Sunday Night Sailing with Stan Honey

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.

America's Cup On Television- An Interview with Host Gary Jobson

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.

Luna Rossa scores a 'DNF' In Race Against ETNZ

             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.

The Missing Boat- Luna Rossa Boycotts First Race AC34

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."