|Stadium sailing with Chris Draper|
Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper is a veteran of the America's Cup on a relatively young team of sailors. An Olympic gold medalist, Draper has been sailing professionally for over a decade, watching the sport go through changes across many different circuits outside of the America's Cup.
Draper explained what it is like being a professional sailor, in the past and now.
When was your first professional race?
In 1999 was the first time I went full time and started sailing professionally. I stopped university and was basically sailing as my living. Sailing a 470 Olympic Class and then I moved onto the 49er Olympic Class shortly after that and continued to sail full-time from then basically. So ‘99 to 2000 was when I first started professionally sailing.
For Olympic campaigns and then, around 2003-2004, I started doing things like Mum 30s and stuff like that on the side of doing the Olympic stuff.
Was that a big decision for you? To sail full-time?
Yes, to leave university without finishing my degree especially. But I had an amazing opportunity to sail with the guy who had won the silver medal in the 49'er in the UK. So I gave up university to take up the opportunity to sail with him. It was a great decision and one that I am very pleased with and I wouldn’t change it.
Can compare the professional sailing climate in 1999 to now?
I don’t know really, it is difficult to say. It is probably broader. When I first started doing professional sailing there were things like Far 40s and Mum 30s. Those were probably the two areas that you would go and sail in. And now there is things like TP52s Soto 40s Maxis, Melges 32s, Melges 24s, there is the Extreme 40 series, AC45s, there is America’s Cup, there are so many different avenues that you can go down. Sailing lots of different kinds of boats. So, there is a lot of opportunities there now and I think that probably, while there isn’t as much money in the world, with regards to the economy there is still a lot of people sailing and there is a lot of opportunities.
What is it like for you as a sailor to watch in-shore sailing and stadium sailing become more popular?
I think it is great to have sailing a bit closer into the shore. I mean I grew up sailing in really shifty venues you know. Sailing in lakes and things like that where the wind is moving all over the place so to me that is kind of the norm. Going out and sailing in the middle of the ocean where there is tiny little 5 degree wind shifts is a bit boring you know, or I find it quite boring. So I think it is great to see racing happening in-shore. Lots of races, lots of place changing, lots of starts, and I think that is a good thing. I like the way the sport is going. Obviously there are people out there that don’t, they are a bit more traditional and I think it is about finding a balance.
Are most professional sailors for the direction this is going?
Yes I think there are certain types of racing that have to happen offshore. If you are racing a keel-boat in a fleet of 40 then um, I think you need to have a bit of space and a bit of open water. Just because those boats are quite often owned by individuals and you don’t want to crash them up. But the stadium sailing, Extreme 40s and things like that is a lot more crash and burn. People go into it knowing that and that environment is perfect for it. So I think there is for and against for each area of the sport.
What do you think is driving this move inshore?
I think as with any sport it is the sponsorship. We are reliant on sponsorship and can you really get sponsorship through advertising and media exposure and that comes from television and the stadium racing helps that. Its all about getting people into the sport that weren’t into it in the past. The sailing community is large but the general population is who we want to get the sport to.
When you look at something like the America’s Cup which has been going for 162 years, why the rapid change right now?
I mean I guess they have taken the approach with the America’s Cup to make it like that stadium format that you have seen working in some other areas of the sport. And I mean, I think it is a great thing to have it nice and close to the shore and for people to be able to go and watch it. I think it is awesome you know my family are here and they are loving watching it. I think it is really cool and really exciting. But at the same time I can understand the traditionalists saying ‘the wind is all over the place’ and stuff, but it makes more opportunities and it makes it exciting so as I say before it is just a balance. I think with this race area we have got a nice balance. There are plenty of opportunities but there are also plenty of features that are the same as you would find on any race-course. So yea, it is a good balance.
Do you think it is going to become less risky to be a professional sailor?
I don’t know. You know I have many friends who have worked in the industry who have stopped and had to go back to a normal job so as to speak, or change profession. Because they haven’t been able to find work and they have been been very talented sailors. A lot of it is luck and if you find some good owners, some people that you work well with then you get some good opportunities. But if luck doesn’t go your way it is easy to find yourself out of work for long periods. It is risky for sure and I mean we are very lucky in England because we have lottery funding that helps us do our Olympic sailing. If we didn’t have that then you wouldn’t be able to build a profile and you wouldn’t be able to get on the boats that we have got onto.
It depends on where you come from and it depends on the people that you know, in many ways unfortunately.
What direction do you want to see sailing go?
To be honest I don’t mind. I just want to sail fun boats and go fast. If I get to do that, than I would be happy.
So thats the AC72 in a nutshell...
Yea that is the AC72 in a nutshell, but at the same time, if it was in a Version 5 boat and I was doing something different on the boat than I would be perfectly happy doing that you know. So it is apples and apples, I don’t really mind. I love going sailing and I love racing and I love winning and doing everything I can to win races and that is what it is all about for me. I don’t really mind what the boat is but the avenue that I have taken through the sport has been about faster boats and closer to shore racing, that is my forte. While it stays in that area I stand a much better chance of having a great job and having fun at the same time.
What are you going to do after this?
In October I’m gonna sail my moth lots through the winter. I am going to sail that tons and do some match race stuff over the winter and try and really develop my skills there. Then see how the ground lies with the cup, see what kind of boats it ends up in and go from there.
Do you think foiling is going to be the norm?
I think foiling will be the future of a lot of sailing but I just want to go and sail that boat because it is a lot of fun. I think it is a nice opportunity to learn more about development and put some development in place while doing that and that is what the America’s Cup is about. My background has always been in one design boats and refining small details of those one design classes. It is nice to do some development and that is what we have had to do in the cup. I have learned a lot about the way you develop things and I would like to go and put a bit of that in place myself and learn from that process. Then come back into [the America’s Cup] with the same team or with another team depending on how the land lies for the future.
Is garnering sponsorship always a really big part of sail-racing?
