included badminton, poker, fishing, and competitive dog shows. Presumably, Coutts and his team were operating under that old standby for the incredibly arrrogant or clinically insane: the Field of Dreams marketing plan. “If you build it, they will come.” And of course, they didn’t.
While the elusive ‘new fan’ stayed away, the filmmakers at least created some gorgeous-looking visuals and showed how exciting and compelling the racing could be, and most of us anticipated some success when Coutts and his team went hunting for a broadcast strategy for AC35. But rather than building on the great work they did to get an exciting event and a wonderful sport in front of millions of young, new fans, ACEA went the other way. And rather than a 2017 event and buildup that would push the sport’s exposure forward, a combination of huge delays, venue uncertainty, unqualified staff, and the kind of hubris that left TV executives walking away from negotiations scratching their heads meant the end of the dream. So now, instead of being able to share a Youtube link with all the kids in your extended family, you’re gonna be paying 8 bucks for a buggy, glitchy, horribly-reviewed app that might just let you watch some sailboat racing (if you are in a non-blacked out area and you don’t mind watching on a phone screen).
Somehow, despite all of this being fairly public and extremely obvious, the people at America’s Cup have no problem sending out bullshit ‘News Releases’ touting the awful job they’ve done as something amazing. It’s some of the most bizarre PR work we’ve ever seen, something closer to the dissembling and revisionism of Donald Trumps handlers than the words of a major sports body.
Let’s take a look at just their most recent release, which caps a few months of fetid bullshit spouting from the ACEA press corps.
Since Bermuda was revealed as the host venue of the 35th America’s Cup on December 2, 2014, a flurry of significant commercial partnerships and broadcast agreements have been reached, including with Louis Vuitton, who return to extend one of the longest title partnerships in international sport.
Let’s just get Louis Vuitton out of the way, because we all know that the very last thing LVMH care about is the public, 99.9% of which will never be able to afford the least expensive product they sell. Louis Vuitton’s sponsorship model is very simple, and works entirely by bringing in a couple hundred of their very best customers – people who spend well over a million a year on hugely expensive handbags, clothes, watches, and other substitutes for self-confidence – and they VIP the hell out of them during the various AC events. The experience can get those VIPs to double their purchases that year, and that’s why Louis Vuitton spent 8-figures on the deal. They like it exclusive – the fewer people who watch, the better. Not unlike Rolex (which couldn’t come up with the pile of cash that LVMH did).
But let’s get to the meat of this latest ‘news’. ACEA writes with glee that “NBC in the United States, BT Sport and the BBC in the UK and Ireland, CCTV in China, Canal+ in France and ESPN in Central and South America are among the major broadcasters who have acquired the rights to show the full two year program of racing in the 35th America’s Cup.”
But it’s almost entirely bullshit, and it’s part of a pattern of deceit that shows a basic and complete disregard for the public’s intelligence. Here’s why:
1) NBC is MOST DEFINITELY NOT the America’s Cup Broadcaster. For foreigners, NBC is a massive, free-to-air network that reaches tens of millions, and they will not be broadcasting a fucking thing! Nope; the AC’s ‘broadcast partner’ is NBCSN, which was until recently known Canada’s Outdoor Life Network, and then Versus. NBC Sports Group picked it up a couple of years ago for their ‘niche sports’ stuff – things Americans rarely watch. Premier League, F1, and American soccer, for instance. Yet despite the low-rent address, you still could not watch the ACWS-Portsmouth live on NBC, NBCSN, or any other network in the USA. Must have been a poker tournament on.
2) The BT Sport 2 channel that ACEA was so excited about in England is another sparsely-subscribed pay-only channel, and English broadcast sources tell us that the max audience for the BT Sport 2 stream in Portsmouth would have been well under 20,000 households. And that’s with a British hero fighting for the win over the Yankee invaders.
3) As of right now, you can’t even watch the BBC version of the short highlight show on the BBC iPlayer. It is apparently on BBC2 only, and apparently only on late at night.
4) CCTV China is an internet-only channel that exists almost entirely as a report-padder for Western TV broadcast dealmakers, and as one Shanghai sailor told us, “If a hundred people watch it on CC, we’ll all be shocked.” Look, we’re in China and available for billions!”. No, you aren’t.
5) The most egregious example of ACEA’s shenanigans comes with their release this week about their new deal with ‘ESPN’, which, ACEA writes, has acquired the exclusive multiplatform rights to the 35th America’s Cup in more than 40 territories, including Mexico, Central America and South America, and non-exclusive rights in the Caribbean.
