Friday, 28 January 2011

Sailing at a Turning Point on a New Digital Wave

The live streaming team. Image copyright Mick Anderson.

by Lars Lundov

Sailing is at the beginning of a spectator revolution that could save its place in the Olympics thanks to the rapid development of technology, key figures in Danish sailing believe.

The struggle for sailing’s soul has often focused on which classes should be favoured above the more fundamental issue of who can see what is happening on the water and the choices skippers are making.

At the end of last year at the World Yacht Racing Forum in Portugal any remnants of complacency were swept away by Pierre Ducrey. Ducrey, Head of Sports Operations at the International Olympic Committee, warned that: “all the disciplines are being reviewed every four years. You need to constantly reinvent yourselves, 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.”

Much of sailing’s reinvention and ‘added value’ in the last few years has been made in Denmark and its role as a leader of this new digital world will be highlighted this year as it hosts seven world championships in ISAF classes.

“Sailing in the Olympic programme especially is jeopardised by the fact it has not had a huge television audience and it will never be a sport where you can have a stadium of 80,000 fans following it, so you have to bring sailing to the audience rather than bringing the audience to the sailing.” Thomas Capitani, executive director of Sailing Aarhus, says.

Image copyright Dank Sejlunion.

The A-Cat World Championships in Aarhus in August will provide a glimpse of the future,. A progressive team at Aarhus University and the social enterprise body, the Active Institute, will continue to drive forward the innovations in combining relatively affordable GPS tracking, live streaming, 3D and social media, that made waves at the 2008 Youth World Championships and 2010 505 World Championships in Aarhus . Also, Denmark has helped transform the expectations of both organisers and spectators for both the RS:X Worlds and PWA windsurfing events.

Denmark has been concentrating on building popularity by making sailing more viewable, understandable and sharable, but in 2011 it will seek to make it affordable too with proven digital platforms that even small races around the world can use. The A-Cat World Championships 2011 will be an important testing ground. “We see our digital plans as the new way of appreciating and promoting sailing and The A-Cat Worlds 2011 in Denmark will be another stage in that progress” Lars Lundov, the CEO of Sport Event Denmark, says. “The opportunity is there to reach out to existing supporters and win new ones. We believe that this is a turning point for sailing – which was our key message last week, when we presented our bid for the ISAF Worlds 2014 in Southampton.”

Sailing sceptics from every class that has been to Denmark seem to have been completely won over. “When we started talking to the 505 people in 2009, a year before the event, even about the mere tracking of the boats which today is often standard, they were not against it, but neutral,” Capitani recalls cheerfully. “I think they were concerned about talking about electronics more than sailing and that skippers would not want wires hanging around their boats. But when they saw it working they realised how the integrated technology brings the racing to the public. During the World Championships we actually took Pip Pearson, the 505 President, out on the water to do a live internet commentary and he was just thrilled, he said it was his best moment in 505 sailing.”

Dansk Sejlunion