Yea for sure, I have got a few friends right now who are working really hard to get themselves some funding to try for different things like Volvo [Ocean Race] and stuff like that. There are some incredibly talented people out there that don’t get the opportunities because they just can’t find the funding. That is a difficult thing to do, that is a huge part of it for sure. We are so lucky as Luna Rossa to have Patricio and Artemis are very lucky to have Torbin and those people that are passionate about the sport are what makes a big difference for all of us and gives us the opportunity to do what we love doing. So we need to look after those people and make sure they get what they want out of it.
Can you compare funding now to 1999?
I think there probably has become more opportunities. I think the thing is, is that as the playing field changes, the cost of it changes and I remember when in 1995-96 there was this series in England in a boat called the Ultra 30 and it had sponsors like Land Rover and Voxel Fronterra and other big companies. But the cost of doing a campaign was probably 150,000 pounds or something. But now if you wanted to do an Extreme 40 campaign well then it is 700,000 pounds and that is just a fact of inflation but also a way that the series change and become global and alot more expensive. There is penalties because it is harder to find 700,000 then it is to find 150,000 but at the same time I think sponsorship is thriving in the sport.
Denis Harvey is the Executive Producer for America’s Cup television responsible for the television coverage of the America’s cup. He toured me through the ACTV studios- 16 shipping containers crammed into a dark warehouse on Pier 23. These containers are packed with state of the art screens, servers, camera equipment, control rooms, studios, and offices. Ropes of wire criss-cross between them. Each one is carefully locked, guarding the over $20,000,000 worth of equipment they contain. Feeds from 23 different cameras (mounted in three different helicopters, on chase boats, from land, and in the AC72s themselves) relay the images to Pier 45 where a telecommunications container sporting a 135 ft radio tower bounces everything back to the main hub at Pier 23. Every camera is wireless, a first for any sporting event coverage. This travelling studio has been erected at each of the world series events, practicing for San Francisco and the final races.
After unlocking and peeking in the various containers, he leads me to a main office container to talk about his role and the goal of ACTV.
How did you get involved in the America’s Cup?
I’ve been in television for all my working career. I first did an America’s Cup in 1992 in San Diego. I was working for the television New Zealand network. We were the rights holder so I went up to San Diego and looked after all their production. For the ‘92 cup and the ‘95 cup. When New Zealand won the cup in ‘95 and everyone came back to New Zealand, I looked after all the host broadcasts. So the world feed for 2000 and 2003. I then left television New Zealand not long after that and then when Oracle won the cup Russell Coutts approached me to ask if I would like to get involved again. So I have been working on the project since then.
How did you know Russell?
Through the previous cups. I’ve produced the sailing at the past three Olympics so I’ve got a bit of a track record in covering sailing. I have been doing, between the 2010 cup and this one, there was a series of Louis Vuitton trophy regattas in the old mono-hulls, which Oracle and everybody were involved in. My company was contracted to do all the television production for that. I have my own company back in New Zealand. I do a whole range of stuff, some sports, some reality shows, a variety of stuff.
Can you compare doing television coverage for the cup in ‘92 and now?
There are a number of differences. I mean A, the technology has changed so technically it is now much easier to get good video off the boats and good audio off the boats. We can now do AC liveline and you just couldn’t technically have done that in ‘92. So basically the coverage has gotten better as technology has allowed you to handle it. Whereas, in ‘92 we pioneered the use of virtual eye technology and that was a first. It was only at that point that you could do real-time 3D animation that had never been done before. That was done on a box with a computer the size of a small fridge that was worth half a million dollars that somebody lent us. Whereas now you can do virtual eye on a laptop. So basically the advances have happened as technology has enabled us.
The big difference is also that these boats are completely different in terms of having to deal with the speed of them, the sheer technical complexity of the boat has made it a challenge for us. But, on the positive side, because we were involved very early on, right from the design phase of these boats, television has been integrated into the whole project. They have been working with the teams and designers to integrate all of the television. Whereas in the past we came along as a bit of an afterthought. When Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts determined getting the television right was a key part of the success we have been integrated into the whole event right from the very beginning.
What’s your opinion on tailoring the cup for T.V.?
Well I think sailing is particularly challenging to cover anywhere. Its also particularly challenging to get an audience to understand it. So if you want the sport to go forward, you want it to be attractive to sponsors to go on television, then you have got to get an audience. To get an audience, be it a web environment or a television broadcast environment, you have got to have a television product that is equal to if not better than any other sport that is out there. Because that is what are competing with. You are competing with Formula 1, with Tour de France, and thats what your audience measures you against. So you know, you can’t sit down here below them. If you want your credibility to be seen as a high-end really attractive sports proposition than you’ve got to get your television production right.
Why do this now?
Well I think Larry Ellison and Russell understood the value of it. I mean it has always been on television. There has been live coverage of the America’s Cup since 1992. But they have kind of worked in parallel. Sometimes together, sometimes in conflict. What we have got here is that we are joined, so that the development of the world series and the development with the technology and the liveline team have created has meant for example that they could adjust the race duration while the race was on so we could finish the broadcast so it could finish in the allotted time. One of the challenges in the television world for a broadcaster is that in the past, races didn’t start on time, they over ran, and if you are a broadcast you have the next program lined up. You know you can’t just chop and change your schedule. So we thought one of the keys was to make it a reliable product that broadcasters can trust. If you can build more trust for the broadcasters it adds more value for them. So on a long-term plan, they build confidence in the sport that it is a great television product that their returns and what they are prepared to pay for the rights fees grows exponentially.
So it is a critical component, not the only component, but it is a very critical component to making the sport viable. Because if you can make it reliable on television then sponsors will trust it and sponsors will invest. They will invest with teams, it may not be in the event, but they will invest in a team because they know they are gonna get the exposure. So it is sort of integral to the success of the entire event.
Are the controversies making it difficult to build trust here?
Well that is challenging. In the past the issue has really been will the boats sail for lack of wind or is the wind too strong. So the wind parameters were set and the reason for going to these boats was that they had a much broader wind range.
