what’s the point?

I was reading in the forums criticizing our own Mr Clean for comments he made, quite valid ones in my view, and it got me to thinking where we are as a sport with regard to the coverage coming off race courses and that for many it is not happening quickly enough. I believe we are therefore in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. His comments, and seemingly everybody else’s can be found in the monstrous Larry’s AC50 Circus thread in our America’s Cup Anarchy forum…

Clean is of course 100% correct that making a series that we sailors want to watch is not the point of SailGP (or any of the higher end sponsored events like VOR or ESS) any more than the point of the Superbowl in the NFL to appeal to American Football players or the soccer World Cup to appeal and be watched by people that play soccer. 

How many fans that go to every Manchester United FC or Barcelona FC match actually play in their own soccer league? And by the way didn’t Liverpool do a number on them – (sorry unnecessary article drift there)

For sailing to reach the masses, we have to APPEAL to the masses so perhaps we need to understand what it is about soccer, NFL, NBA, NHL or even golf that makes people THAT DON’T ACTIVELY PLAY THESE SPORTS want to watch those sports. 

As sailors we (mostly) understand what is happening without any commentary and in the above sports it is relatively rare for top commentators to have been a top competitor in the past.

When they have a, perhaps innate, ability to describe the action in an enthusiastic yet knowledgeable way that the public can understand they usually fill pundit positions rather than as a live commentator. Perhaps in sailing these positions should be left to the professional ‘observer’ with the knowledge (and talent) to talk through situations in an understandable yet non-condescending way. Trouble is they are a rare breed in any sport, let alone sailing. (Rare usually is spelled expensive by the way and that could be another influence).

I agree with Mr Clean’s comments about Shirley and love her way of description on Mainsail but she is not a professional commentator in the mold of Peter Montgomery or even the likes of Bob Fisher in the past. I hope that she doesn’t take that as a criticism but rather an observation and I don’t dream for a minute that I could do any better.

I did, however,  think that Ken Read’s comments in the AC World Series of a couple of year’s back were excellent, and I am told, understandable to the non sailor. As a sailor I would, of course, be a poor judge of that ability.

Will be ever get to the level that, for example Rugby enjoyed(s) popularized by Mr Rugby, Bill McLaren for so many years. His pre-match cheat sheets were legendary and earned him the election to Rugby’s Hall of Fame, the only non-player so honored. 

See! Now I bet I have lost a good number of you who know nothing about rugby. That is the problem with sailing too. Talk about it to a non sailor and it washes right over them.

We have to understand that our sport in in its infancy with regard to being able to cover itself in a way that is not just ‘dots on the horizon’.

GPS, Stan Honey style graphics, drones, on board reliable, steerable, waterproof cameras, computer graphics that accurately and simply show what is happening are all relatively recent developments and it needs to be learned how best to use and combine these assets.

Soccer has had thousands of games to figure out the best camera positions, the level of detail, how often and when to show a short replay, even the speed of the slo-mo but – so many elements. Sailing has had this sort of practice over only a few dozen events – we are newbies AND unlike most other sports our playing field is a little bit larger than 100m x 50m.

Events have to learn how to use them to the best advantage of showing our sport and we have to remember that the polished product that we see in many other sports has been developed over literally years (decades in some cases)) televising of many sports, soccer for example, was not an overnight sensation with grainy black and white coverage even though it was/is a sport of the masses and that by comparison our sport is still just taking its baby steps in terms of coverage.

It has to be remembered that just a decade ago the only way to cover a VOR in-port race was to have an expensive helicopter in the air along with a RIB charging round the race course following the action. Not easy to get, or to stay in position and of course totally impractical with catamarans that are doing double the speed of a VO70.

Even costs are more reachable. The cameras that covered the Qingdao Olympic regatta were USD250,000 each, today you can get a couple of dozen professional drones for that money and when I  think  back to the Ultra 30’s the only way to watch them was on the sea wall or hopefully a later broadcast on the BBC and the only way to have watched the SailGP would have been on the beach with a pair of binos

Yes I know can be better, notice I didn’t use the word should. It takes practice, mistakes need to be made and recognized as such and perhaps even techniques shared between events.

We are all in the same boat (sorry) when it comes to promoting our sport and those of us sailors who think it is not good enough for sailors are completely missing the point – we are not the target audience, it is ultimately the sponsors customers and potential customers.

Let’s just hope SailGP, The America’s Cup, The Ocean Race and any other event which is pushing the message out to the public continue to do the job they are doing and constantly strive to make the coverage more and more exciting and gripping for the landsman. Then as a happy spin off, some of the sponsors potential customers might just like to take up our sport for themselves. – Shanghai Sailor