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Race format: Theatre or Regatta
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The Publisher
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Sep 29, 2011, 1:47 PM

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THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF ALL
This column by Rod Davis was in the October issue of Seahorse magazine, which covers the cutting edge of the sport like none other. Seahorse is extending a subscription discount to Scuttlebutt readers. Plug in the promo code SBUSA722172 when purchasing your subscription here: http://tinyurl.com/6db3tjg
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The show versus the competition. There is a new breed of regatta that I call the 'show', because they have stepped into that murky bog that separates competition from theatre. The Extreme 40 and America's Cup World Series are the leaders in 'show' regattas, and if you believe everything you read in the media you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the way of all sailboat racing. Thankfully the vast majority of regattas are all about the competition.

To distinguish between the two, just answer this one simple question: who is the regatta run for? If your answer is the sailors, you have a regatta, if your answer is the sponsors, TV and the general public, then you have a show.

It all sounds so wonderful. Get some sponsors to pay for regattas around the world and for our sailing, then we can pay all our expenses and pay ourselves too. It will be like getting money for jam. The sponsors want to maximise their exposure, so we seduce the media and the public!

Nice concept, but never forget this is a business deal... your sponsor will want his pound of flesh and more. You have now entered the entertainment business. You might not think of it that way but your new boss certainly does. You will perform on their terms, not yours.

In the new world order of show regattas, sponsors' ROI, TV airtime and engaging the public are the prime targets. Fact: the yachting fraternity is simply too small to justify the big money it takes to run events like the America's Cup World Series, or to participate in them. Just too small a base. Thus the need, and recent obsession, with taking yachting to the masses.

Many have tried, and few have been successful. The leaders are the Extreme 40 series, the Volvo Round the World Race and, new to the scene but with BIG ideas, the AC World Series. The game plan is pretty basic: give the sponsors a viable return on their investment. The bigger the sponsorship the bigger the payback will have to be.

And how do you do that? Make it spectator friendly and exploit the magic of television. And that, my friends, is a tough nut to crack.

It's all about getting on TV. Sailboat racing is not a mainstream sport, so getting a prime time slot is not easy. More like almost impossible. You need WOW factor. But if you can get airtime, get on the evening news around the world, then it is fantastic exposure and free! Capsizes, great big collision - all good. Drama at sea - yep. Race results by themselves - nope, won't make it to the airwaves.

Another emerging medium is live telecasts via the internet. Far cheaper than TV but reaching people who actively seek out the event. Making one hand wash the other is part of the new world of professional sailing.

If you thought professional was just about being paid to sail... sorry; in today's world it has become all encompassing. The Coutts vision is a wholly professional take on our sport. Not just paying a few sailors, but a hundred people on the payroll to run all aspects of the event. Then buy enough powerboats to fill a marina to serve as marks, TV camera platforms, press boats, tents, cranes, the list is endless. We are talking big money here, which comes from people or companies who want serious entertainment to justify their investment.

When a sport or a section of a sport, any sport, dives across the line that distinguishes amateur, with foundations built on volunteering, and professionalism, then you are in for some interesting times.

Are these events selling our sport out in terms of a competition? Yes, to a point. It's still yacht racing, but not as we have known it. Races are started regardless of how little wind there is, or how 'fair' the conditions are because the TV slot does not move for anyone. Time trial stages, like Formula 1 qualifying... you each start in a timed window over a 500m course (just hope there is a nice puff when your slot comes up).

But the showmaker, the guaranteed rating booster, is the capsize. I am waiting for the day (no, it has not happened yet) for the paymasters to say, 'OK, Rod, it's our day for maximum exposure. We need the team to roll the boat over, on camera and in front of the grandstand. Nothing personal, just a business deal.'

So, you are thinking, where does all this take the sport of sailboat racing? These 'show time' regattas still make up no more than one per cent of our sport; by their very nature they get 90 per cent of the media coverage.

The bread and butter of sailboat racing has and always will take place at club level. The local yacht club weekend race around the bay. Boats of all sizes and shapes, sailed by accountants, secretaries, normal people of all levels of sailing skill. They sail for the outdoor experience, camaraderie and just because it is fun, really fun. Imagine that... fun. Not one person outside that club race will ever know about it, or needs to know for that matter. They are doing it for themselves.

Without the yacht clubs and all the people who volunteer their time and expertise, it would not happen. And if racing at the club level doesn't happen, the erosion of the base will undoubtedly cause the collapse of the entire sport.

Sailing clubs still make everything happen, from the Etchells Worlds to the Wednesday night beer can races. From Oppi racing to distance racing. Without the sailing clubs we, as a sport, are sunk. Just like the Titanic.

