We received from Jonas Høgh-Christensen this contribute to our discussion about the future of sailing. Jonas is a 2012 silver meddalist for Denmark in the Finn Class and winner of two Finn Gold Cup.
At devotiluca.com really we do not know were this blog will take us but to receive such a clear article that perfectly defines what can and should make the sport to really shine is already worth all the effort. Thank you Jonas, you have the dna of a real leader and a champion, hopefully those who lead our sport will take the time to read carefully what you wrote, it is not only clear, clever and well written, it comes from the heart.
What makes a sailboat race interesting for people to watch? That is the million-dollar question we as a sport have been trying to solve for decades. Do we need faster, foiling and more extreme boats to attract the audiences? The quick answer should be yes, but is it?
Watch a Formula 1 race. How often do you actually think about how fast they are going? Do you know their top speeds? We know it is fast but if there are no other cars around it quickly becomes boring. The start and the expert commentary explaining about the different details on the cars, the different strategies, how the drivers are driving the cars and ultimately when they overtake each other in close combat, that is why people are watching Formula 1.
So if speed is a positive but not the only solution to our sport. What does the success of the sport then rely on? The physical athletic struggle that you see in many other sports but probably best in cycling? Maybe, so lets look at the pinnacle of cycling, the Tour de France. What makes the tour de France so appealing? Well most of the time it is a close race during each stage and the mountain stages are what people really want to see. Here we have athletes (with or without doping) fighting until they physically break, foam around their mouths and the strongest/fastest rider wins. But then again not always because tactics become a huge part of the race and therefore makes it more complicated and gives the lesser fit athlete a flicker of hope that he might just beat the stronger guys by outsmarting them. The underdog that just might do it. Sounds familiar to sailing?
Ok, so now we have boats that need to be fast but not so fast that the manoeuvres are too costly and the distance between the boats in the fleet gets to big. We want it close, physical, strategic and tactical. Many classes apply to these basic criteria’s but how can we help sailing even more.
Well I have sailed my share of regattas in the spring in northern Europe in less than 10 degrees and rain. How aspirational is that? I have also sailed numerous events in places where we were almost guarantied not to have any wind which instantly takes away 2 of the 5 major components to successful sailing TV-footage.
WHY do we choose venues for our sport that doesn’t showcase it from the very best side? You don’t see downhill skiing doing their competition on the beginner slopes or surfing going to places with small waves and cold water. So why do we continue to have a number of major events in places that do not do our sport justice? Guess what, any boat on the Olympic programme looks fast in more than 15 knots.
The rise of the lifestyle sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing or even Ironman are down to the aspirational lifestyle that attracts young people and new people to any sport.
If we want to make sailing sexy and attractive again, we need to make sure we convey the lifestyle of pro sailing or Olympic sailing as something that anybody would be envious of and most would like to try. In Europe alone we have 36 million boaters and 44 million people enjoying watersports. We could start with trying to make at least these people envious of the pinnacle of our sport and have them aspire to become a better sailor and/or have the sailor lifestyle.
If the above is how we choose the future classes and venues for our sport then we only have 2 things left. As a decree from IOC sailing needs gender equality. That’s OK with me but start by attracting more women in a natural way instead of increasing the number of medals which then needs to be spread over fewer sailors and with an effective drop in the competitive level.
Secondly and probably most importantly! We as a sport need to find a good, affordable way of communicating of sport. This should be the main goal for “World Sailing”. If we have close racing, if we races in venues with breeze, if we get insights to the equipment, the tactics and the strategy sailing in almost any class has the content to become good TV. I had the pleasure of watching the 2016 49’er and 49’er FX worlds in Clearwater on Youtube and next to the America’s Cup and the Olympics it was the best sailing coverage I have ever seen and it was done at a fraction of the cost of the productions of the AC and Olympic games.
So what did they have? Well they had a venue with breeze (most days), in Florida in February, turquoise water, fast boats, close racing and a partnership with SAP who’s technology helped tracking boats, identifying the strategy, tactics and realtime overall standings at any given time. They had a camera on shore, a couple on the water, a drone and some on specific boats racing showing realtime footage. The total cost was 75.000 USD and it was estimated that they could have done it for less than 50.000 USD. The class sponsor SAP contributed a large sum towards this bringing the cost down per sailor to about 150 USD. That included an on water commentator and 3 guys on shore that actually knew what they were talking about and didn’t dumb it down. IT WAS ASPIRATIONAL! Even I wanted to sail the 49’er (singlehanded) for a brief second.
And by the way lets face it. Sailing is top 3 of any sport in attracting people with a university degree and also scores really high when it comes to attracting business leaders. We don’t need to dumb it down actually we might need to go the opposite way.
Some classes has strength in speed, some in tactics, some in physique but a venue that everybody in the world would love to go to (sailor or not) and wind to amplify the strengths of sailing will help us all. It will make all classes look cool!
Some people might tell you that we just need to change the formats and scoring system. Yes we might need to refine our formats, but this is really only the icing on the cake. We need to solve the above things first. Then people are smart enough to figure out the scoring.
Oh and the last thing. We need characters, the larger than life people who will fight to the end, conduct good sportsmanship and be role models and ambassadors for our sport. I believe we have them in our sport today and giving them a commercial platform (proper live coverage), an aspirational venue (wind and nice weather) that showcases the best of our sport in classes that cater to different combinations of the above mentioned criteria’s combined with a combination of gender, personal seize and number of athletes in the boats, then we will have a platform that might just turn sailing in a positive spin and make it aspirational again.
That’s my thoughts.