Improving the watchability of SailGP

Published on September 12th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I prefer sailing to watching sailing, so I am not a die-hard SailGP spectator. While I follow the league and events closely, you typically won’t find me rearranging my life to watch the live broadcast. Unlike their desired audience that likes high speed, I am not as impressed.

When I see F50s ping-ponging off borders without enough boat-on-boat strategy, I realize that it comes down to who masters the timed-run start, posts the best average speed, and sails the shortest distance. No tacking duals. No spinnakers going up and down. Just fast boats going fast.

However, I do recognize the immense skill occurring. Sailing these boats is hard, really hard, but it is not easily seen in the broadcast. Unless they are running across the boat, the sailors are tucked into their cockpits, doing jobs that don’t occur on most sailboats.

At least in car racing, there is tension and excitement as they go wheel to wheel, side by side. In SailGP, that tends to only happen at the start. Boats next to each other create interest. Boats zig-zagging toward the mark, not so much.

So it was of some surprise that I enjoyed watching every minute of the France Sail Grand Prix on September 10-11 in Saint-Tropez, France. I’m an early riser, and it helped when the 90 minute broadcast began at 5:30am and coincided with my coffee requirements. But there were other reasons.

I have become a big fan of Olympic silver medalist Lisa Darmanin. In her role as event commentator, she is bright, well-spoken, has a great smile, and gets the sailors to speak… not always easy. Her work onshore before racing sets the table and her on-the-water contribution during the racing provide context to the competition.

I enjoy watching the Tour de France, not because I am a biker, but because of the scenery, and the coastal town of Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera had scenery. It provided a great backdrop, and I would encourage SailGP to mimic how Tour commentators enlighten the viewer along their route. The more SailGP can highlight where they are, the better the viewer can connect with the event.

But it was the wind conditions that made the biggest difference.

Day one was the highest wind ever for the league, and the boats were on edge… and wiping out. Yes, boats being out of control create interest, which I contend is more interesting than the record speed which was set – 53.96 knots. League CEO Russell Coutts believes that speeds upwards of 59 knots will occur when the boats get new foils and rudders. But why? To magnify the accidents? Marketing soundbites? Hmm…

Day two was the opposite with barely enough wind to sail, and while the larger wings now used weren’t enough to allow for much foiling, it is better when all the boats are in the same mode. When a boat foils, they may go double-speed than displacement mode, which makes for some random racing. On this day, the strategy and onboard ability were more apparent, and the 14-minute time limit kept the slower race from dragging out.

I am sure it also helped the USA team won, even though a lot of the crew aren’t too red, white, and blue. Need to work on that.

As for the race commentating by Todd Harris and Stevie Morrison, while I can just barely get past their directive to invoke interest with their excitability, they need to improve their grasp of the rules. The league has its unique structure, and the commentators need to be experts so the viewer is never left wondering. Thankfully there is Emily Nagel to deliver thoughtful information that does not require shouting.

With each event completely formatted around the 90-minute broadcast window, from race length, number of races, and breaks in between, I had to laugh when the final race had USA a boat length from the finish line and the broadcast signed off with, “I am Todd Harris saying so long for now from beautiful France.”

The YouTube screen went black, and then 14 seconds later, the broadcast came back with USA already finished. I was left wondering how much yelling occurred to get the show back on air. Good times!

The next event is the Spain SailGP in Cadiz on September 24-25 at 7:00-8:30am PT. Still early enough for me, and hopefully the venue, winds, and commentators deliver. Standing by…

 

SailGP informationFrance detailsSeason 3 scoreboardFacebookHow to watch

Final Results – France
1. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 3-2-3-1 (1)
2. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 1-4-1-2 (2)
3. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 2-9-4-3 (3)
4. France (Quintin Delapierre), 6-6-2-5
5. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 5-1-7-7
6. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 9-3-8-6
7. Spain (Jordi Xammar), 4-5-9-8
8. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter/Nathan Outteridge), 7-8-5-4
9. Canada (Phil Robertson), 8-7-6-9

Season Three Standings (after five of 11 events)
1. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 42 points
2. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 41 points
3. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 34 points
4. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 33 points
5. France (Quintin Delapierre), 31 points
6. Canada (Phil Robertson), 29 points
7. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 25 points
8. Spain (Jordi Xammar), 15 points
9. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter), 12 points

2022-23 SailGP Season 3 Schedule
May 14-15, 2022 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess
June 18-19, 2022 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 30-31, 2022 – Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
August 19-20, 2022 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix | Copenhagen
September 10-11, 2022 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 24-25, 2022 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía – Cádiz
November 12-13, 2022 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas
January 13-14, 2023 – Singapore Sail Grand Prix
February 17-18, 2023 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 17-18, 2023 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 6-7, 2023 – United States Sail Grand Prix | San Francisco (Season 3 Grand Final)

Format for 2022-23 SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three qualifying races each day for all nine teams.*
• The top three teams from qualifying advance to a final race to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000 prize money to be split among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.
* Qualifying schedule increased from five to six races at France SailGP.

For competition documents, click here.

Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans for event prize money as the season culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.

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