And yet once again, and despite what the release says, it’s not what it seems. The ‘Broadcast Partner’ is not ESPN, which ‘reaches sports fans in 61 countries and 7 continents’. It is ESPN International, which reaches those hotbeds of yachting in Central and South America, along with the huge audiences in the Caribbean. </sarcasm>. And meanwhile, ACEA touts the hell out its deal with ESPN publicly despite ESPN (not ESPNi) being a direct and massive competitor for NBC Sports, which was the first and presumably most important partner for this AC.
What’s The Solution?
We’ve seen how the America’s Cup is immune to negative public opinion; if it weren’t, Russell Coutts would have been fired from management 50 times over the past two decades. But if the world publicizes the fact that ACEA’s staff has literally dialed the clock back a decade, something will have to change or the America’s Cup will continue to slip off the pinnacle to be replaced by events that do a better job of reaching the public and the sponsors. The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race eclipsed the AC in almost every major metric, and already brings in more money than the Cup; if the AC doesn’t join the rest of the thinking world, it will continue its march to obscurity, gaining more sponsors like Louis Vuitton as it hemorrhages fans.
It’s not that hard if you have half a brain and the tiniest ability to get your head out of the boat; It’s not like you can’t find other inspiration. From the New York Times:
An average of more than 6.2 million people tuned in live to watch the Billabong Pipe Masters, where Mr. Medina won his first title. Those numbers exceeded the American television audience for the final game of the 2014 Stanley Cup hockey finals. Not a second of the surfing competition was shown on traditional live television in the United States; instead, it was streamed on YouTube, with 35 to 40 percent of its viewers on mobile.
“It was hard for us to realize a direct relationship to linear TV,” Paul Speaker, the chief executive of the World Surf League, said. “We’re a global sport, so there is always a time zone concern, and we have to wait for swells” — suitable wave conditions — “so we don’t have a start time and an end time like other sports.”
The World Surf League’s successful web-first broadcast strategy is at the leading edge of a gradual transformation taking hold in sports television. As more and more viewers move online and audiences become more global, the professional leagues have all adopted streaming as an important way to attract younger fans around the world. But the purity of surfing’s model — reaching millions of viewers online without being beholden to exclusivity contracts with broadcast and cable networks — demonstrates the power of online audiences for sports big and small.
“It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of fans out there,” explained Matt McLernon, a spokesman for YouTube. “But they’re not necessarily combined enough into a media market where it makes sense to put this sporting event on TV. But when anyone can watch it online, you open up a whole concept.”
All of the major sports leagues have embraced this reality. The N.H.L. recently teamed with the camera maker GoPro this year to bring real-time highlights shareable on social media like Twitter and Facebook. The P.G.A. tour is trying something similar with GoPros and the tour’s online network, Skratch TV. The N.B.A. has the biggest YouTube sports audience with 2.5 billion videos viewed, nearly all through highlights. It also streams its “D” League games online, and joined with Tencent to stream N.B.A. games live in China.
August 28th, 2015
With the Little America’s Cup fast approaching (and the entirely expected but still sad withdrawal of Rob Patterson’s Canadian team, the guy whose dominance nearly killed the C-Class checks in with his latest idea for taking the Cup back to the USA, and in a competition that may be more floating than foiling, it’s clever as a motherf^%&ker. Meet the SNAKEfOIL, and hit the thread for the full details on Steve Clark’s entry and the full field of competitors. Teammate and family member Dave Clark explains the foil.
The intent of the SNAKEfOIL is actually not to get foiling sooner. There is no judge awarding points for simply being out of the water more. The boat has exited the water in light winds sooner than would be expected, but that was mainly a function of maxing out the foil trim and was on final analysis simply wasted energy picking up the boat. It definitely brought it below a fast catamaran’s displacement-mode speed for that wind. In fact, I believe my dad’s intent is the reverse of your assumption. The SNAKEfOIL (named for the board head’s resemblance to that of a cobra, the caps bit is a self deprecating joke i.e. “snake oil”) is a seven foot long slightly recurved straight board with a tightly curved head that acts as a cant control. This means that the board can be reverted to a cant angle of zero and simply zip along in displacement mode on the leeward side and be fully retracted from play on the windward side. This solves too problems in wind speeds where foiling is pointless. First, it eliminates the excess drag found in the horizontal component of a stereotypical catamaran hydrofoil when in displacement mode. This excess drag was poison to hydros in light air and Mischa went to arguably radical lengths to combat it. Second, the unretractable component of the stereotypical catamaran hydrofoil is a pain on the windward side in light air. It juts out sideways and drags just as you are starting to build speed and fly a hull. Ideally, the SNAKEfOIL should make it possible to glide along in sea-hugger mode in light air and foil in good breeze. That said, if the breeze is light, my money is on Cogito. She’s the best boat for a drifter in the event, Benoit Marie knows what he’s doing with the stick and Benoit Morelle is a seasoned veteran of strange lake geneva breeze. Let’s bit forget that this is a boat race. I hope I’ve brought some clarity to all this.