So we’ve started races in Venice and in Cascais in three or four knots of breeze. In the past you wouldn’t have had a race, in the old mono-hulls. And if the race was light, it would just go on and on and on until you had run off the end of your broadcast, whereas what we have been able to do with the race committee, based on the data we have is that we need that race finished by 3:55 because all of the broadcasters around the world are off-air at four. So they were able to, on the fly, adjust the marks to shorten up the race course to enable that to happen.
So we have been able to, almost every regatta, every day. The races have started when we said they were gonna start or in a couple of minutes if there is a minor issue and we have always finished by the end of the broadcast. So if you are a broadcaster buying it you are gonna say, this is alright, this works. Whereas in past cups you could sit for two hours waiting for a race to start. Which is hopeless.
What happens after this Cup?
All we want is for it to be a successful event that is commercially sustainable. And television is just one element of that. The viability of the cup, whoever wins or loses it, depends on teams being able to finance their campaigns and for whoever is the holder of the cup, to be able to finance the event. So television is but one part of that jigsaw puzzle. But we are quite a critical one. Say you are a team and you are trying to raise, say $100,000,0000 and you go to a sponsor and ask for $20,000,000 the first thing they are going to ask is what is our return? What is the media exposure going to be? So we are kind of at the front end of that in terms of people’s decisions in making investments. Particularly if you are a sponsor wanting to know what your return is. For a sponsor it is about exposure.
The challenge, irrespective of who wins the cup, is how do you build an ongoing sustainable financial model. That is one of the unique things about the cup as a sporting event is of course you can’t do a five year business plan like most other sports can because you are entirely dependent on who wins each time. Whoever wins it determines what the next cup is, where it is going to be held, what kind of boats are sailing, will there be a world series, won’t there be a world series, you know what will the build-up regattas be or will there be any build up regattas? So you can’t plan ahead more than each cup cycle and that is one of the challenges of the cup?
Is that something you would like to see change?
It would certainly make it easier. But the cup has been this way for 162 years, you know that is one of its attractions. If you win it, you control it. It isn’t owned by anybody. The America’s Cup doesn’t have a governing body like a FIFA or an ISAF running it.
So whoever wins next won’t inherit these 16 containers?
No. They might decide we are going to do it completely differently. Might have a completely different view. You always like to think when you do a production like this that you have done enough things well that the next cup holder would like to take some of those elements forward but there is no guarantees. All of the crew that I’ve got contracted, and even my cup finishes not long after the cup.
What happens after that, nobody knows. Whoever holds the cup will make those decisions. I mean you can think about it. If Oracle wins then you know, they have some views about what they may do going forward. If team New Zealand win or Artemis or Luna Rossa wins they’ll have ideas about what they want to do going forward. But it is there decision. Their choice to make. Now a number of us working on this project have worked on multiple cups. You like to think the knowledge that we have learned from this cup carry forward to the next, you don’t keep reinventing the wheel.
What is the best place to air America’s Cup on?
Well, in an ideal world, a national free-to-air broadcaster delivers you your biggest audience. But you know, it is a challenge to get airtime in a national network anywhere in the world. Depends on where you fall. If you fall on daytime, depending on timezone, daytime it is a bit easier to schedule. If its prime time evening, very difficult. So you have got to balance out television rights. How much you get on the rights fee versus how big is the audience. So there is a balancing act. So sometimes you decide you are better to take a lower rights fee and have a bigger audience. There is a bit of a juggle in that process. Europe is about 8 hours ahead of us. So a one o'clock race start here, depending on where you are in Europe is maybe eight or nine at night which is prime time. So, in that kind of environment, maybe being on a sports network may be a better option. In New Zealand, a one o’clock start will be eight o’clock in the morning. In terms of volume of audience its only 4.5 million people, but in terms of high-ratings it traditionally delivers a high-audience rating. One of the highest audience ratings in New Zealand television history was when they won the cup in 1985 and TVOne, the channel that broadcast it, had a 98% audience share.
Italy and France are strong markets for us, traditionally in sailing the interest those countries is good. The U.K. is generally quite good.
So how is your audience share for this cup so far?
Well we are generating more media than ever before and at a level that has never been generated before. Particularly at the world series. The fact that we are live on YouTube, this is the first time that youtube has really gotten involved in the live broadcast of the sport. Suddenly you can reach a global audience straightaway. The dynamics of the way people watch sports are starting to change. People are more and more watching sport on streaming platforms. The internet is becoming a delivery mechanism into the home. Now most TVs are internet enabled. So the delivery mechanism becomes the internet. So you are starting to bypass the traditional broadcast networks. That is a challenge for them.
Why the focus on national broadcasts on a television network then?
They still at the moment deliver the biggest audience. In another cup cycle its hard to say. The industry outside of us is changing rapidly, but still at the moment, the biggest audience reach is still through your conventional free-to-air broadcast networks. Thats all sponsors are interested in, how many eyeballs are you reaching.
Have you had a lot of interest in sponsors?
Well we have a lot of sponsors. The teams have been able to justify sales to sponsors. Sponsors are able to justify this. A company like Nespresso is going to look at this and say, Ok, who are we going to reach with this investment? Do we invest in this event or this one, they are making hardnose marketing evaluations based entirely on what they think their return in terms of exposure is going to be for their investment. Television is how some of that return is realized. They will get some in print, some in magazines and newspaper articles, it is a whole complex bundle, but television is still a very dominant part of that evaluation.
What is your personal stake in all of this?
My passion is to turn the sport of sailing, in particular the America’s Cup, into a generally popular television property. Making the sport understandable, making it attractive. You know, making it one of those things that if you are flipping through channels on the couch you are going to say wow I am going to stop going and watch this because this is just great television.
The cup is a bit like a drug. Once you have done it once you want to keep doing it because it is so unique, because it is so different than any other sporting property in the world. It is probably the most technically challenging sporting event in the world. So the reward is delivering fantastic television off of something that is so hard to do. So as a personal achievement I would say we have delivered that, and despite all of the circumstances around how hard it is to cover the sport, we have delivered a product that is right up there with the best of everything else.
