Bring on the bright lights and applause
Published on May 2nd, 2019
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The inaugural SailGP global sports league makes its USA debut in arguably the best venue in the country as six national teams take to San Francisco Bay in their high-flying F50s on May 4 and 5. For two hours each day, all the hype and hoopla will be put to the test, but the results on the water may be shaded by the results on land.
As much as we want to shape this as a competition, this is about creating entertainment. And similar to how we wonder about the sound of the tree falling in the woods, nobody wins this weekend unless people are watching.
To be clear, I hope people watch. I really do, because if they don’t watch SailGP to the extent needed, given all the effort and investment to get people to watch, it may never happen. Sailing may just prove to be a great activity to do, and not to watch other people do.
But let’s have positive thoughts. Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have taken all their lessons from the 2013 and 2017 America’s Cups and applied them to SailGP. While the restrictions within that historic event handcuffed their desire to create an entertainment spectacle, the leash is off now and these dogs are running.
The San Francisco 2013 boats were dangerous and fast. The Bermuda boats were crazy and faster. For SailGP, they took the Bermuda boats and made them faster yet, and when you’re approaching 50 knots, crazy is your co-pilot.
And the hype train has been at full speed too.
All the teams are flexing their social media muscles to attract fan interest. They’ve been aided by a breezy week on the Bay, with videos catching the Aussies nearly crashing while a wipe-out by the Chinese dramatically damaged their wing. After the wind failed to chirp for the first event in Sydney, there’s no shortage of B-roll video now.
SailGP has courted the mainstream media who are promoting the extremeness while the US SailGP team gets “cross promoted” at an Oakland Warriors NBA Playoff game and a San Francisco Giants MLB Game…. with skipper Rome Kirby throwing out the first pitch.
As I see all the marketing, with the repeated efforts to sell spectator tickets, I do get a bit fatigued from the bluster. While I’d prefer to see fan interest organically grow, this reminds me of the 2013 America’s Cup when Coutts hired a lot of “smart” sports and promotion people who were eager to show their worth. Most of them got fired when they didn’t, so I do hope this round of hires has better luck.
The San Francisco SailGP Race Village, located on the Marina Yacht Club Peninsula, will serve as the center of the festivities, offering an ideal place to take in the race action. We’ll get a tease of what’s to come during the official practice day on May 3 with the competition format to have three races from 12:30-2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, with the final race on Sunday to have the top two teams in a winner-take-all single match race finale.
The only variable missing might be the weather. While the forecast of overcast and high 50s is typical for the area, the ferocious San Francisco Bay winds may not deliver. After hitting 20 knots this week, the outlook for Friday and Saturday is more like 8-10 knots, though Sunday may find the mid-teens.
Also, pray for the whales. Their migratory habits have kept the teams on watch.
Hopefully it will all come together to deliver the spectacle, as Ellison is writing checks for five years to get the ball rolling. With each team having a $5 million annual budget, and a pile more on administrative and operational costs, there’s a lot of zeros in play. Even billionaires can be patient for only so long.
Established in 2018 and headquartered in London and San Francisco, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric, inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe and culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race. Rival national teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan, and the United States battle it out in identical wing-powered, foiling F50 catamarans, engineered to exceed 50 knots.
Sydney, Australia (February 15-16)
San Francisco, USA (May 4-5)
New York, USA (June 21-22)
Cowes, UK (August 10-11)
Marseille, France (September 20-22)