There’s a story that’s been published in various places in the last few days about the Danish Sailing Association using tracking to allow sailing events to be followed online. For the real fan, the ones affectionately called ‘anoraks’ in the motorsport world, this real-time interaction can be quite compelling in a video-game generation kind of way.
The story is interesting from a technology meets sport meets spectators point of view, but most of the ‘cut-and-paste’ media have run this story with the headline – Could Sailing be Bigger than Football? The answer is no, and as much as the tracking technology is cool, it is not exactly live HD TV with commentary.
Secretary General of the Danish Sailing Association, Dan Ibsen should be rewarded though, for investing and innovating in mechanisms that make the sport of sailing easier to watch and engage with. He says:
“New technology is making it easier to convey the excitement of sailing competition in a way that has never been possible before. This year we wanted to see what was possible by bringing in live GPS tracking of boats and combining it with top quality event reporting at some of the big regattas taking place in Denmark this summer.”
As most sailing events are so poorly covered in real-time, fans will take anything they can get, even if it is 2D animations of boat positions and rounding marks. This year’s Finn Gold Cup attracted 48,226 viewing sessions and the 470 World Championships a whopping 103,083 views. Even Ibsen is surprised at the level of interest from these events.
“We thought the ISAF Youth Worlds figures were big, but this year’s numbers are incredible. I think it’s probably the result of an ongoing publicity programme that we ran throughout the summer with international press releases before and every day during all the regattas, and the combined effect of supporting a number of events across the season. This proves that there is a big potential in this for sailing, and I believe we are still only scratching the surface of what’s possible in future.”
The Danish Sailing Association are being smart though. Although the tracking has value in itself, Ibsen believes it should be integrated into a wider media output from a sailing event and as web tv and streaming become cheaper, tracking will look like Pong next to Grand Theft Auto.
“Having a well-organised press function around an international event is also extremely important. Combining press reporting with the live tracking worked very well, and brings added value to being a sponsor of a sailing event. The potential is even bigger using modern media platforms for web TV and live streaming of sailing, as well as using new social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.”
The top down view of trac-trac is a fascinating way to watch match racing. This year’s Danish Open, one of the events on the World Match Racing Tour attracted over 20,000 views. While interesting for real fans, the replays of the pre-starts are an invaluable coaching tool and I expect the top teams will have watched them a couple of times.
Now for the football comparison. Ibsen says these figures start to have real impact with a sponsor, and compare very favourably to other sports, even football.
“If you multiply the 263,437 viewing sessions by 15 minutes, you end up with 65,859 hours, or 2,744 days, almost 7 and a half years of total exposure. Another way of looking at this would be to think of 43,906 spectators watching a 90-minute football match. So when you start to look at the level of exposure sailing can offer a sponsor, it is becoming very good value for money.”
You cannnot compare 15 minutes of animation with no sound to a football match. The equivalent would be watching 11 red dots, 11 blue dots and a green dot as the ball. In its current form, tracking doesn’t give any exposure to the team’s shirt sponsors, it can give some extra exposure to boat sponsors and might, if advertising is sold into the tracking screen provide some extra exposure, but exposure is not enough anymore.
Ibsen is rightfully proud of the innovative role that the Danish Sailing Association together with the organising clubs in Denmark is playing in proving the commercial viability of new technology in sailing, and wants others to follow suit.
“It looks as GPS tracking platform is becoming more and more interesting to a sailing audience, and we would encourage organisers of other sailing events to seriously consider implementing tracking alongside other more established forms of media. The sponsors at sailing events in Denmark is now nearly demanding that the event has tracking.”
GPS tracking certainly provides another way to ‘watch’ an event, but needs augmentation. The reality is that without a radio or text commentary to accompany the feed, the experience of watching can be infuriatingly frustrating. Like seeing a boat stop and wondering if it is a GPS glitch or if it has hit a mark. Watching a boat do a 360 penalty and not knowing why is equally maddening. a bit of live ‘tweeting’ or some audio commentary like that provided by the professionals at Radio Le Mans, and you have an experience that has legs, but it is still light years from being football.
For those travelling to Bermuda who want to check out the competition’s pre-starts in Denmark, or to review any of the tracked events, visit www.tractrac.com/?page=archive