Comments continue to overflow about the AC’s foray into the national TV world, some of it very positive. We like a little more balance though, and we were stoked to see a coherent, frank, and unsolicited review of the SF coverage pop up in AC Anarchy by exactly the fan that Ellison needs to succeed in his plans. Here’s the word from n00b Stephen King. No, not that one.
I found this board today while researching competitive sailing and the AC in particular. I’ve seen a lot of talk about "attracting new fans." As a person who has occasionally watched an America’s Cup race in the past but barely understands the sport, has almost never sailed, and didn’t hear about AC33 until months after the fact (I looked it up on wikipedia recently, and my first thought was, "Oh, right, the USA boat was a trimaran") I feel like I’m the kind of "new, casual fan" that Ellison has in mind.
For the record, I read Katie Baker’s write-up on Grantland a couple of weeks ago. Then, Sunday afternoon while preparing for church and for my vacation the next day, I remembered that she wrote that the race would be on NBC on Sunday, so I flipped it on.
I was enthralled. The racing was fast and exciting; the races themselves were quick, easily accessible affairs that differed quite a bit from the long, dull downwind legs I remember from my younger years. And they were racing on multi-hulls, which always made sense to me–if multi-hulls were demonstrably the best technology 25 years ago when Dennis Conner was winning with them, why not use them today?
Since then I’ve located and watched full replays on the Youtube channel and begun to dig into information on other America’s Cups. I’ve finally seen highlights from 2010. I’m an avid sports-watcher and my interests eclectically range from typical American Football to hockey to cycling and beyond, so I know my way around. Some thoughts:
The "New" Format and Rules
I like all of it and I hope it succeeds. As I understand it, the America’s Cup is supposed to be about rich people building spectacular boats and racing them; why not use the best technology available? The Cats look and feel advanced, and the wing-sail technology is fascinating. Honestly, having fewer sails to deal with makes it seem a bit more accessible to a non-sailer like me who doesn’t know the name of every sail. And the fact that the boats are tough to sail is a big plus–the idea that seasoned professionals occasionally make mistakes and don’t have everything under control makes things more accessible.
The bayside stadium format is good, too. If nothing else, it provides a good sense of speed to see the boats moving against a solid background. The AC45s just *looked* blazing fast in that venue. It’s a good mental reference point, too. Watching old AC highlights is almost humorous, with announcers saying "Welcome to Valencia!" against a backdrop of open water that could be anywhere. San Francisco is one of the most visually distinct cities in the world; having a race there is a fantastic move.
The Television Production
I am grateful to see some commentary on this board about this, because I took a dislike to the tv commentary almost immediately. The lead announcer (Jotson?) was unlistenable. As I tried to discern how close things were, and could usually tell with the helpful graphics, and felt that the race was at an exciting moment, he would either utter something completely unrelated to the action or flatly announce a tack in a tone that suggested that he was calling the last minutes of a Division 2 football game that was being won 50-10.
I don’t want to be pandered to by announcers. Explaining things is good, but nothing makes me more attracted to a new sport than announcers who are excited to be watching it and aren’t afraid to talk about its history as if I know something about it. I watched some of the youtube video of race 7 of the ’07 cup and the difference in announcer enthusiasm was startling. Honestly, I think I could do a better job.
The rest of the TV production was pretty good. The onscreen graphics are tremendously helpful, and while the producers occasionally didn’t show the best views at the best time (took a while to show that Coutts start crash, for example) in general I found it well put together. I hear that the SF race rating dropped to a .6, which sounds bad compared to golf or football but actually is still pretty good for a niche sport. I follow college hockey, and fans of that sport would kill for a .6 or a .8 and it gets national primetime broadcasts on ESPN every year. I don’t think LE is worried about turning a profit–if he were he wouldn’t have been funding AC teams for ten years.
I’m hooked. Can’t wait for the LVC or the AC, and I will be watching the next ACWS events. I’m a newbie to the sport, but if you’re interested in casual fans at least one is getting roped in. I hope whoever wins in ’13 keeps this up for another sequence; ACWS races are a nice appetizer for the big event.
Remember, you have to keep at it and produce a good product to attract casual fans, and over time a fan base can be built. I’m a big cycling fan, but I started watching in the most casual of ways, tuning in to see Lance Armstrong climb a hill. The announcers were excited and knowledgeable, the action was good, and I watched again next year. My interest grew, and now I watch year-round even now that Armstrong is disgraced–and so do millions of others, if we are to judge from NBC Sports faithful dedication to a sport that was once totally inaccessible. The America’s Cup can do the same thing.
For what it’s worth, there’s an affordable sailing club here in Duluth that I never heard of before this week. I’m awfully tempted to try sailing next year. Watching the big boys do it makes me want to try. That’s the goal, right?
I apologize for the length of this; I’m not a rookie to message boards, and I know how annoying it can be for newbies to start posting like they own the place. I only really posted here because a lot of fans appear concerned about the "casual viewer," and I thought I could provide some insight