August 28th, 2015
A pair of big storms is set to drench the US, but without a major hit in some time, you can smell most of America (aside from the Weather Channel and Home Depot) getting complacent. Are we so programmed to quickly forget the current tragedy that we’re doomed to repeat it? A look at New Orleans’ rebuilt levee system says ‘probably.’
Meanwhile, Florida Governor (and Midnight Oil frontman impersonator) Rick Scott declared an emergency today for the already homicidal Tropical Storm Erika, though she’s likely to do little more than make a muddy state muddier. Erika updates from the Anarchists are in the forums here.
And on the Left Coast, Hurricane Ignacio is teeing up on the Hawaiian Islands, where ancient crumbling stormwater systems, infected sewage discharges, and widespread beach closures threaten to turn American indignation at the Brazilian Olympic venue pollution into a discussion of first-world hypocrisy. Monitor Ignacio over here.
August 28th, 2015
August 27th, 2015
Brian Hancock takes a look back at some impressive sailor chicks…
I watched a really great movie last night. Maidentrip, a documentary about Laura Dekker and her solo circumnavigation to become the youngest person ever to make a lap of the planet. It was great on so many levels but what resonated with me most was that when I was a teenager I read the book Dove by Robin Lee Graham, the California kid who set off at 16 to become the youngest person ever to sail alone around the world. I could not get enough of the book and a series of articles that came out in National Geographic, but when the movie came out with Deborah Raffin playing a starring role I was as good as gone. She was everything I dreamed of; long hair, hazel eyes and legs that wouldn’t quit. The book and the movie propelled me off the couch, out the door and around the world multiple times. As I watched Maidentrip I was wondering if Laura’s story would still have the same effect on a teenage boy these days.
I had forgotten the controversy that occurred in Holland when she announced her circumnavigation plans. She was only 14 at the time and a Dutch court stepped in and prevented her from departing, but she won out in the end and set off. When she returned she was 16 years and a handful of months old, still a kid by any measure. She was a few months younger than the previous record holder, the Australian girl Jessica Watson who had solo circumnavigated non-stop via the great southern capes including Cape Horn.
To sail around the world, alone, is a mammoth accomplishment. It’s not easy for so many reasons from the vagaries of wind and weather to the brutal loneliness of complete isolation for extended periods. It takes guts, luck and a special kind of determination to stick with it especially when things get tough. Dekker and Watson both stuck with it and they have my full admiration. (unlike the bimbo poseur Abby Sunderland – ed)
The Guinness Book of World Records, however, no longer has my admiration. Guinness refuses to track the “world’s youngest” attempts so as to not encourage foolhardy behavior. I don’t think what Dekker or Watson did was foolhardy. We have to understand certain things. When you think of a 13, or even 16 year old girl don’t use as your reference the teenagers you normally see frequenting Starbucks at the mall. Some children are different and so much more mature. Dekker was born on a boat and was just 6 when she did her first solo sail. People that grow up living a life of adventure, many of them home schooled, are just so much more worldly than their peers. Dekker and Watson are phenomenal people and their dreams and determination should be celebrated as a pure vein of the human spirit. I say we need a lot more Dekkers and Watsons than we do mall-goers.
The last thing I want to point out is that it has not escaped me that Dekker and Watson are both females. I have been sailing long enough to know (and it’s still true today) when girls were considered so inferior to us men that there was absolutely no place for them on a boat. Ellen MacArthur, who came second in the brutally tough Vendée Globe solo, non-stop around the world race, proved once and for all that women are more than equal, and in many cases far superior than us men. Laura Dekker and Jessica Watson continue to prove that women can do what we for so long thought impossible. How arrogant of men to think this way. And how arrogant are those that would condemn her parents for daring to allow their daughter to dream. I read one online comment that lamented the fact that she had lost a year of school. She may have lost a year of school but she gained a lifetime of memories and along the way inspired a new generation of dreamers, myself included.