You know, we have been recognized with an Emmy already. We have been recognized with Emmy nomination last year that was just off the World Series.
The reason you do it is like, why do you climb a mountain? Because it is there and it is hard and you get a sense of achievement when you get to the top of the mountain because you have done it. I guess each time you do this event it is a challenge. It is hard and the reward is coming off the end of it and saying “we have delivered a fantastic television product that is being watched by viewers all around the world.
Then in September you walk away?
I have a holiday! Then go and look for another job. I don’t know, when you work in a freelance world that is the nature of the industry. You do a project and you finish it and move on to the next. Now, depending on who wins, if there is a world series, we might turn around and do it again.
Has there ever been a World Series before?
In the 2007 cup, the 32nd cup. They had a series of what were called “acts’ a series of events held just around Europe. That was the first time. There have been pre-regattas occasionally before. When the cup was held in New Zealand they had a couple of small regattas just with some of the participants.
But there has never been a concerted event to build a World Series. I think if you find the right economic model to make it feasible it has potential. I have been around television coverage for sailing events for a number of years now. I have never seen crowds, because we are sailing in the AC45 catamarans and you can get them close to shore, 50,000 crowds in Naples lining the shoreline. I don’t think sailing has ever had that in any other kind of event. When we went to Newport on Ft. Adams we were selling tickets and it was a sellout. THey wouldn’t let any other people in the park . What that world series has done is brought exciting sailing close in-shore so it has become a stadium event. That in itself is a major achievement. It is totally different than what has been done before. Valencia, you couldn’t see racing from the shore, Auckland you couldn’t see racing from the shore, and that was one of the factors in the decision to go to the multihulls. We sailed a regatta in Venice right along the canal. So it has brought the sport to the audience and they are coming to watch it.
I think there has been enough positives to come out of this cup between the world series and the event that you would like to think whoever wins it takes the best bits of that and carries it forward. But I think the core principles that have been developed, will be carried forward.
Sailing like you have never seen it, so you will want to see it: a running theme of the 34th America’s Cup. It’s the first time the races have been held in-shore, with stadium seating, and hundreds of cameras in boats, on-shore, in helicopters with the crews miked for every possible angle and grunt to be broadcast with commentary across the United States on a national network, streaming online, and airing in sailing nations across the world.
The boats are fast, dangerous, and within eyesight. Two knife-thin 72-foot pontoons float precariously above the water on finger-tip hydrofoils carrying 11 frantically moving (shiny in the case of Luna Rossa) men decked out in swat gear who are constantly fighting against their boat’s overwhelming desire to catapult them skyward. They streak by drawing gasps from crowds who flock to the shoreline to watch. Whether its two boats racing or just one, people line the tips of pier 27 and marina green.
Despite having only three challengers, and generally only one on the water since Artemis’ tragic accident, it’s still bigger than ever and drawing international sailors, curious tourists, and the coveted football/hockey/baseball/basketball crowd to bay. From there, spectators divide attention between the water and the big-screen televisions while listening to live-commentary and enjoying chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Its anything but a typical sporting event, always a niche sport, but the radical changes made for this cup are mimicking circuit track-racing and breaking the world’s oldest sporting trophy out of its custom made Louis Vuitton case and onto the stands so that the general public can Instagram themselves next to it.
At this point, its still too early to tell if we are going to see sailing break into the mainstream sports television cycle. But it is creating new fans. Out on marina green this morning, they braved the chilly wind and squinted through the fog to catch the Italian team, Luna Rossa, making her way around the course solo. Significantly smaller than the weekend crowds, this group was predominantly middle-aged and equipped with DSLRs, smartphones, and cans of beer.
Meet three new cup die-hards:
Larry Jones, 72
Oriental, North Carolina
Retired Statistics Professor
Have you watched the America’s Cup before?
This is my first time being at one. But I have watched many of them.
Do you sail?
I have a 35 foot catamaran and a 16 foot trimaran.
What do you think about this America’s Cup?
Well, I don’t know.. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love the technology. So as this event illustrates the cost of developing the technology and keeping up with it is prohibitive. It’s ridiculous to have an event like this with only four boats.
It takes a lot of the interest out of it. That’s the paradox I guess, it is truly amazing technology, a lot of it, that will carry over to other kinds of sail craft but that is going to be a while.
It has become a billionaire’s sport, not something that even pretty well-heeled racing sailors can aspire to anymore. The good side of that I suppose is that it will strengthen a lot of what happens in the other racing classes.
What do you think about watching sailing on television?
I think its great! It is terrific, in all sports, including this one. It happens to be something I am interested in is that technology. It makes all of the difference for television spectators and even just standing right here, given the size of the course there is a lot that you can see. It’s pretty cool to be able to look right there [points to television screen] and see what is going on, on the boat.
Do you watch other sports on television?
Not a lot. I mostly watch finals competitions... I don’t have much patience for mediocre sports even at the pro-level. I watch all the playoffs.
So sailing is your favourite?
Oh for sure, yea it is. It’s a shame that there is not more of it available. I mean here you have pretty good coverage but nationwide you are basically talking about extra-cost cable changes, I watch most of it on YouTube.
What do you like about watching sailing?
At this level watching the teamwork. Going back to your earlier question, one of the things that is missing here is that the strategy has almost disappeared. When you have five or six boats the jockeying for position at the start line for example is one of the most exciting parts, well that is basically gone here. And, moreover, I haven’t watched enough to say this with any type of confidence but in general what happens in these races between pairs of these catamarans is that whoever is ahead at the start is going to win, as they approach the finish line one is almost always going to be far back so there is not any real head-to-head competition involved anymore as is with any boats, including catamarans. I do a fair amount of racing and there is alot of head-to-head action particularly at the marks. At that is all gone which is a shame and removes alot of the interest, even for people who aren’t into sailing.
