closed shop

closed shop

Report and Photo of the Sydney Harbour Regatta by Nicole Scott. Caption: MHYC Vice Commodore Phil Clinton on his 2excess.

Middle Harbour Yacht Club hosted their annual Sydney Harbour Regatta this weekend – you might remember it as the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta from years past. Usually attracting more than 300 boats racing in 24 divisions on 8 courses, it was, until recently, the largest keelboat regatta in Australia.

Such a prestigious event attracts media attention domestically and on an international level, however this year, organisers from Middle Harbour Yacht Club seemed more interested in getting negative press and criticism than in gaining good exposure for their marquee event. At least that’s the lesson learnt from MHYC officials last week, when they excluded Sydney’s (and the world’s) most prominent sailing website from shooting their event.

As Sailing Anarchy’s chief Aussie contributor, I and several other bona fide members of the sailing media were excluded from access to MHYC’s photo and media boats. The club had no problem finding spots on their boats for amateur photographers with no press affiliation, but according to MHYC marketing manager Alana Whiting, ‘budgetary constraints’ were behind the snafu for more established press. “With a much leaner budget for this year’s SHR event we are unfortunately already at capacity with media & photographer requests to be onsite and on our media boat for SHR and will not be able to accommodate you this year,” Whiting told me. She reportedly was still making spots available for unregistered media after rejecting Sailing Anarchy’s presence.

Chairman of the Sydney Harbour Regatta, Ian Box, wasn’t on quite the same page as Ms. Whiting, ‘We have three media boats arranged for the event and we’re struggling to get a volunteer driver for third boat’. Box told a different story to Sailing Anarchy Senior Editor Alan Block in a phone conversation when he explained that the regatta had only one media RIB available for the event. “We only have spots for five media members,” he said to Block’s disbelief. Despite my registering for the event in February and constant attempts to contact Club staff for three weeks, Box couldn’t explain why club officials had so much trouble accommodating my request or even responding, nor did he explain why he didn’t know how many boats he had.

Audi had a long and esteemed partnership with the Sydney Harbour Regatta, but negotiations with MHYC broke down for the 2012 event. Reasons for the breakdown were never released publicly, but given MHYC’s apparent lack of interest in generating maximum exposure for their biggest event, Audi probably made the right call.

To secure a major naming rights-sponsor for such a large event is imperative for both its quality and longevity, and only maximum media exposure can convince big companies to get behind yachting events. Media exposure also ensures that the less prominent sponsors – those that haven’t abandoned ship yet – get return for the money they spend on sponsorship, and positive stories on major events are essential to attract non-racers to yachting and dinghy sailing. MHYC personnel seem to have no idea of these basic tenets, and their lacklustre promotional and media presence may have contributed to the SHR seeing nearly 100 boats fewer on the line this year.

Rumours are rife that MHYC had been hard-hit by the loss of Audi, and one can’t help but wonder if their mismanagement of basic regatta duties isn’t just the tip of the iceberg. Will Sydney’s premier regatta lose another 30% of its fleet in 2013? Will it survive at all?
Not like this it won’t.