What Attracts Spectators to Sailing

Published on April 16th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Paul Cayard has done and seen it all. World Champion. Veteran of America’s Cup, Olympic Games, and Whitbread Round the World Race. US Yachtsman of the Year and Hall of Fame inductee. Even won the El Toro North Americans (look it up).

He’s made a living as a professional sailor, and it was in 2007 that he teamed up with his pal Russell Coutts to parlay their reputations to develop a new annual global sports series – the World Sailing League – for professional sailors.

The plan was to deliver spectacular sailing to the public through proximity, new formats, and short races. National teams would compete in identical, state-of-the-art 70ft catamarans, attracting big audiences and big commercial return.

While the World Sailing League never happened, Coutts was able to test the concept for the 2013 America’s Cup, with Cayard having skin as CEO for aspiring America’s Cup challenger Artemis Racing.

The AC72s delivered blistering speed like we’ve never seen before, and it only got faster in 2017 with the fully foiling AC50s. An axiom in sport is you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle, and these boats had plenty of sizzle.

But at some point you got to eat, and for the audience, when the racing isn’t close, it’s bad at any speed.

Now, not everyone agrees with this, particularly in the America’s Cup which has always been a design competition, exhibiting the latest and greatest ideas. We certainly have seen that in 2013 and 2017, and the AC75 Class for 2021 looks equally remarkable.

However, considering that the decision to use these ultra-high speed boats was to attract a larger audience, which in turn would offer greater commercial support, we get back to asking what the audience really wants. According to Cayard, he contends the audience wants steak.

“It’s not speed that engages the public,” notes Cayard. “It’s how close a race is.”

Cayard is involved in the Star Sailors League Gold Cup which in 2021 will gather 48 nations for a spectator-friendly tournament in 47 foot, carbon fiber, high performance, one design, monohull keelboats. No hydrofoils, no wing masts. The focus is on competition format.

“Racing in provided, identical, boats means money cannot be spent on technology to try to find an edge,” said Cayard. “The SSL Gold Cup is about sailing skill, teamwork and National pride.”

Building a global, engaged audience is one of the primary goals. A system of four-boat races will whittle down the teams until there are just four left, and they will compete in one, final, winner-take-all contest for prize money and glory.

“The races will be very close and probably won by a few meters,” expects Cayard, with teams beholden to strict, 100% nationality rules for the crew. “The best sailing Nation will win.”

Which event will attract the greatest audience? We wait until 2021 to learn.

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