The Volvo Ocean Race yachts have arrived in Boston – too early. By finishing on Sunday night, the news had to compete with the Red Sox’ sweep of the Yankees though it was always unlikely that the race was ever going to knock ‘real sports’ off the pages of Boston’s papers.
Despite the best sports marketing activation efforts by Puma, the finish of the race at least wont do much to raise the profile of professional yacht racing in the United States. The next two weeks will be critical with stops for the next race being chosen. There is a danger that America will lose a stop on the next version of the event if the city can’t deliver.
Local interest is centred around Puma. The global sports apparel brand, better known for its running shoes, is using the race to promote its new sailing range and develop new markets. The Puma boat’s distinctive red and black livery makes it one of the most photogenic racing yachts in the world. Even virtual gamers have adopted it. Yesterday, a foiling moth with the same branding was one of the most photographed things by spectators awaiting the yachts at Boston’s Fan Pier.
Just in case the media might not be interested in unknown sailors, Puma recruited their biggest star – Olympic Champion sprinter, Usain Bolt to be on hand for the event. Rather than promote the Volvo Ocean Race, Bolt and Puma used the occasion to launch his ‘Street Meet’ series. While the sailing media managed to get a “these guys are crazy” quote out of the sprinter, the focus of interviews then changed to his athletics based agenda.
This morning’s (Monday 27th April) Boston Globe has no mention of the Volvo Ocean Race activity. Neither does the Boston Herald. A search on their websites reveals stories that are 11 days old. The Boston Globe’s piece about Puma City, the amazing hospitality unit and store built by Puma on site out of 24 shipping containers is consigned to the fashion pages of the paper.
In a county that can take any sport and create multi-billion dollar national leagues, sailing is still the domain of those who hang onto phrases like ‘Corinthian Spirit’. Huge sporting companies like IMG and OCTAGON list sports like slamball amongst their properties, but sailing is invisible.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a chance for yacht racing to at least be considered as a sport. With the America’s Cup currently a shabby non-event, the American sailing industry should forget political squabbles about amateur versus professional, and ego driven nationalistic rants, and prove to the world that USA cities can deliver as sailing venues in years to come.