It is heartening to know that competition remains the catalyst for the vast majority of sailors. Not everyone sings the old song 'I am the entertainer, and I know just where I stand...'
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PROMO: This column was in the October issue of Seahorse magazine, which covers the cutting edge of the sport like none other. Seahorse is extending a subscription discount to Scuttlebutt readers. Plug in the promo code SBUSA722172 when purchasing your subscription here: http://tinyurl.com/6db3tjg


The Publisher
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Oct 3, 2011, 9:31 AM

Post #2 of 7 (17200 views)
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From David Greening:
Regarding the story 'Fair Sailing at Risk for Olympics' in Scuttlebutt 3438, I think that your answer lies in the lead column by Rod Davis. The early rounds of the Olympic series will be a Regatta but the organisers want the final to be a Show.

It is ironic that for all my sailing life, the Royal Yachting Association have pushed to develop an Olympic centre at Weymouth, because Weymouth Bay is probably the best small boat venue that England has to offer. Yet, they are prepared to compromise the most important races held in the four year cycle by racing in Portland Harbour, which I can assure you in any wind direction is less "fair" than racing in the Bay.


From Ed Cesare:
I read with interest Rod Davis' customarily well written piece in Butt 3438 via the October SEAHORSE. I receive Seahorse as a member of RORC and absolutely love it. One of my favorite sections is Mr. Davis' monthly column. It is always thoughtful and well written and his perspective as winning skipper turned coach / American turned Antipodean is interesting.

This month though, I'm not sure I get the point. Is it that we are in danger of letting professionalism edge out grass roots competition? The title of Mr. Davis' piece is "The Biggest Question of All" I guess I would ask him a question: does Major League Baseball (known to fans of the game as "the Show") edge out tee-ball, little league, Babe Ruth, American Legion, high school and collegiate baseball? I would submit that just the opposite is true.

I could go on and on with my views on this topic but would simply say that as a sailor and as a sports fan I have watched the Americas Cup World Series on the Internet - sometimes live, sometimes on You Tube at my convenience - and think it is simply spectacular sailing and spectacular sport. I don't understand the problem.



The Publisher
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Oct 4, 2011, 8:38 AM

Post #3 of 7 (17153 views)
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From Lloyd Causey:
What is Fair Sailing? It seems to some like it is the course that guarantees perfect conditions. Maybe they should build the course in a stadium pond with flat water and constant 10 knots wind from mechanical fans with zero shifts and zero current. Somehow I always thought that the entire fleet had to deal with the same conditions and that was FAIR.

Folks in the top tier seem to want conditions that guarantee them staying on top. It now seems the GB team is more concerned with conditions that might be unfavorable to their team than having any concern about the overall quality of the sailing. I am hearing whining.


From Mario Sampaio, Cascais, Portugal:
Regarding Mr. Ed Cesaris's comments on Rod Davis' article, the point is to analyse and create means by which we can successfully show the public at large, what sailing is about. And not - out of incompetence and or lack of vision to do this - re-invent the sport in a way that creates a ridiculous show and also destroys the essence of our sport!

Watching the AC 45 event when it came to Cascais, supposedly the pinnacle event of sailing, I cried in disgust, watching a perfectly arbitrary and meaningless event made for ignorant (on the subject of sailing rules) fans and ignoring the sailing community at large and the essence of our sport!

Hopefully Mr. Ellison will discover in the years he still has of life left in him, that there is a lot more to life other than money. Sailing is one such sporting activity, but not this pathetic format he has unashamedly copied from the Extreme Sailing Series.


Mal
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Oct 4, 2011, 6:31 PM

Post #4 of 7 (17135 views)
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Seahorse magazine seems intent in taking anything it can from the current format of the America's Cup and the Extreme 40. While the details of Rob's article are largely true the conclusion is way off the mark. The very first line says it all. "The show versus the competition" indicates some sort of conflict that just doesn't exist. The great majority of sports except, until just recently, sailing, are just as he described.

I'm always amazed at how many bikes are on the road around here when the Tour de France is being televised. Football, baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, rugby, cricket. There is no separation. The pinnacle of the sport is always professional, often televised, always a show but there is a smooth transition from the little league to the bigs. The vast majority of baseball here is played in sandlots and little league fields all over this country. The big league doesn't detract from it at all, just the opposite is true. Why shouldn't it be that way for sailing?

If it weren't for the show the other stuff wouldn't exist, or is it the other way around? It really doesn't matter. Sailing might finally just get the boost it has always needed from the top level of competition being a show. It's still competition and I'll wager the sailors are having fun. I know I am.

There is nothing new here, no lack of competition giving way to a show, no seduction, no murkey bog. It's still sailing. Rob, you may not personally like it but there is a slight chance that sailing will get a top level professional venue and audience it has always lacked. It may just be the shot in the arm sailing has long needed. Get over your phobia and objectively report on the new top levels of the sport, enjoy it, embrace it; if you can't say something nice.......
Check Six .......Mal


The Publisher
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Oct 5, 2011, 6:40 AM

Post #5 of 7 (17095 views)
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From David Sprague, Toronto, Ontario:
Regarding the Seahorse column and Scuttlebutt editor's comments on the "Medal Race" Venue, the Olympics are "THE SHOW" for sailing once every four years. The IOC pays ISAF about $7-8 million every quad to manage the Sailing part of the Olympics, the Government and or sponsors in most Countries give money to their sailors directly or indirectly to promote their agenda. The money keeps flowing (and it is never enough for those involved).