Martha Callahan, 57
Retired Civilian Manager of Police Department
Did you come to San Francisco for the America’s Cup?
No we just came to do a bike-ride along here. And we just sort of stumbled on this yesterday. So we put our bikes down and came down to watch it. I mean I knew it was going on. I was here a few months ago, but I just wanted to come check it out.
How do you like it?
Its just amazing! To think that wind is carrying them that quickly.
Have you watched sailing before?
My husband has a sailboat so yes we’ve watched the America’s Cup on T.V.
Do you think this one is a lot different?
Oh certainly, and its much different to see it in person.
Do you think you will watch it on television when you go home?
Oh definitely yes. I bet I will, I’m hooked now. I was wondering, my husband said he couldn’t get these on T.V. But I will definitely watch it when it comes on.
Retired Hotel Manager
Is this the first time you have watched the America’s Cup?
[My wife and I] were here last summer which got us hooked, we were here in the grandstands. We bought seats for the 45’s and we were just hooked.
How did you hear about it?
Well I have always kind of followed the America’s Cup and then when it came to the city, when it was going to be here in town. It was obviously a big event and something we wanted to be part of. I’ve always followed it over the years and this is the first time we’ve actually been able to see what is going on. And obviously this close to us.
When did you first get interested?
Well when we first lost it, Dennis Conner I think, when he first lost it and then won it back thats when I got interested. Then there was that movie Wind, which is just an awesome movie that I have watched several times.
Are you a sailor?
No I’m not, the summer camp I taught at back in Iowa, I was banned from the sailboats because I kept sinking them and dropping the masts.
What do you like about watching this?
Well it has been fun you know with the technology and I mean the difference between the single-hull boats and I mean the 45’s last year. It was almost like NASCAR, I mean these guys are bumping into each other and it was competitive and you know it seemed to be a more physical race than it used to be. The boats are so fast, even the 45’s are so much faster than the old boats so its just fun to watch them. It is amazing.
What do you think about watching sailing on television?
I love the new coverage they are doing. The way that they measure the the delta’s and the wind speeds. There is so much that they can track now that we couldn’t see before. Then the camera boat, I actually watched the thing on television where they built that camera boat that they use; how they custom built that for the races. We had season tickets for the whole season then they refunded the first part, because for whatever reason. A year ago they were talking about seven or eight boats competing for the Cup and now there is three challengers and so they refunded our tickets. So for the finals we will be over at the yacht club over there. We just came down today because I have been watching all the races on television and I wanted to see these things hydro-foil up close.
Do you watch other sports on TV?
I am a huge hockey fan, in fact I just moved up here from Southern California and I had season tickets for the Ducks. Football a little bit, I will watch it if there is a decent game on. Basketball not really.
What is your favourite sport to watch?
I’d say this. There is always a hockey game on but this is such a unique sport and the opportunity to see it like this is is great. What I like is that they brought the racing back to the masses. I mean anybody can watch these races up and down the bay here. You know, you don’t have to buy tickets. You can stand right here and see it and they have really changed it and I love the changes they have made in the sport.
Do you America’s Cup it will become more popular?
I don’t think it will get that big with the frequency that they do it. What is it every three or four years. If they did this on a regular basis you know we are all going to be fair weather friends as long as Oracle has the cup obviously the Bay area will have an affinity to it. But I don’t see how you can market this when it is so infrequent to get the viewership you want.
Stadium sailing is the mantra of the 34th America’s Cup. A new venture to bring sailing into your living room and create the world’s next great television sport and; the quest for Sunday night football status.
Who better than Stan Honey then to bring sailing to life on network television. Honey is most well-known for the work he has done through his company Sportvision. This is the man behind augmented reality on television sports – hockey’s glowing puck, football’s yellow down-lines, and all manner of other televised sporting events. He is a two-time Emmy winner for his work on sports broadcasting.
But Honey is a regular renaissance man, a world-class sailor and former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He first gained international respect for his sailing in 1983, when Nolan Bushnell approached him to outfit his 67’ sloop, Charley, which he was entering in the Transpac. Bushnell is the inventor of Atari and at the time was flush with money having just sold it to Warner Communications.
Honey was working at Stanford Research in geographic information systems and radars. Bushnell wanted onboard computers for his sailboat and Honey provided. He invented the first onboard computer, creating systems that calculated max speeds and told Charley’s crew how to win. Bushnell was a relative newcomer to racing, and he won with Honey’s computer.
|Stan Honey- Sailing for Television|
How did you get involved in the AC34?
I navigated for Larry on Sayonara from about 1995 until about 1997 and so I knew Larry from that and I also knew Larry because when I was head of technology at newscorp I met with Larry a couple of times.
Then when I was navigating on Groupama III for the around the world record, which was in early 2010, Larry won the America’s Cup. There was a Fortune magazine article with an interview with Larry Ellison in early 2010 in Fortune where they asked him, well you’ve won the America’s cup, you say you are going to do great TV, what are you going to do? Larry’s answer was he was going to look up an old sailing friend of his, Stan Honey, and they were going to put yellow lines in the water. And, that was actually the first I heard of it. At the time I was in the Southern Ocean navigating Grouphama, but thats when I figured out what came next.
Then Larry Ellison approached you?
Yea, well once I got in, I was at sea, there was a couple of messages from Ian Burns and Jimmy Spithill and so this project came out of that.
What specific things are you trying to do for the America’s Cup coverage?
Well you know, sailing, has, well all of the augmented reality systems whether its the first outline of the hockey puck or the down lines has the characteristic that there are important things to the sport that are hard to see.
Sailing has many of those. The boundaries, the wind direction, the identification of who is ahead and who is behind. So thats the thing about sailing that makes augmented reality compelling, there are so many things that are important to understand the event that are hard to see.
Have you made recommendations to the layouts of the courses?
I haven’t, the television executive producer, Dennis Harvey certainly has. So the race course design as it has evolved, has definitely taken into account suggestions from the television. Specific suggestions have come from the professional story tellers, you know the executive producer etc.