Be sure to check out Brian’s excellent website…
August 27th, 2015
Gotta love an advertiser who has a little fun abusing their products…!
August 27th, 2015
So how many more pictures like this and stories like this need to be seen before someone with some integrity, intelligence and balls pulls the plug on Olympic Sailing in this shit swamp? Move this event out of the bay and into the ocean, where at least there is less of a chance that untreated human waste will kill the sailors.
This is one of the biggest debacles ever seen in sailing. Exactly when is someone in authority going to do the right and only thing?
August 27th, 2015
Not sure if anyone cares but somehow I ended up owning two old Wylie 31′s known as the Gemini Twins from 76. Cool old cold molded no rules boats designed to race in SF. I’d love to know more history so maybe the forums can help. Bought one in Newport and one in Alameda rumor has it they haven’t sailed together in 38 years. – Anarchist John Sweeney.
August 26th, 2015
Dunno, but it looks pretty slick. Whatcha got?
August 25th, 2015
Anarchist Rail Meat, owner of the Class 40 Dragon, has plenty to say about their Fastnet…
With all due respect, I think Brian Hancock has spent too much time Dreaming about Speed and perhaps has forgotten what sailing and racing truly is all about (see Breathless - ed). This year’s edition of Fastnet was a spectacular challenge, a tricky and challenging competition from start to finish, and a most excellent adventure. Had the only purpose of participating in Fastnet been a speedy trip to the southern Irish coast, we all could have chartered helicopters for what it cost to get to the start line. But that is not the reason we do this, is it?
Some races are sent off in howling winds, with brutal fights for survival as you bash uphill or worry about what piece of hardware or sail is going to explode under unending pressure and frightening loads. Others see light air, calling on patience and the delicate skill of minute adjustments in weight, trim and rudder movement. Sometimes you even see champagne conditions, with the sun on your face and wind in the mid-teens and the luck of a reach to some distant way point. But is all sailing, and it is all racing and it all demands skill and technique and luck and perseverance and grit to do well.
This Fastnet was a strategic and tactical challenge from start to finish. Sunday’s start was a classic, on an outgoing tide with a massive fleet and in winds that were less than 5 knots. It was an apparent wind challenge, and called on knowledge of tide and bottom contour. For Dragon’s start, the tide had turned on the south side of the Solent and was still flooding on the north side so smart money stayed over by Cowes and very-carefully positioned the boat in the pre-start to be just above the pin and about 800 meters out. Using tide to generate apparent wind, it then became a trade off between coming up a bit for apparent speed and then soaking down to stay in the very narrow band of ebbing water. Maybe 5 boats could fit across that band initially, and those 5 made good. Then it was a matter of keeping the wheels on the bus as we rolled past Egypt point and made distance on the favored starboard board down towards the Isle of Wight shore, and then not getting too far out into the Solent during our hitches out to the north. As we approached Yarmouth, that strategy evolved to moving further out into the main channel to leverage the strengthening ebb, and then as we got to Hurst the breeze saw current effect in building to the high teens and moving forward to tight hauled. We moved fully over to the north and tried to ride the edge of the Shingle out past the Needles.
The tide gates play a huge roll in Fastnet, and there are many of them. Once out of the Solent you have St. Albans then Portland Bill followed by Start Point. Moving down the Channel the next gate would be the Lizard, followed by the gap between Lands End and the Scilly’s. Then finally the Scilly’s again on the return and the last shot at Start Point as you enter the bay headed into Plymouth. Then add to it the challenge of the Traffic Separation Schemes and you effectively end up with four additional tidal gate features to deal with headed out or back in from the Rock. Having done a bit of sailing, and more than a little bit of dealing with the Gulf Stream, I am reasonably familiar with figuring out the benefits and perils of tide and current but I have never experienced a race where it plays such a huge role in success or failure, Nor any other event where the names for various headlands made me wish for Google so I could learn their backstory.
Dragon exited the Solent nearly even with the Imocas’ and at the front of the Class 40 fleet, and then made one of our few mistakes. Given the conditions, none of us were going to reach Portland Bill before the tide turned, and the question was if we could use the still favorable tide on St. Albans. We let the tactics of that potential benefit blind us to the larger weather strategy, and took two hitches to the north while the rest of the fleet slid off to the south. They benefited from stronger pressure in what was a slowly fading breeze and the ones out front even gained a lift that put them past the TSS without having to tack. Meanwhile, we spend Sunday night moving far more slowly than we would have liked and went from hero to zero.
