Following the comment by Julien Di Biase, SailGP chief operating officer, that . . . “Teams that have not found a partner by the end of next season will find it tough.” Rumours have surfaced over the future of the teams and more particularly the Great Britain SailGP team.
After a stop-start performance in the opening series, the British team slipped from contenders, behind the top Aussie and Japan teams, to a disappointing home event at Cowes and then missed the all-important podium place finish at the final event in France.
For the present, event sponsor Larry Ellison seems content to look at the bigger picture.
It was always unlikely that the event would be an overnight smash, with the crowds flocking to the stands and sponsors fighting for a piece of the action.
But it does seem from comments by SailGP HQ that he expects a more pro-active drive by the individual teams than perhaps they expected at this early stage.
The second season will be critical to building acceptance of the event by the public and moving into a mainstream media item.
It was obvious from the effort expended on the media set-up for the Cowes event that they are desperate to crack the glass ceiling, and although the crowds were good, the failure of the British team to stay the course dampened the impact.
Unlike in France or New Zealand, sailing in the UK is a long way down the sport pecking order. To the UK Press and TV, yachting means Cowes and a few one-off, high profile events – Volvo, Vendée Globe – and then only if something goes wrong.
Britain’s sailing strength has been in the Olympic classes and then public interest is only aroused for the actual Games, and really even that just gets lost in the political, medal count game.
The intervening three years fail to engage any interest outside the dedicated sailing websites and the few remaining magazines.
This failure to develop either events or personalities that capture the public imagination, can be laid at the door of the sailing organisations, national and international, who have lacked any entrepreneurial skills and spend most of their time in maintaining their areas of influence.
Falling into the same problem area is the America’s Cup.
Again an event that only occurs at widely spaced periods (and not even regularly), and in addition is top-heavy with overhyped intrigue, and requires ridiculous amounts of money to take part, that relegates it to a small specialist audience.
Following the collapse of an attempt to regularise the AC as a scheduled event after the last Cup event, SailGP is Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts’ attempt to create an international sailing competition in state-of-the-art boats.
In this case souped-up foiling multihulls from the last AC, once again trying to create an on-water Formula 1 style circuit. Not an easy thing to do from scratch, as World Sailing found out.
It needs a lot of seed-money (Larry Ellison) a good organiser (Russell Coutts) and then strong national technical teams and personalities to convince a sceptical public that this is something really worth winning.
The first two are in place, now they have to complete the circle to produce a self-fulfilling event.
One thing sailing falls down on – at least in the UK – is personalities.
Yes, we have some big names in world sailing, but we are now talking guys who can save the day, turn the match around, score the winning goal, and generally be relied on to raise their game when all seems lost.
I am not sure that the regime developed by the RYA to win Olympic medals once every four years, really prepares them for the day-to-day grind of a regular team sport. Although they obviously have the individual skills, few seem to move on to conquer new sailing challenges.
Interestingly, double Olympic medallist Ian Walker, who now runs the RYA, is one of the exceptions, but might be described as ‘old school’!
The sports that fill the Press pages and TV time day after day are personality driven . . . Hamilton, Murray, Kane, Stokes . . . even the managers and coaches gain more column inches . . . no matter what the sport the thing that separates the big ticket pro sports from the struggling (semi) pro sports are the personalities, people who attract a following.
And so we come back to SailGP year 2 – The Vison statement at launch was:
SailGP was created to engage and excite global sports fans year-round in a supercharged, fast-paced version of sailing aimed at increasing its mainstream popularity, introducing the next generation to the sport and creating a career path for extraordinary athletes.
Fine words . . . But, if this nascent circuit is to gain any sort of foothold, the teams have to raise their game and build a personality, something an audience can relate to, can care about.
If you can hook a nation on televised cake baking and ballroom dancing, you can surely hook them on the spills and thrills of high-speed foiling multihulls?
Nathan Outteridge for Japan and Tom Slingsby for Australia are setting the pace. The circuit is to add a new team in 2020 and at least one additional venue.
The Great Britain SailGP team have to raise their profile, both individually and as a team to attract the financial backing and the media coverage they need to survive. Another lacklustre season will seal their fate.
Like the man said, “Teams that have not found a partner by the end of next season will find it tough.”