Yachting isn’t exactly a mainstream sport and I completely understand why most of the world wouldn’t know their genoa from their spinnaker.
Like horse sport, yachting has its own language. There are hundreds of terms that colour the language of the sport.
It’s not what you would call the ideal spectator sport, either. Races unfold on large bodies of water, with no ready grandstand available for spectators.
But yachting has just delivered a wonderful lesson on how well-organised television coverage and graphics can turn a seemingly unwatchable sport into a spectacle. Yes, a spectacle.
Today, New Zealand won the America’s Cup off an American syndicate. The America’s Cup is considered the most prized trophy in yachting. It was decided in a challenger series, followed by a finals series between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA in which the first to seven race wins took the trophy.
New Zealanders were up early each morning in their droves to watch the races over the 15km course in Bermuda’s Great Sound.
The big high-tech catamarans looked spectacular. They were fast and spent nearly all the races up on their foils, their hulls flying over the water. The camera footage was great. Views came in from all angles. And the on-screen graphics were just superb. Even someone with no knowledge of match racing could understand what was going on.
Every conceivable stat was on offer, even the biometrics of the sailors operating the boats.
Just as importantly, the races weren’t too long.
The on-the-water rules were simple enough. No confusing decisions to leave the spectators puzzled. And no complex scoring to decide the winner. First over the line took the spoils.
It was, in my view, a television spectacle equal to anything seen in the highest tiers of sport. The seemingly unwatchable was turned into a television event.
Horse sport has made much of the need to broaden its appeal and make its competitions more understandable to a wider audience. The world governing body, the FEI, has been pushing a reform agenda. It has garnered considerable support, but traditionalists have expressed concern about where the key disciplines are headed.
Yachting has just shown us how it can be done.
Our top sporting administrators know the importance of presentation. The question now is just how far we take it at the top tier of horse sport? There truly is a world of possibilities out there.