So what is your role in America’s Cup in terms of Director of Technology?
Well the original project was to help the T.V. story-tellers, the director producers, commentators, and reporters. To help them tell the story of the event. So to that end we built the systems to track the sailboats and the mark boats and then to be able to superimpose the their information on the live video. Showing where the boats are, where the wind is, who is ahead, who is behind, the boundaries the marks all that.
Having measured all of that data. We were then asked to build an umpiring system for race management and a race management system for race management. We also make that information available on the internet. So its used for mobile apps.
But the initial requirement was to enhance TV, and the subsequent requirements were the systems for umpiring, race management and the systems for mobile data.
What are you hoping to bring to the event, or help the event itself achieve?
The principal objective is to make it accessible for non-sailors. So that they can, very quickly, embrace the event. To get interested and be able to understand the competition.
Are there signs that you’ve been successful?
The ratings have been good. The shows on NBC have been given a ‘one rating’ rating. Even more importantly, the ratings have increased during the time it has been on air. So what that means, thats something TV Executives care a lot about. So that means that people who have just been browsing through the channels and come across the America’s Cup actually stop and watch. That’s a critical thing for TV executives.
Was it hard to get networks to pick up the coverage?
Well, any major sporting event you do a rights negotiation. In our case the major rights holder was NBC. It’s always a big drama to negotiate the major rights deal.
It’s a very important business decision for an event. So events take a lot of care in negotiating their major rights distribution arrangements.
So, is it going to be the next football or NASCAR?
That would be great, the jury is still out on whether sailing can be made a popular media sport like those other sports. But that is certainly a goal.
Its a beautiful sport, its outdoors, the boats are spectacular its complicated and there is a lot of technology involved, a lot of culture, a lot of terminology, alot of history. You know, sports fans tend to like all of that. They like a sport that has a lot of texture and depth to it and sailing certainly does.
The America’s Cup is a tricky event because every time someone wins it there is a new trustee. So its not a conventional sport like the NFL where there are professional managers year in and year out. So the AC is tricky in that respect. But certainly one of the hopes within the AC and the media is that sailing will become a more popular sport on TV.
One of the big challenges is the cameras in the helicopters, so thats more difficult than any of the other systems we have done where the cameras are mounted on tripods. Another challenge is the salt water. so all the equipment on the boats is more difficult to maintain because of the salt water. so technically its much more difficult than say NASCAR or Football. or baseball.
Every boat does it, so its like NASCAR in that respect.
I reached Gary Jobson a few weeks ago to ask him about the media coverage of the AC34. This will be the ninth time Jobson has done coverage for the America’s Cup. He is a longtime sailor and former America’s Cup racer himself with an intimate knowledge of the event. Jobson will be hosting the NBC broadcasts of the races beginning in August.
(Edited interview transcription follows- author questions in bold)
Author: Are people going watch the America’s Cup?
JOBSON: We did three shows last year for NBC. They were all 90 minute live shows on the America’s Cup series. One in July, one in August, and one in October and the first and third shows, when we came on the air, we doubled our viewing audience from the beginning of the to the end of the show. The second show stayed about even- and the third show it doubled.
Usually in television, if you can maintain your audience from the beginning of the show to the end, you have generally done pretty well. What you don’t want is an audience going down. Even during the second show it went up a little bit, and I don’t know why. It was in August and maybe a lot of people weren’t around. But, what we have learned is that people start texting each other and calling and emailing and saying ‘hey you should check this out’.
What’s it like working with the new technology?
The liveline is very cool. I immensely enjoy working with Stan [Honey]. I’m a little bit more of the artist of it and he is more the science. But when you are the commentator you have to make a bit of sense of it and use it as a tool and get the viewer engaged … You have got to do it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the viewer where it becomes all graphics. So you still want to see the boat and the human aspect of the thing. So, the onboard cameras, the water-shot cameras, which don’t have liveline, integrated with the aerials, which do have liveline, and you get a pretty compelling picture of what is going on.
This is the 9th time I have done coverage of the America’s Cup and all America’s Cups always have their personality and all are a little bit different and have different characters and storylines. But this one is different. Because you really have to think hard about what to say that is relevant for the viewer, so you don’t want to just repeat what you see on the screen. But try and come up with something that’s not expected or some fact or something that enhances what you are already watching.
… And because these boats go so fast and there is not much time between the turning marks, you don’t have much time to talk. You have to learn how to speak in very short phrases –to say a lot in as few words as possible. When you are speaking it’s even harder to do that. At the same time, you have to weave your words in with what they are saying aboard the boat because its so interesting and compelling what these people talk about on the boats that you don’t want to talk over them. I have to anticipate when they are going to talk and what they might say and then, even though I might be talking about something else. I immediately have to interpret what was just said on the boat and then go onto my storyline. Then keep quiet and listen and when there are three commentators you try and get a cadence- so a, b, or b, c so we don’t talk all over each other. Somebody doesn’t just talk all the time, so it lets it breathe. When there are two others there I really think hard about what to say. So I keep trying to say something cool or interesting. It doesn’t always come out that way but you try. I learned at ESPN 28 years ago if you make some kind of mistake on the air, you just correct it and go on and not worry too much about it.
|Jobson at Work|
How do you see this America’s Cup as being tailored for television?
Several things: number one, the combination of pictures from onboard, from the air, and from the water gives you a very unique perspective. Number two, the fact that we have the sailors, you hear the voices of four sailors, you know the tactician, the skipper, and key players of the boat. In no other sport are you inside the huddle. So that is unique for television.
You know, Stan Honey, he is a smart guy to figure that out. To get the graphics, so we know precisely who is ahead who is behind, who is picking up, who is losing distance… you know interesting stats. I think that is number three.
