Yesterday, Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth gave an interview to the World Yacht Racing Forum (WYRF) on his views about the current state of the sport of sailing. The interview is interesting reading.
But let’s look at some of the ideas a little more closely in relation to other sports.
1) The rules are too complicated and everything is determined by committee.
The committee charge maybe true and certainly when ego and money are on the line as is the case in the America Cup, rules seem to be the favourite way of losers to change a bad result, even resorting to the courts. But are rules and committees specific to sailing? Certainly Mclaren F1 would argue that complicated rules and committees are part and parcel of Formula One Racing.
All sports have rules. Some are more complicated than others, but fans tend to get over rules if they like the game. To many americans, cricket is baffling, while to many Europeans American Football is equally complicated.
2) Sailing is not TV friendly.
Anything is TV friendly if done properly. In fact for sports like F1, being a fan at the event is a much more dull experience than watching the race on TV. I remember watching the 18 foot skiffs on Sydney Harbour during the lunch break of the Cricket on Australian television and loving it. Ten years on, computer graphics, onboard cameras, GPS and telemetry and helicopters can make sailing one of the most exciting televisual feasts around. If you can get people to watch cricket and golf and pool on television then you can get them to watch sailing.
Butterworth holds up the Olympics coverage as being impossible to follow and it was, but seems to me that comes down to the guys putting the coverage together rather than the event.
I agree that yacht racing has a lot to learn from sports that have become more media savvy more quickly. Luckily, events like the IShares Cup and The Audi Med Cup are starting to bring some real professionalism to the sport.
The World Yacht Racing Forum has a big task. Hopefully the right people will be there to ask the hard questions.