Aug 15, 2012, 1:56 PM
Post #2 of 4
Chasing sailing’s Holy Grail
Re: [The Publisher] Changes for the Olympic sailing event
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By Steve Sleight
So what do you think? Has the Olympic sailing coverage worked for you and is the oh-so cruel lottery of the Medal Race course worth it?
Watching the spectators on The Nothe enjoying the show (armed with binoculars while getting most information from big screens) and the sailors experiencing the up-close and public exposure of their joy or despair, it’s easy to conclude that this is the way it has to be.
And since ISAF is so mesmerized by it’s share of the Olympic crock of gold it’s likely that there’s no going back, that live spectator, TV, and digital audiences are the Holy Grail that must be sought at all cost if sailing is to remain an Olympic sport.
Here in the UK, the coverage has been the best we’ve ever seen, not just of sailing but of every sport, thanks to the ability to follow each sport live online via the BBC’s Olympic website in addition to the output provided on TV channels.
Interestingly, that availability has allowed us to compare directly the coverage of sailing with every other Olympic sport on offer. And what’s become painfully clear, despite this unprecedented exposure of sailing, is that coverage of our sport still lags a long way behind.
What may not be obvious is that the BBC are not the Host Broadcaster. That role, since the last Olympics, has been taken by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), a subsidiary of the IOC. Thus the IOC now has compete control of Olympic coverage. So how did they do in their attempt to bring sailing to the masses?
It has been fantastic to see most of the races on screen, compared to what we’ve received previously, but pretty early on that pleasure was muted by the weaknesses in the coverage. Camera positions, long lenses, and choice of shots combined to make the pictures impossible to interpret at times and the programme direction has often been poor - who would cut away from a start sequence in the last minute to show pictures of spectators on the shore?
The second key element of sailing coverage - the graphics - has also been lacking. If only they’d used Stan Honey’s LiveLine system the presentation could have been so much better. Without the ability to layer graphics on live pictures the end result has been compromised. With the scale and perspective of live camera angles and graphic screen varying so much it is often hard to assimilate the information. Split screening graphics and live picture might have helped hasn’t been used.
The final element, the commentary, sadly is another weak spot. A couple of the commentators are really good but they are the exception and the core commentary is often painful. True, they have to react to the pictures they’re given but the huge problem was that no-one seems to know who they are commentating for.
The awful attempts to explain sailing in everyday language make it more not less opaque. How can describing a discard race - surely not a difficult concept to understand - as ‘playing a joker’ make it clearer?
Compare the commentary on sailing with that on the other sports at this Olympics and the contrast is stark. No other sport, however esoteric or complex, feels the need to dumb-down their commentary in the way that sailing seems to think is essential.
To be fair, our sport is the most esoteric of them all, with complex and very different equipment across the classes. Add in the complexities of courses, wind, and waves, and the boredom of light winds, and it’s a huge task to get it right. But I suggest that a more intelligent and analytical approach would reap huge rewards with viewers, as the UK’s Channel 4 proved with Test cricket. That, coupled with plenty of supporting how-to material would be a powerful combination.
In the end, what will matter to the IOC and ISAF is the viewing figures. Are they enough to justify the cost and hassle of Olympic Sailing? Hearing Rod Carr say, when The Nothe course was first proposed for the Medal Races, that it’s about the audience not the sailors was the most telling indication for the future.
So if the concept of fairness can be eliminated from the key Olympic race in the search for audiences, what’s the point of having a series on fair courses before it? It’s a lot more hassle, much harder to cover, and confusing for the audience. The Medal Race as it stands still doesn’t always work out as intended, we’re still seeing medals decided before this so-called ‘decider’.
If audiences are really all that’s important then why not shorten the series, have just three races for each class, all on the inshore course, with no discards. While we’re about it, let’s change the Racing Rules for the Olympics and reduce them to the minimum possible. Let them all hit marks for instance, and pump and rock as much as they like, always. Be innovative with short but varying courses. Make it as dramatic as possible but then focus on decent camera positions, top-quality graphics, and intelligent commentary.
Stadium sailing is the way most pro sailing is going in its desperate bid to attract sponsors’ dollars, and it seems almost inevitable that the Olympics will go ever farther in this direction.
One wonders though, if this approach does indeed build interest in our sport how will it translate into grass-roots participation, surely the only metric that matters to the wider sailing community and the industry it supports?