Four, and I speak humbly here; hopefully the commentary is compelling. You know I get emails and they say ‘oh you know you are the greatest thing since sliced bread’ and you know I get other emails that say ‘hey you are terrible’ and so you know maybe I am somewhere in the middle. So like I said it’s a bit of an art form. You don’t script this thing. You know, I might have a list of ten story ideas I might try to get in through a telecast. But you have to know the boats, and the game, and the rules and it just has to come to you quickly. And it has become an important part of this equation.
Then, is the race itself. And the best racing, just like the best sports, are close contests, we have lead changes and who wins is in doubt to the end. I don’t know if you watched the hockey series or the NBA finals, but both of them are pretty darn good. You know, there were lead changes and tied scores and back and forth and one went to game six and the other was seven games. But it’s compelling. So when you ask- what is going to get this over top- its good racing! Whoever wins the first race, I want the other boat to win the second race and at the end of the first weekend I would love to see the score two-two because then it becomes very compelling.
Well, if the America’s Cup World Series is a guide, which I think is fair to say … We found that there were surprising numbers of league changes that left on. One of these might be, lets just be generic here, maybe one is a little bit better when the breeze is 18 knots, and one is a little better when the breeze is 12 knots. Well if the breeze picks up from 12 to 18 the boat that was faster earlier is now slower. So you likely have a league change. And this foiling stuff is really fascinating; to get both hulls, up out of the water. If one boat gets up on the foil they can go ten miles an hour faster, so if you are four lengths behind and you are suddenly going ten miles and hour faster. You are going to blow right by. So I think there are going to be these spurts of speed that will be really fun to watch. Then the close quarters, they are not out in the open ocean getting far away from each other, It forces the races to be close. So when the races are forced to be close the best part is the emotions are running. We are going to hear what they say. Its not going to be like a NASA countdown to a space shot, its going to be raw and compelling and important and mean a lot and the guys are going to be yelling hard and working and we are going to be part of it.
No other sport does that.
Why hasn’t America’s Cup been successful on television in the past?
So, there is a couple of reasons. One, it doesn’t happen consistently. I mean, it’s every three or four years we have an America’s Cup. Two, I hate to say it but it is true, a lot of people don’t understand what sailing is all about. Why does one boat get ahead of the other? So that is our [commentators] job to try and do it.
But there are a couple elements that can help boost this up. One is the patriotic aspect. You know the United States has the America’s Cup. This thing the Americans have won 28 times over the years. Are we going to be able to hold onto it? And the winner [of the Louis Vuitton Series], wants to take the cup away. As I’m sure you know, there is no love lost between Ellison’s team and the New Zealanders or the Italians- they don’t particularly like each other too much.
So that makes it kind of an emotional roller coaster ride and a compelling story; the intense rivalry, the patriotic element to it, the speed of the boats, the newness of it, the technology behind it the emotions onboard, you know all that. I hope combine these to get people watching, and you know if our world series is any guide- as I said two out of three shows, the viewership doubled from beginning to end of the program. And I hope that is what we see.
So is it going to become a mainstream television-sporting event?
Is it going be mainstream? I’m not smart enough to predict what is going to happen. You know, like I said maybe Ellison wins it, but I don’t know. But clearly, right after this cup, all of the players and all of the stake-holders have to sit down and say ‘OK, this happened the way it did’ what can we do to improve it and make it better. So that exercise will have to happen immediately right after the cup.
Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) has bested the Italian challengers again today in their third
meeting on the water. This time the Italians lost by over seven minutes, their
greatest losing margin yet in the pair’s three races together. This victory secures ETNZ with a place in the finals.
But this time the Italians have an excuse– a race that was perhaps doomed before its start when early this morning their flashy chrome AC72 ran aground while docking out.
“We launched the boat, as per normal, and this morning was a very big tide” says Wade Morgan, grinder/foredeck of Luna Rossa. “So very low [tide], we haven’t experienced that there, and we bumped the bottom of the chain. I’m not exactly sure what we touched. We scratched the back of the port rudder. Something that, on a slower boat, probably wouldn’t be that important. But clearly, the surface finish is something that is very important on a boat like this.”
Luna Rossa team members were forced to drop the rudder out and scramble to repair it, filling and sanding the scratches and cutting their pre-race time on the course short. While it may not have decided the race, it certainly played a significant role in their loss.
ETNZ has had little competition in the opening races of the round robin series. Team members admit that it would be better if they had some competition on the course, but they are getting used to racing against themselves and certainly improving. The Kiwis are mastering the foiling gybe, a crucial element for the downwind performance of the AC72’s.
Despite the one sided competition right now, interest in the large boats on the bay and the red tents lining pier 27 and Marina Green seems to be growing finally. “We had our biggest weekend so far,” says event America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Steven Barclay in press conference before the race. “About 40,000 showed up over Saturday and Sunday.”
Drama over the past month has centered around teams Luna Rossa and ETNZ protests over the 37 safety recommendations issued by regatta director Iain Murray and an independent panel of reviewers assembled following team Artemis’ May 9th accident. The recommendations, released May 22, were protested over a month later by the two teams – specifically the new requirements for the rudder winglets and amendment to the weight rules of the boats.
An independent jury sustained the two team’s protests and allowed them to proceed with the original class rule, forcing Murray to re-approach the Coast Guard with the new changes and again request permission to race on the bay with the amended recommendations.
According to event CEO Steven Barclay, coast guard approved the new conditions at 11 am Sunday. “The coast guard is happy, I don’t want to get the supplement numbers wrong now, but supplement three in his [Iain Murray’s] communication with the coast guard regarding the bits that he couldn’t implement before” explains Steven Barclay. Those bits being the rudder winglet and weight issues.
|Author Sketch- Event CEO Steven Barclay speaks to the media|
To prevent further issues should teams launch new complaints, the event authority has made a slight protocol change. “To make it really simple, so that we can all understand this. Rather than Iain specifying exactly what has to happen, now he has put the onus on the teams to convince him and the coast guard that what they are doing achieves the same objective. And as I have said, the coast guard and the teams now have done that. If anything changes they will have to re-convince the regatta director and the coast guard. But as it stands today, everyone gets a tip.”
