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Sport of sailing needs to adapt to a changing world

by MaxComm Communication 17 Dec 2010 08:10 GMT 14-15 December 2010

Change, modernity and new ways of thinking were at the heart of the World Yacht Racing Forum’s third edition.

“The sport of sailing needs to adapt to a changing world”: This year’s World Yacht Racing Forum saw discussion on new media, host cities, sustainable development, the America’s Cup and even the Olympic Games, which reached the same conclusion: we are in a period of transition and we need to adapt.

Keynote speaker Loïck Peyron, veteran global ocean racer & multihull skipper, summed it up: “Sailing is like the Himalayas, there are many 8000 summits: the Cup, the Vendée Globe, the Olympic Games… All of them are difficult to achieve and very different from each other. The America’s Cup is the perfect illustration following last springs’ schism: we all share the same God but not the same religion.”

In order to grow – if not just survive – yacht racing needs to find cost effective strategies to grow new audiences via TV and new media. “We are coming out of a recession. Advertising has decreased; people watch more pay TV and less terrestrial television”, explained Michel Masquelier, President of IMG Media. “The platforms have exploded, with internet, mobile phones and hundreds of channels now available. The key question is what content to produce, and on which platform to show it.”

Maria Ferreras, Head of Partnerships for YouTube, commented: online television. “35 hours of content are uploaded on YouTube every minute”, she explained. “Two million videos are watched every day and 50% of them are rated or commented, which shows that people watch actively, they don’t just have the TV on in the kitchen.”

YouTube on its own, however is not enough and the key to good media coverage lies in the multiplication of channels. “On top of this, you need to promote your productions through social networks, Twitter, Facebook etc…” says Media & Communications Consultant Marcus Hutchinson. “You must tell people that you have produced a video and where they can watch it.”

“Depending on who you are, means you will watch the content on a different tool”, confirms Masquelier. “The good news is you have more outlets. The bad one is you don’t have more time. So you need to target your distribution perfectly. But remember that only 100,000 people watched the last America’s Cup online with a hundred million people watching it on TV.”

Whilst sailing remains a small sport from a media perspective, it offers a huge potential to cities who want to develop their landscape and waterfront. Today’s second debate, entitled “How are major cities and venues benefiting from hosting sailing events?” highlighted this potential. “Our events are bigger and more professional”, declared Mark Turner, Executive Chairman, OC ThirdPole. “There are different models but obviously the venues play an important role. Les Sables d’Olonne or Le Havre in France have massively benefited from the Vendée Globe and the Transat Jacques Vabre. Barcelona decided to link its name with a sailing event. Auckland and Valencia are different cities since they’ve hosted the Cup. Sailing can be a catalyst for major real estate developments and our sport offers amazing opportunities.”

Weymouth, host of the next Olympic Games’ sailing events, is currently going through this change thanks to the sport of sailing. Despite being a small sport from a commercial perspective, sailing is an important part of the Olympic program. But for how long and under what conditions? Pierre Ducrey, Head of Sports Operations at the IOC, warns: “All the disciplines are being reviewed every four years. You need to constantly reinvent yourselve, and create a product that is appealing to the media, the sport and the sponsors. There is always a threat and it is your responsibility to carry on growing. The key word is “added value”. That’s what sailing needs to provide to the Olympic Games.”

“Foiling moths with wing masts and kite surfs are the answer”, answered Jerôme Pels, Secretary General, ISAF, to everyone’s surprise. “But we are asked by the IOC to touch many nations. The Laser brings 48 nations to the games. I’m not sure the foiling Moths would.”

So what’s the future of Olympic Sailing and which Classes will be chosen at the next ISAF meeting? “As a sailor, I used to dread the Class selection meetings”, remembers double Olympic champion Shirley Robertson. There didn’t seem to be a strategy. Now I see things from a different perspective and I think the sport needs to look more exciting, the disciplines need to be different.”

The sport is changing, and so is our planet. Can sailing be promoted as an environmentally friendly sport? The question was debated during a session chaired by Andrew Pindar OBE, Board Director, Earth Watch. Whilst everyone agrees that a big effort needs to be made, the debate on how to achieve it is open. “What seems obvious isn’t necessarily efficient”, analyses Dimitri Caudrelier, Project Development Director, Quantis. “For example, we came to the conclusion that on a Vendée Globe campaign, it is counterproductive to put solar panels on a boat because it costs a lot, the construction has a big impact and there isn’t enough sun over the course. It is very important to measure your theoretical environmental footprint before acting, because it is easy to go wrong. I’ll give you an example: Is it better to drink from a plastic or a glass bottle? Well, plastic pollutes more; however the weight of the glass balances this pollution and you will actually make more damage with a glass bottle.”

Head of Sponsorship at Veolia, Isabelle Jahlan considers that it is dangerous to communicate too much about sustainable development and that many people tend to abuse the system. “As a sponsor, you can’t say that you invest in sailing because it is a green sport, as it is not true. You need to have a serious compensation system in place, and to achieve great results in order to be heard. Roland Jourdain having just won the Route du Rhum is now in a prime position to promote sustainable development.”

The Forum traditionally closes with the America’s Cup session. Last year’s edition brought together Brad Butterworth and Russell Coutts for the first time in public since the beginning of the bitter legal dispute. This year’s Forum gave the audience the opportunity to discover the Cup’s new senior management, thanks to presentations by Iain Murray and Richard Worth.

The presentations didn’t bring fundamentally new elements, they confirmed the Defender’s commitment to organise an event that fits with its time, is ambitious and visionary. They also highlighted the difficulties currently faced by both the Defender in organising an event and the challengers in raising enough funds to participate. “The European Cup of football was invented in France some fifty years ago”, pleaded Richard Worth. “It has taken some time but now we see what it has become! The America’s Cup won’t ever draw the same audience but it has a huge potential to grow.”

Held alongside the World Yacht Racing Forum, the second edition of the Yacht Racing Design and Technology Symposium reassembled more speakers and delegates and focused on a greater variety of topics than last year. Chaired by Dobbs Davis, the event consisted of 7 plenary sessions and 2 presentations. It showcased the industry’s latest technological developments and innovations, and was indirectly influenced by the America’s Cup’s new format.

Bill Pearson, of North Technology Group, made an exclusive presentation of the thin ply technology; a method initially developed for sails but now also applied to the construction of masts and wings. Other key moments of the Symposium included a lively debate on the merits of ORC and IRC rating systems, in the light of recent news about the impending merger of ORC and RORC into a unified rating authority. One world – one rule: an old, ongoing debate!

The discussion on the application of ISO standards to yacht design also progressed, whilst delegates enjoyed two keynote speeches by Bruno Finzi, Chairman of ORC and Eric Hall, CEO of Hall Spars & Rigging.

“There were also some great debates about the latest innovations in multihull design – in relation with the new AC Class – and wing masts”, declares Dobbs Davies. “Andrew Macfarlan, the Head of Composites at Red Bull Technologies also made a very interesting presentation about Formula 1 technology and its possible application to racing yachts. The feedback I have received is excellent. People want more!”

A contest for the best yacht racing photo of the year was also conducted by Mirabaud, private bankers, a Gold partner of the World Yacht Racing Forum. Delegates had to elect the best photograph amongst 23 pictures – and as many of the world’s best yacht racing photographers - without knowing who had taken which photo. Thierry Martinez from France was awarded the winning entry, submitting a surprising photo of foiling Moth sailors standing on their boat in an acrobatic way.

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