the nood truth
Back in 1988, the folks who ran a pretty good sailing magazine saw a gaping need for something new to one-design racing. Those people at the once-valuable Sailing World stepped up to form the NOOD regattas, the first truly successful multi-class series of regional regattas. It was a great concept; a cheap regatta organized largely by local clubs and promoted in America’s only real racing publication, it allowed one-design racers from numerous classes to get out there and go racing while supporting their fleets and getting them in front of a national audience. It also gave leaders from various classes a chance to compare notes, coordinate other events, and share tips and secrets for helping their classes grow. In its own small way, the NOOD changed sailing in North America forever.
Two decades later and in an entirely different world, the NOOD regattas have become unrecognizable from that original concept, and their events are suffering – possibly fatally – because of it. The Houston NOOD was killed off for lack of interest a couple of years ago. The St. Pete NOOD lost 40 boats between 2009 and 2010 – nearly a 30% drop – while the Annapolis NOOD, for a long time the biggest on the East Coast, went from 266 boats in 2009 to 209 last week – a full 20% drop in entries. We haven’t done the analysis for all the NOOD events, but we have little doubt that the rest of the 2010 regattas will fare similarly.
We have no way of knowing what Sailing World has done about their little problem, since we – like the rest of the racers we know – long ago dropped our subscriptions to what has become little more than a glossy Yellow Pages for gullible advertisers. But we do know what we read in the e-blasts that SW sends out, and we know what makes it online, and we’ve struggled to find a single publicly-uttered (or written) word about the NOOD’s response to these massive drops – far in excess of the kind of losses faced by the majority of other regattas. Lest you think that 2010 was somehow an abberation, realize that Annapolis NOOD attendance has been dropping steadily since 2006 – something no one seemed to bother addressing.
That’s not to say that regattas all over the place are having an easy time of it – we know quite well that convincing people to spend their money right now ain’t the easiest thing in the world – but there are good examples of both long-standing and brand-new ones that seem to be flourishing in this economy. Charleston Race Week is an obvious comparison, with record growth occurring year after year during the same period in which the NOODs have faltered. The Charlotte Harbor (FL) Regatta and Sailing Anarchy Worlds (ISAF Regatta) both launched in 2009 to solid fleets that should reach the 3-digit mark in 2010. Whidby Island Race Week continues to maintain their entry levels despite a long event and not the easiest logistics in the world, while, Miami’s Biscayne Bay has come on strong, even adapting their Bacardi Cup to take in upstart sportboat fleets with great results.
There are also examples of events whose huge losses have preceded the NOODs by a bit: The anemic 130-boat fleet at 2010 Key West Race Week was down more than 50% from 2 years ago, while co-branded Miami Grand Prix had a truly pathetic showing, with just 6 IRC boats and a handful of Farr 40s racing amongst the Melges 32s that saved the event from simply disappearing. The pattern of declining participation at these regattas correlates well to what’s happened to the NOOD – but why?
First we need to eliminate the usual excuses that Key West organizers have gotten so good at parroting over the past couple of years, the most often-heard being "the economy." That’s the same economy that’s been lurking over the head of the growing Viper and Melges 20 fleets, and the same economy that’s seen the explosion of the Melges 32. It’s also the same economy that presided over the success of the above-mentioned regattas, and the one that cast a shadow over Coconut Grove as they turned a little Star regatta into a major multi-class event. People have proved that they want to race, even if they can’t buy new sails and pay for pro crew, but for some reason, they’re steering clear of the NOOD in ever-increasing numbers. Another is "people don’t have the time they did, with jobs being tougher and more scarce than they were a few years ago," but this avoids the fact that those other regattas have continued to grow during the same time period while some of the classes continue to see strong new boat sales and used-boat markets. A particularly cute excuse is "sailors get bored, and like to go to new places – it’s just natural." The problem is that sailors are creatures of habit, and mostly seem to stick to events that they really like – why change if you’re having a great time? Furthermore, the NOODs have relied on strong local fleets in whatever area they’ve hatched, and even locals – many of whom don’t do much traveling at all – are deserting.
So what the hell is happening to the once-groundbreaking regatta series that is still the largest racing series in North America?
Tune in tomorrow and we’ll tell you our view. We’ve even invited George Brengle, the guy that runs the NOOD, for his opinion. Jump in the thread…