What the IOC wants is eyeballs to watch the events so their media rights are worth more. That means upsets, stories of courage, heartbreak and joy, live and on TV. What better way to showcase that than take the top 10 in the world after the fleet racing, where the chance element is very reduced, and see how they do in a different location where people are close and fate intervenes?

It is not what most of us do or want for our own racing, but it does reflect the interests of the people paying for the regatta. Athletes and MNA's have to accept when they take the money, they take the conditions imposed to meet the sponsors' needs. Look at beach volleyball or the 4 snow boarders racing together at the Olympics, that is not how those basic sports started out but they do attract audiences for the IOC.




Mal
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Oct 5, 2011, 7:33 PM

Post #6 of 7 (17057 views)
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Mario Sampaio, Cascais, Portugal:
"Regarding Mr. Ed Cesaris's comments on Rod Davis' article, the point is to analyse and create means by which we can successfully show the public at large, what sailing is about. And not - out of incompetence and or lack of vision to do this - re-invent the sport in a way that creates a ridiculous show and also destroys the essence of our sport!

Watching the AC 45 event when it came to Cascais, supposedly the pinnacle event of sailing, I cried in disgust, watching a perfectly arbitrary and meaningless event made for ignorant (on the subject of sailing rules) fans and ignoring the sailing community at large and the essence of our sport!

Hopefully Mr. Ellison will discover in the years he still has of life left in him, that there is a lot more to life other than money. Sailing is one such sporting activity, but not this pathetic format he has unashamedly copied from the Extreme Sailing Series."

It is amazing to me how catamarans in general and the new AC format in particular have polarized the sailing community. Since Amarillus was disqualified in the late 1800's, cats have been considered less than boats by many. When Michael Fey brought a knife to a fist fight and Dennis Conner shot him I saw this same polarization. You would have thought he spit in the punch bowl. I can't help but think it's some sort of jealousy. The huge increase in nearly all aspects of boat performance inherent to a multi hull must be too much for the established mono hull sailor.

Mario's post is illustrative. Ridiculous show? What exactly is the essence of "your" sport. I always thought the essence was competition between boats powered solely by the wind. How on earth can the AC destroy that? How can you say it's ridiculous?..... Too fast? Too athletic? Race too short?

"Cried in disgust"? Please Mario, give me a break and save that talk for famine, disease and war. You are correct in that it might well attract the ignorant fans. That, my friend, could well be the best thing that could happen to our sport. Anyone interested will soon figure out most of the basic rules and will ask questions or research the rest. They might even be persuaded to give it a try. Arbitrary and meaningless is obviously an opinion and everybody has one but to say the format ignores the sailing community at large cannot be based on a poll or survey; can it? It seems to me that quite a few of our "community" seem to be embracing it quite handily. You might recognize a few of the names involved .... quite a few.

Your comment directed to Mr. Ellison is quite simply misdirected. If he were interested in nothing but money, he would sure be doing himself a disservice pouring copious amounts of it into, dare I say? sailing. He has little or no chance of turning a profit on his sailing investment and obviously does it for the love of the sport. Imitation is one of the strongest forms of flattery so there is no shame in promoting a similar format to the E 40's. It's something cats can do.

I would venture to guess that many of those involved in the AC 45's and the E 40's, at one time or another would have thought the format rather odd if not pathetic but seem to embrace it now. Be careful of the adjectives you use to describe it unless you have participated in it. Those that have seem to have a much different view. Additionally, both formats are presently, I would venture to say, generating more interest than all other forms of sailing combined.

Sailing seems to have a tendency to eat its young. Your post, Rob's article and others like it, shows an obvious passion about sailing but not so much for sailing.
Check Six .......Mal


The Publisher
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Oct 7, 2011, 9:18 AM

Post #7 of 7 (16987 views)
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From Charlie Hartman, Canandaigua, NY:
As sad as I am to say it, I don't think that sailing is a suitable sport for the Olympics. The Olympics is a spectator event, while a sailing regatta is primarily a participants event. Sure, there can be spectators, but a pretty thorough knowledge of sailing and its rules are necessary to appreciate what is going on on the course. How many other Olympic events can be won without even participating in the finals. Many of the changes in Olympic sailing rules are to address this very issue.

I enjoy watching the extensive coverage of the sailing events like the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, but these contests have been designed with extensive on board and airborne cameras,and even in the case of the Volvo Ocean Race on board commentary. This isn't possible or even appropriate for the Olympic classes.

For myself, I would rather sail than watch.


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