While some in the sailing world have grumbled about Jessica Watson’s record attempt, the young Australian has managed to do something that no other professional sailor has managed for a long time – become a household name.
While the Defender of the America’s Cup trials monohulls against catamarans and mounts cameras at funny angles to try and make sailing more exciting. The public don’t care. The general public want stories about people. If sailing really wants to become a mass-market sport, then it will have to create rock-stars. Not technically brilliant athletes who scurry away from the media or begrudgingly do a piece to camera for the benefit of their sponsors. Sailing needs the top people in the sport to be larger than life, PR savvy, merchandising machines.
No doubt there will be some who find this kind of commercialism a sad sell-out, but in order to survive sailing needs a Tiger Woods or a Venus Williams or a Lewis Hamilton and it can be done.
Perhaps it takes more aggressive PR to punch through to the mass-media. Take this statement that appeared on the web yesterday:
No. 1 sailor Jessica Watson has become a No. 1 author this week, when Hachette Australia announced that the teenage sailor’s memoir of her recent voyage had become the biggest selling book in Australia.
Number 1 sailor? By what measure? In a week when Australian sailors picked up gold medals in four classes at the pre-Olympic Sail for Gold regatta, no-one talking about Nicky Souter, Nina Curtis and Olivia Price in the Women’s Match Racing, the Skud-18, won by Daniel Fitzgibbon and Rachael Cox, Tom Slingsby’s gold in the Laser Men or Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen who took gold the 49er class.
We’re not attributing the statement above to Jessica or her team, but a certain percentage of people who know no better will believe it. In other words, its not the best sailors who win the battle for hearts and minds but the best salespeople.
According to the publishers, Australians purchased more than 10,000 copies of Jessica Watson’s book True Spirit in 10 days. The latest Nielsen BookScan, based on data from 1000 retailers nationwide, shows True Spirit at No.1 for the week ending August 7.
Perhaps the Defender of the America’s Cup is going down the wrong path. Perhaps sailing doesn’t need to be more exciting – it needs to be more interesting. Sailors, not their boats need to be more interesting. There is an opportunity for an athlete in the sport who is willing to be famous to step forwards and become a rock-star. If Jessica Watson can do it, then so can others.
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