Jessica Watson’s Voyage Provides Some Sailing Sponsorship Insights. 4

On Saturday, Australian teenager Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour to complete an amazing journey. The 16 year old has spent 7 months sailing around the world, on her own, without stopping. The voyage will have a huge impact on the way sailing is regarded and also has big implications for the sponsorship of sailing activities. This is not about old men like the America’s Cup, this is about character.

Jessica’s story is not about sailing, not really. The reason that her arrival back in Australia received live television coverage and was reported in media that would never normally carry a sailing story, is that it is a human interest tale of achievement. It is the story of an individual who set out to accomplish a dream and succeeded.

The stories in media outlets like New Idea, 60 Minutues and ‘Stock & Land’ will not mention sail area or hull displacement. This story will now be turned into a ‘battler overcomes all odds’ tale, even by those who said she would never make it.

Amongst the flag waving (because there is a large nationalistic element involved) there is controversy, but the sailing world needs to sit back and listen to the public. This is an opportunity to understand what it is that allows sailing to jump out of the small niche media and appeal to a mass-market.

And it’s not a revelation. Those involved with the elite end of solo-offshore racing know that the human story is the essential element to capture the imagination of an audience who are not interested in the machine. This is an important reminder. Too often, the sport of sailing is reduced to the names of the tools. Take this example from an article about this weekend’s Audi Med Cup:

“Through the five events of the 2010 Audi MedCup season, regatta trophies are a bonus, and this is Emirates Team New Zealand’s fifth successive regatta title in a row, but the dominant Kiwi crew will be even more content to leave Portugal with a comprehensive lead of 20 points over Franco-German Circuit newcomers AudiA1 powered by All4ONE.”

While the bean-counters at Emirates Airlines and Audi will be happy with the association of their brand with a high-end event, there is nothing in this statement for a fan to get excited. One TP52 boat beat another TP52 boat. They might as well have been sailed by remote control. Here’s another one from the  RORC De Guigand Bowl:

By the time Apollo had reached St.Catherine’s Point, they had caught up the entire fleet and crossed ahead of rival TP 52, John Merricks II.

I disagree with those who say that sailing needs to be dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience. Sports like American Football are complicated, yet still attract huge numbers of spectators. Instead, sailing needs to do more to create ‘rock-stars’ out of the men and women who are competing. Boats don’t sail themselves, just as Formula 1 cars don’t drive themselves.

Jessica Watson deserves to benefit from any commercial deals that arise as a result of her adventure. With a bit of luck, sailing may also benefit from people who are inspired by her actions to get out on the water. Those who seek to promote the sport to the widest possible audience need to take note.

  • Graeme

    I totally agree with your story, when was the last time sailing made all the Australian media outlets like it has with the sucess of Jessica Watson's journey, not even the Sydney to Hobart race has so much coverage, or even the America's Cup regatta. Congradulations Jess on your triumph and for igniting extra interest in sailing

  • Fiona Harper

    I couldnt agree more in that sailing is often covered in an elitist manner, assuming onlookers understand the terminology. But perhaps what is even worse is sailing editorial written by journalists who have no clue as to the intricasies of sailing and throw in nautical jargon in an attempt to appear knowledgable. Jessica was pounding the docks looking for sponsors long before she secured the big names supporting her today. She has a unique quality that appeals to many who have no interest in sailing or boating of any kind. Sailing definetely benefits from this young lady's courage and belief in herself. I wouldn't be surprised at all if she is the catalyst for youngsters to get off the couch and out onto the water.

  • Maryke Barker

    I couldn't agree more. There are so many talented and dedicated athletes/sailors who race up and down our coastline – crews of all ages, both male and female, from diverse backgrounds – amateurs who maintain, deliver and race yachts – yet we seldom hear a name or even a team – just the name of the yacht and perhaps the owner who may or may not even have been on board. Just consider the Sydney/Hobart race – thousands of crew on the water and Australia barely hears the first three yachts mentioned. Lets find ourselves some sailing heroes.

  • Pablo

    I think there is a huge difference between what Jessica achieved and the rest of the sport of sailing. The mainstream media talk about her only because of the fact she's the youngest one to achieve it. If she repeats the same, remarkable nonetheless, achievement 5 years from now nobody will be talking about her. Not only that, they would be talking about her, regardless of how she went around the world, even if it were in a bathtub powered by a small nuclear reactor.

    How many people climb mount Everest every year? I suppose tens, if not hundreds. Do we ever read anything about them in the mainstream media? No. Yet the news about a 13-year old from California that climbed it are everywhere today!!!

    As for Graeme's comment that nobody talks about the hundreds of yachts that take part in the Sydney Hobart let me give you an example. I'm from Spain and football is KING here. Do you know how many football teams there are in this country? Hundreds. Do you know how many of them appear on the sports newspapers? Five, maximum 10.