Sailing races used to be for participants. As a spectator sport for the uninitiated, they were a disaster.
- Too far away from live spectators and shore-based cameras.
- Low viewpoint didn’t show what was happening tactically.
- Delayed starts were quite a frequent occurrence.
- Races lasted an unpredictable time.
Professional sailing and big sponsors provided the motive to expand the audience and the funds to innovate.
- Airborne cameras provided an overall view, as in ball games.
- Special classes such as I-Shares Cup multihulls guaranteed thrills, spills and short races close to shore-based spectators, to excite even those who didn’t understand the sport.
- Very high performance offshore boats and satellite video transmission from onboard cameras in Volvo and Vendée Globe attracted viewer fidelity over many months, giving excellent sponsor value (if their boat survived the whole course, in the case of the non-stop Vendée Globe).
The current economic doldrums have led to the Volvo changing to a slightly smaller, one-design format for the next race. They believe this will encourage more entries, and they also hope it will make it easier for less-experienced crews to enter, helping to encourage new talent.
Meanwhile, the America’s Cup is helping to push the envelope for the technology used in showing the sport to viewers. This NY Times interview with Stan Honey, the man behind the superimposed Live Line diagrams in video coverage, tells you more about it. I’m a little surprised at the precision required – I think he may be exaggerating slightly. Just wait till we get the augmented reality smartphone app he mentions…