The Fun Factor: Can we learn from ourselves?

Published on September 2nd, 2014

by Glenn McCarthy
The gauntlet is dropped. Are you seeing double digit growth in your adult racing programs? Are you still doing the same old “lather, rinse, repeat?” What will it take for adult racing to explode in popularity once again? What examples are there today of growth? Actually, there are many.

How can we learn from the racing programs that are growing?

I lump Optimist, High School and College sailing into one discussion group. And to be very frank, all of them have worked extremely hard to stay out of the clutches of US Sailing. They all are independent, and strive to create opportunities for new people to come into sailing. And how is it going for all of them? Growth, very good growth.

But we also know that these kids mostly are not owning or paying for their own boats. For Opti sailors their parents buy the boat; for High School and College sailors, they use borrowed boats exclusively (either owned by their school, at a school, at an away event, or many yacht clubs share their boats with high school and college sailing programs). For this market segment that has no real means of earning income, it makes sense that they use borrowed boats.

Recruiting sailors isn’t that hard in these age brackets. One kid tells their friends, who tell their friends, etc., and the friends show up to give it a try. Strong new sailor training programs are part of all of these youth programs.

Where else is growth being seen?

By far, the biggest success in adult sailboat racing in the past 30 years has been Beer Can races. Pay real close attention to this. Think very hard about it. Beer Can racing takes a small time commitment, it is out to the course and back in, in short order, and it is open to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. In fact, the more people you put on your boat the merrier. If a boat doesn’t have a rating, one is assigned on the spot. Weight limits? Are you kidding? The more the merrier! Commonly, ratings are adjusted weekly. Protests are highly frowned upon. Everyone gets back to the dock quickly. The cheap food and refreshments are flowing. Fast, quick, done.

So, if you were a for-profit corporation looking for growth in your market segment, would you:

A. Model your business after adult weekend racing that pounds the US Sailing model of ‘perfect’ racing down your throats which has been declining for ages?
B. Model your business after Optimist, High School or Collegiate sailing?
C. Model your weekend racing after the Beer Can Race?

Look to success, copy and mimic it.

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