Nationalism and Localism. What matters to Sailing Fans? 2

Here’s the premise for this story – The most successful sporting teams are based around either a core local following or have a strong nationalistic element. There are exceptions, but it seems obvious that a sports fan should have more loyalty to a team based on a sense of place rather than a brand. A few examples this week that sailing promoters should consider.

The first story from Kimball Livingston’s BLUE PLANET TIMES combines sailing with the fanatical loyalties involved with college sport in America.

Where I live, our “Big Game” is Cal-Stanford. We’re talking football. And most years, folks elsewhere couldn’t care less about our big game. With Stanford in the running for a Rose Bowl berth, maybe the 2009 edition will attract more notice than other years, but I’m not really stuck on football here, I’m wanting to tell you about the Big Sail, the biggest thing to hit San Francisco Bay this week.

Passion and interest from the wider community coming from having a connection with a sense of place.

Then, some interesting figures released this week  about Formula One television audiences. Sailing press people love to use the phrase “the F1 of sailing” so here are some stats that should be kept in mind. In Spain and Italy, the TV viewing figures fell drastically this year, reflecting disappointing performances by Spanish driver Fernando Alonso and Italian car manufacturer Ferrari, which suffered its worst season in 16 years. In the UK, Jenson Button’s championship season provided a perfect start for public-service broadcaster the BBC.

In other words, fans don’t follow F1 – they follow drivers and teams. They follow drivers and teams based on nationality. This will be played out even more next year as discussed by Scott Garrett at Synergy. Garrett argues that in 2010, the F1 grid will look more like the ill-fated A1, which was supposed to be the “World Cup” of Motorsport. McLaren, an English team will have 2 English drivers – Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari will always be Italian, no matter who is driving…

So there you have it: Team Germany v Team India v Team Malaysia v Team GB A v Team GB B v Team Spain v Team Italy. This is a solid reflection of where F1 is touring, location-wise, and I think we will see teams from Korea and Russia before too long.

Which brings us back around to sailing and the Louis Vuitton Trophy. Unlike the two squabbling America’s Cup teams, who although representing Swiss and American yacht clubs are made up of mercenaries from around the world, there are several teams competing in the Louis Vuitton Trophy who are trying to build national support.

Emirates Team New Zealand, TeamOrigin and Azzura are building support based on the fact that the flag on the back of the boat matches the nationality of the Skipper and the majority of the team. Lynn Fitzpatrick has this week written about the passion and tradition that Azzura are creating:

The pursuit of the Louis Vuitton Trophy inspires patriotism and no team generates more nostalgia and nationalism than Azzurra. Yacht Club Costa Smeralda displays spirit and plays to the heartstrings of Italy’s passionate sailing nobility and sports fans like no other.

Said skipper, Francesco Bruni, who hails from Palermo, “It is unusual to have an America’s Cup team in which everyone is from the same country and speaks their mother tongue. The entire team goes the extra mile because it is pushing for its flag and its country.”

So how is sailing doing? Projects like Oman Sail and Sail Bahrain are encouraging and many of the World Match Racing Tour teams like MRT and Black Match are fiercly patriotic. The solo offshore events lend themselves easily to nationalistic support. Obviously the Olympic classes are ok and many of the Volvo teams in the last race had strong links with particular countries.

But how do fans feel about mixed teams where the ownership and crew are a combined collection of hired guns? Will spectators come to watch the event if they don’t feel any connection to any of the teams? Is the flag on the back of the boat enough? Does it not matter who is representing the team, as long as they win? Do the sponsors of such teams get as much value – or more? Should teams be forced to have a percentage of members from the country of origin?

Lots of questions and even more answers..

  • markchisnell

    What about the Premier League; Chelsea, Man U, etc… aren't they “mixed teams where the ownership and crew are a combined collection of hired guns?”

  • markchisnell

    What about the Premier League; Chelsea, Man U, etc… aren't they “mixed teams where the ownership and crew are a combined collection of hired guns?”