In other words, the same principles are true everywhere, and for every sport: If the highest level of competition looks spectacular, and creates heroes, then that sport remains healthy and vibrant.
Since 1851, the America's Cup has cast a long shadow over the sailing world, and at times the event has been seen as the sport's equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Cup. Public interest has waxed and waned, largely depending, it seems, on the personalities involved. The outspoken Dennis Conner, skipper of AC challenger Stars & Stripes, ended up on the cover of Time Magazine in 1987. For someone of my generation (being born, incidentally, after '87), national exposure like this for sailing is almost unheard of. It's just really tough to fight for airtime alongside TV-friendly professional sports these days.
So what happened? Where did all the fans go? And how do we get them back?
Well, it's safe to say that the answers are both complicated and highly debatable. However, there is currently a concerted effort going on to turn things around for sailing's marquee event, the America's Cup. Radical changes have been made, including the switch from monohull racing boats to catamarans. Initially I was skeptical, but eventually started to come around when I saw preview clips like this appear:
"Hmm... I guess I'll give this whole catamaran thing a shot...."
So while I made myself keep an open mind about the changes, big questions still remained about whether this brand-new type of racing would actually work. Would the racing be close, with each boat going so fast? Would match racing be feasible in multihulls? Would it be too dangerous? Would it create another compelling group of personalities? Finally, and most importantly, would a high-octane America's Cup inspire kids (and their parents) watching at home to get out on the water?
Well, this week, the world is finally getting some answers.
In Cascais, Portugal, a preliminary regatta is taking place that should definitely open some eyes. Nine wing-sailed catamarans, manned by the cream of the sailing profession, are duking it out in an effort to prove that this new vision for the Cup will succeed. If you have not yet seen the footage, you really should check it out. Every conceivable camera angle is covered, from boat-mounted locations to helicopters overhead. Computer graphics worthy of Monday Night Football are helping viewers sort through the ins and outs of an admittedly complicated sport. Most fascinating of all, each skipper is mic'd up, giving the audience unprecedented insight into the internal dynamics of each crew. (Warning: A tolerance for foul language may be required.... These guys are sailors after all!)
So will all of this succeed in increasing the visibility and vitality of sailing around the world? Personally, I think the event is on the right track. However, the US SAILING Roadshow wants to hear YOUR thoughts. The racing is broadcast live each day at Americascup.com. In the meantime, check out the highlight video below (which is from yesterday), and tell us what you think!
(Race #1 was a bit light and shifty, but races 2 and 3, and the match race between Oracle (USA) and Emirates Team New Zealand were, in my opinion, AWESOME. The product seems to be what was promised to us as fans: Exciting, modern, and visually accessible racing. Full replays and more videos are updated daily HERE.)
JOIN IN THE DEBATE:
- Have you been watching the racing, either live or archived? What made you tune in (or not)?
- Do you think sailing needs a "major league," and compelling public personalities, in order to drive interest?
- What would you give to sail onboard an AC45 catamaran? An arm? A leg? Firstborn child? (I'm still deciding....)
Post your answers (or any other thoughts on the new America's Cup) in the comments section below!