Making the America’s Cup consumable
Published on March 5th, 2015
The 34th America’s Cup saw a lot of change. Multihulls with shoreside spectating was a lot of change. Broadcast tools to make sailing understandable was a lot of change. The over-riding mission was to make the America’s Cup into a consumable product that could be commercially sold.
Key to that mission was to quicken the pace. The result would be the ‘made for television’ plan of races having a 40 minute time limit, and for two races fitting into a two hour time slot.
While short races were not in the DNA of the America’s Cup, all sports are seeking to adapt with an evolving society. A report in the NY Times by Christopher Clarey explains… here is an excerpt:
On a summer evening in Sydney in January, two former Grand Slam champions, John McEnroe and Patrick Rafter, played an abbreviated version of tennis. Rafter won the exhibition match by the strange and truncated score of 4-3, 4-1.
“It’s whatever the crowd wants; whatever TV wants,” Rafter said of the new format, called Fast4. “I think the Grand Slams will always stay their way, but for the other events, if this is what the fans want, this is what we should be playing.”
Tennis — be it professional or recreational — is not yet on the brink of abandoning its traditional scoring system. But the market-driven, youth-driven thinking that was behind that January experiment is part of a global trend that continues to accelerate.
In a world where attention spans are under duress and where big-screen and small-screen entertainment options are proliferating by the hour, sports are increasingly focused on not only making their formats more compact but on making the most of literally every second.
Consider the package of initiatives announced by Major League Baseball that is designed to pick up the pace of play by trying, among other line items, to keep dallying hitters in the batter’s box (a pitch clock could be next).
Consider the N.B.A.’s preseason experiment in October with 11-minute quarters and a 44-minute game instead of its usual 12-minute quarters and a 48-minute game. Or golf’s ongoing fight against slow play. Or look at FIFA’s adoption of vanishing spray at last year’s World Cup; one of its biggest selling points was how quickly it did away with much of the interminable stalling and haggling before free kicks.
Such measures look cosmetic compared with more radical changes such as cricket’s successful adoption of the Twenty20 format. A complementary 21st-century version of the game, it was begun in 2003 and allows matches to be completed in about three hours instead of multiple days. It has radically altered the perception of the slow-paced sport even as the longer, traditional versions of cricket continue to be contested.
“They put their heads together and found a way,” Kristick said. “For me, that’s a step change, and that certainly is going to speak to a wider and newer audience and, by default, a younger audience. I honestly don’t know if baseball reducing a few minutes here or there will address youth issues without addressing the bigger challenges.”
But then reaching youth is not just about streamlining the product. It is about breaking up the main meal into bite-size portions that can be easily shared on social media.
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