Monday’s sailing got us back in the groove and holding our own against the rest of the fleet but also saw challenging and light air the entire day. The goal was keeping the wheels rolling, and it meant getting weight forwards and leeward while deploying mostly the code sails and double headed staysails to squeeze speed out. The shoreline offered tantalizing small cummulous clouds that suggested sea breeze, but a quick check of shore observation points revealed them to be siren calls of even less air and soul crushing unhappiness. It was not until we got up to the Lizard that it seemed to make sense to take a short hitch to the north to use the favorable current on the point as an apparent wind slingshot. It worked well, and helped us compress back into the front of the Class 40 fleet as we came towards the Scilly’s on Monday night.
Another TSS came into play at the Scilly’s and had an effect on the fleet as it tried to maintain momentum in winds that dropped to near zero. Our northerly position and momentum allowed us to slingshot past fully 6 boats as we made the turn, and Tuesday morning saw us at the top of the Scilly’s and back in the game. A tricky transition there meant once again going into extreme light air mode and getting south as quickly as possible, and paid huge dividends as the front boats managed to grab on to what turned into building air. We managed to find ourselves in a pack of 7 boats that managed to use the advantage to move away from the rest of the Class 40 fleet and into champagne reaching conditions all day long across the Celtic Sea under Code sails and even sunny skies.
Our tactics had worked, but our strategy was slightly off in our second mistake of the race. In retrospect we should have swapped over from the Code 0 and footed off into the A5. The increased speed would have paid well as we approached the Rock, as evidenced by the amazing leg that Stella Nova saw in this stretch, cutting through us and the rest of the front pack like a knife through butter.
By the time we hit the Rock, it was 20 knots and a near reach, raining and heavy fog. The light itself reaches some 40 miles, but this evening we did not see its glow until we were within a half mile. We cut over the top of it, passing under the tower by less than 300 meters for an amazing and spooky sight. Yet another TSS had and effect, keeping us pointed higher as we approached and then sending us into a reach as we went across and then a gybe in traffic on the other side. We screwed that up a bit and it cost us maybe a quarter mile as we sorted it out and sent out a search party for our mojo.
Mojo found, we went into the Code sail and started back towards the Scilly’s as the sun dawned on Wednesday. This far up the track, it was still too early to call which side of the TSS we wanted, or so we thought. We were right in the crossover zone for both wind speed and wind direction between the Code 5, Code 0 and Spinnaker, with just a bit too much wind for the A2, a bit too high an angle for the A5 and a bit too little wind for the Code 0. This choice was on me, and I screwed it up. I should have strapped on a bit of courage and gone to the A5 early, but instead stuck with the Code 0. While I don’t know that we could have maintained or improved distance and position on the top four boats had I made the right choice, by sticking with the Code 0 I certainly sealed our fate. Thankfully, Andy and Simon ultimately prevailed on me to get the A2 put up as the wind died a bit, and that kept us in the game with the rest of the fleet.
Using the A2 meant soaking, and soaking meant we had to go to the north end of the TSS that is down by the Scilly’s. That move paid well for us and the three or so other Class 40′s that chose that path, moving us ahead of the four or so boats that went to the south side using their A5s. We rounded the corner at the Scilly’s in seventh at sunset on Wednesday night. moving well and with two boats within 4 miles of our bow and four boats within 2 miles of our stern.
That last stretch of 45 miles turned into a classic duel of deep VMG running in light air and (once again) strong tidal forces. Moonpalace and Visit Brussels smartly stayed between us and Plymouth, and while we were able to claw a couple of miles out of their lead we never really had a shot at them. Meanwhile, using some smart current decisions and good GRIBs as well as Dragon’s light air advantages, we made all the right choices to be deeper and faster than all of the boats that were chasing us. We slid across the finish line at dawn on Thursday, comfortably in seventh.
If heavy air events are akin to fights with broad swords on an open field of combat, then this year’s Fastnet was more like duel with stilettos. It called for finesse, close tactics and smart strategy. And patience. While those watching might have regretted the light air that visited the course at some points of the race, for those of us on the course it was another feature and challenge, no different than the tide gates, the TSS, the Scilly’s or even the Rock itself. It was a most excellent race.
August 25th, 2015