Based on what you have seen over the last 18 months at the events you have attended, what are some of the must haves for a stadium sailing event? What does best practice look like?
The first thing is to have a big enough crowd. To get a big enough crowd you need to start by promoting the event to sailors and boaters within a 2 hour drive of the venue. That will ensure that there enough people who are ‘into’ the event. They end up bringing friends and family and a buzz is created. Hopefully that leads to non-sailors saying ‘what’s this all about?’ I’m going to go and have a look.
The second thing is having the sailing close enough for people to see from the shore. The vantage point needs to be a hill or stands or bleachers so that people can see the racing right in front of them. You need the right conditions to put on decent racing.
The third thing is that you need music, announcers and information. You have to make it as simple as possible for people to follow the action and for people to know when to stop talking to the people beside them and watch the start of the race. This is the moment to focus people, this is when it is starting.
Getting these things right makes it easier to generate revenue. You can sell the event more easily to sponsors and to VIPs. Hospitality becomes a big deal because is there are thousands of people walking around the VIPs feel more special.
Critics of Stadium Sailing say that it is dumbing down the sport. Do you agree with that?
There is no question that the sailing is different. The courses are shorter, the wind might be less consistent. 20 years ago, the Olympics and the America’s Cup were sailing way way offshore, with long races and there was no fan interaction.
To continue like that would make sailing increasingly uninteresting in a landscape where there are events like Rugby, who are having similar issues and they also have to engage with the fans more.
Some of the sailors will object. I’ve talked to Ben Ainslie about it and he knows that he can win if the courses are more than 2 and half miles long and the wind doesn’t vary more than 5 degrees because he is faster and better in those conditions.
Every sailor has a preferred set of conditions, but as the necessity for sponsorship and crowds and the survival of the sport, sailing needs to get closer to the shore and the courses have to get shorter.
But in the end, the best sailors still win.
I don’t think sailing is complicated. When you compare it to complexities of Rugby or Golf or even Soccer, it’s easy. You just have to get around the course before the next competitor.
People in sailing over-intellectualise it and create complication where it doesn’t exist.
With the right delivery of commentary to fans who are experts and non-experts alike the sport can work. People want to learn and be educated. They don’t want it to be dumbed down, they would rather learn the terminology.
F1 is a sport that goes into incredible amounts of detail – think about DRS and Kerrs and tire compounds. I don’t know that much about engines or cars, but I love it – I love learning about the things that actually make the sport work.
But the Olympics, The America’s Cup, the Extreme Sailing Series are all looking to make the sport simpler to understand.
So Stadium Sailing is here to stay?
There has always been versions of stadium sailing. The 18 foot skiffs in Australia. The ultra-30s in the UK. Everyone has sniffed at it, but it has got to a point where it is hard to unwind now.
I think it is here to stay.