Back on Deck – Rolex Sydney Hobart Thoughts.

There is a tendency to become addicted to the constant feeds of information coming from thousands of sources around the world, even during holidays. We’ve turned down the noise for the last few days to spend time with family and friends and while we weren’t watching, a couple of you might have noticed that we got hacked in the process. is back on desck today, taking a look at the only real news in yacht racing at this time of the year, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

The biggest story of the pre-start was the race for Etihad Stadium to source, transport, step and test a new mast after losing one during the delivery trip to Sydney. Grant Wharington and ‘Wild Thing’ doesn’t have much luck when it comes to the Sydney Hobart Race. But new sponsors, Etihad Stadium, who won the title sponsorship of the yacht in an innovative raffle will probably get a decent return on ivestment as a result of the mishap with the mast.

Etihad Stadium retired before leaving Sydney harbour, preventing any chance of winning the on-the-water race, but in terms of pure media coverage, the team will do ok. Little  consolation to a hard-core sailor like Wharington, but that’s yacht racing.

The other story that got a lot of coverage before the start of the race was the return of Ludde Ingvall,  a previous winner of the race on a boat named YuuZoo. The Big Boat Racing Team have been experimenting with social media, with big hopes for live streaming video during the race.

Despite relatively mild conditions, the reality of trying to sail a maxi yacht and updating youtube  seem to be a little bit too much for the video technology. The facebook feed though has more activity and fan support is strong, with 1000 people signed up to the team’s Facebook page.

As the technology gets better, it will become easier for smaller teams to own their own media and communicate their sponsor’s messages to niche audiences of fans, but the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race has something that no other Yacht Race has. National recognition by the public and buy-in from one of the established free-to-air broadcasters.

This year, like all years, there are only two sports stories in Australia on the 26th of December. The cricket and the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Sailing doesn’t just lead the sports news on Boxing Day – in many cases it leads the news.  Even though a cold and grey day prevented many spectators from lining the cliffs for the start, Channel 7 streamed the start live around the world via the internet and are providing regular updates via their website and partnership with Yahoo! in Australia.

So what’s the secret? Well as one speaker at the recent World Yacht Racing Forum put it – it’s about storytelling consistency. The race is that same date every year. This one small detail allows competitors, fans, media, sponsors and other stakeholders like local hotels, resturants, airlines ferry companies and the public to come to expect the event, to look forward to it.

As we go into 2010, many of the commerical events that are vying for sponsorship money and fan attention have yet to finalise their calenders. While sponsorship windows close, many series have not confirmed venues or fixed dates for their events. It’s the little things that need to be done better if sailing is to compete for attention with the world’s greatest sports.