Perhaps this will deter team complaints, and certainly take some of the pressure of Murray and Barclay.
While team Artemis officially launched Big Blue yesterday, they were not out on the water today as promised. The team should be out practicing tomorrow.
SAN FRANCISCO - All hands are on deck now at the 34th America's Cup. Team Artemis, after their horrific accident on May 9th, launched Blue Boat this morning in Alameda at a christening ceremony with a crowd of almost 300 sailors, team members, family, and friends.
Announced via a post on the team’s website, owner and founder Torbjörn Törnqvist spoke at the launch. “This is a great day for many reasons" said Törnqvist. "It is the culmination of a heroic effort to put together this beautiful boat…. The shore team has put so much into this, and now for our sailing team to get out there and give her justice. I am proud to share with you this great moment.”
The Blue Boat will now undergo the dock tuning process and, according to previous statements by the team, be out practicing tomorrow.
Team Artemis is allowed to advance in the round robin series without incurring penalty, but having missed so much time on the water, the team's chances of winning the Louis Vuitton series seem slim.
Artemis is scheduled to race against the Italian team Luna Rossa this Thursday but so far it is unconfirmed as to whether they will participate.
Yesterday cup fans were treated to the most entertaining race of the AC34 to date. Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) faced off for a second time against the Italian challengers and, despite losing their jib midway through the race, the kiwis managed to hold onto their well established lead and defeat Luna Rossa in the second time the two teams have come head-to-head on the water.
|Author Sketch- Race Day Crowd|
On leg three of the seven leg race, a clip at the head of ETNZ’s jib broke letting the sail go slack. About five minutes later, with the crew scrambling to get it down, the whole sail slid off the boat and into the water.
Skipper Dean Barker explained after the race “The problem is the sail is attached on a zipper, there was nothing containing the top of the sail, and it just sort of blew off.”
Barker gave insight into sailing specific Murphy's Law – “We’ve never ever had an issue with the attachment of the jib before, but as is normal, when you start racing things like this happened.”
|Author Sketch- Emirates Team New Zealand Loses Jib|
The kiwis did an incredible job of adapting to the new balance of the boat sans-jib mid-race. If anything, their performance was a testament to the changes of these revolutionary new boats. The real engine of the AC72 is its 131-foot-tall wing sail. The jib on these boats doesn’t generate much power for the boat, but rather, helps smooth the air pressure over the massive wing to optimize its performance. Some experts question whether or not the boats really need the jib at all, and certainly the kiwis performance illustrates their argument.
The Italians were handily defeated yet again on the heels of their five-minute loss last week, but on Sunday managed to halve their previous losing time finishing only two minutes and 19-seconds behind the New Zealand team. The chrome boat and its shiny crew are steadily improving.
The two are set to square off again tomorrow.
San Francisco Bay– The first race of the 34th America’s Cup, the oldest and arguably most expensive trophy in sport, and only one of the two 72 foot long multi-million dollar hydro-foiling capable catamarans is waiting at the start line with its eleven battle dressed crew frantically working to keep it upright.
The Cup has historically drawn hyperbolic controversy- pitting the super-wealthy and the sport's super-elite, against each other since it was first contested in 1851. This year’s competition has reached previously unknown levels with the stakes having risen exponentially under the direction of Oracle CEO and the US’s third wealthiest man, Larry Ellison and Oracle team CEO Russell Coutts who decided upon the AC72 class catamarans for the races- dangerous, expensive, and following May 9th and the death of Team Artemis tactician Andrew “Bart” Simpson - deadly.
Controversy is co-alecsing around the 37 safety recommendations submitted by an independent review panel on May 22nd following the tragic accident on May 9th. In what is being dubbed ‘Ruddergate’, teams Luna Rossa and Emirates New Zealand are claiming the new specifications given for the AC72’s rudder dimensions are unfairly biased towards defender team Oracle, who coincidentally or not, had already been using rudders meeting the May 22nd dimensions before they had been recommended. The new recommendations require a rudder to reach a minimum depth of 2.3 meters and a minimum width of
Regatta director, Iain Murray, longtime veteran of America’s Cup racing and member of the independent review, asserts the recommendations were made independently with only safety concerns in mind. “[Team Luna Rossa and Team Emirates New Zealand] have known since May 22 ... it's garbage these are safety recommendations- its takes less than a week to design a new rudder. I have no idea- they timed it together.”
|Iain Murray, Max Sirena, and Steven Barclay Voice Their Concerns|
A veteran of the cup though, he is dismissive of this effecting later competition “In 87’ we had the wing keel, in ‘92 we had the bow sprit, In ‘95 we had the three boat fluid thinking challenge. You know every America’s Cup has had its signature turbulence getting off the start, it normally happens at the start.”
The Cup CEO, Steven Barclay was notably upset in Sunday morning’s press conference. “We all agreed on May 22nd to be bound by these conditions...what you are seeing here at the moment is all about competitiveness. But this particular situation is unique because there was a fatality here and 37 safety recommendations were given," said Barclay.
“Disappointing is a word that clearly comes to mind. The fans are disappointed, we the event is disappointed, and the sponsors are disappointed. We have worked for a couple of years to get to this point, Luna Rossa is a great team its been around since 2000 and New Zealand has won the America’s Cup once. I’m disappointed, Ive worked for more than three years to get to this point."
In another notable twist, Luna Rossa closed its store on Pier 27 of the America’s Cup pavilion yesterday. They were reprimanded by the event authority when it was discovered that their main sponsor Prada was selling non cup-related items from the store front. Perhaps out of another show of dismay with the event, Rossa has withdrew from their store-front as well as racing.
Skipper Max Sirena spoke at a press conference last Friday when he first threatened to not participate in Sunday’s race. "The main reason we are not racing on [Monday] is a principle concept, we do not accept what is being done," said Sirena.
"We want to hear the decision of the jury and then we will make our plans on top of that."