Disruption In the Match Racing World

Published on April 6th, 2016

From the March/April 2016 edition of Sailing World magazine, columnist Craig Leweck offers his opinion on the latest trend of multihull match racing…

I grew up a Los Angeles Lakers fan, so it pained me to see the storied NBA franchise become irrelevant as it relied on the decreasingly relevant Kobe Bryant. Finally, in his 20th season, Bryant declared his plan to retire. I could now exhale.

Following Bryant’s announcement, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant couldn’t contain himself. “He’s a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting, time for him to hang it up,” he said to the media. “You guys treated one of our legends like sh#t, and I didn’t really like it.”

But Durant was missing the point, and it reminded me of how professionalism changes sport: Sport becomes entertainment for the fan and a job for the athletes. Maintaining the integrity of the game gets harder, but the game must come first, a critical point as sailing ventures deeper into the entertainment business.

When I was in my 20s and ready to give the Olympics a try, I decided the Tornado would be my class. I had won the 1990 US Sailing Championship of Champions in the Hobie 18, and while I didn’t have much catamaran experience, multihulls were fun. My disdain for training was mitigated by a sweet ride. I loved sailing the Tornado, and I can totally relate to the America’s Cup sailors now making a living racing big cats.

When the America’s Cup shifted to multihulls, the impetus was turning the competition into an entertainment event. But the sailors were the big winners. Their job just got better, and they frequently shared their excitement about the new boats and the new style of sailing. While Cup traditionalists questioned the shift from monohulls, others hung on to the words and experiences of the sailors. These boats were the future, they said. It was convincing.

Of course, they wanted them to be the future, because they were a gazillion times more fun than the IACC class used in the previous five Cups. The event was completely overhauled, without independent management, and gone were many time-honored traditions, including elements that had made the event unique and treasured. The focus was now on television schedules, fan appeal, and engaging an entirely new audience. It became a different game.

Whether the modern America’s Cup is better, more entertaining or more meaningful depends on which side of the aisle one stands, but what the change has done is disrupt the sport’s paradigm. The America’s Cup is the elite event, one to which professional sailing roads previously led, but now, with foiling catamarans capable of freakish speeds, the paths that once led aspiring sailors to the castle no longer exist. – Full report

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