Wednesday, February 25, 2009


About six months ago I stumbled upon a great site; sailgroove. For those of you that haven't checked it out, it's a great community style website mainly aiming towards college sailors. With tons of videos, pictures, and interviews; it is by far the best coverage of College sailing I've ever come across. Videos of almost every race are uploaded weekly from various events. Great racing tips, coaching tips, and chalk talks are posted weekly and results are easy to find.

What a great market to tap into. If every college sailor joins the site and stays active, that is a huge advertising market for companies. It seems that people are turning onto the idea of internet advertising as a business. Facebook, google, etc. all essentially provide a basic service with millions of users and then sell space to advertisers. Sailgroove could easily sell space to Gill, Harken, and tons of other companies. Not to mention the growth opportunities for the site itself. Sailgroove merchandise, regattas, coaching books and DVDs would likely sell very well in the youth market.

Almost like a Sailing Anarchy for the youth, but with more features and interaction, Sailgroove hopefully is a site that stays around for a long time.

Check it out:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Selling to Sponsors

As sailing becomes more competitive and the technology that literally drives the boats also becomes more competitive the amount of money required to compete rises. Some one design campaigns require new sails almost every season. Sailing has always been an expensive sport to excel in but to compete in these high octane classes is brutal on your pocketbook. Many sailors turn to, or attempt to turn to, sponsors.

There are so many different angles and attitudes that companies take to sponsoring that it would be pointless to discuss them. Some simply want the publicity. Some just want their name on the boat and some want a full out financial backing. But all the sponsors are giving two things; their money and their brand.

Recently, a VOR boat had to drop out midrace because it could not find a main sponsor to continue it's race. How sad is that? A professional team can't even find a sponsor in what is arguabely the best marketed and well done crewed ocean race ever. Sure you can blame the world-wide economy but that isn't the entire answer. Gathering sponsors before and after this recession aren't as easy as some believe.

The problem with getting companies to financially back a team is that there is little recognition for them. With sailing events never on TV and boats rarely seen by more than hundereds they aren't willing to pour in the millions that they do to large sport interests. Until sailing finds a way to increase its viewership and publicity, sponsors will still be reluctant to give the dough. But don't let this fool you. Sailors are always trying to find ways to increase the publicity and viewership of the sport, and a lot of it is working. While on the other side, there are tons of companies that continue to sponsor or donate to sailing teams.

Imagine you are starting up a Mini campaign with your ultimate goal being to compete in the Mini Transat. You have some doublehanded racing experience on your own boat but have never taken in sponsors. What companies would you approach first for funding? Some sailors in this position have contacts in the business. They might know a shop owner or corporate executive that would consider sponsoring them based on a personal/professional background. Then where would you go after that? Many companies continue to sponsor sailing events around the country regardless of class or regatta. Rolex, Mount Gay Rum, Harken, Gill, etc. all come to mind. And they are going to ask you what in the world do you have to offer them that no one else has. Who has an answer for that?

One of the largest corporate backings that I can think of is Oracle. Then again, Larry Ellison owns the company. Do you think they would have backed the AC syndicate if Larry wasn't involved? I don't think so.

The sport has to increase on two fronts for the sponsorship to increase, viewership and publicity. Fourtunately they go hand in hand. Regattas and classes are always looking for ways to increase their media and public "popularity". Sometimes weekend regattas will get a 30 second spot on the nightly or 6AM news. Is this what the sponsor wants to pay for? Perhaps 500 people show up to the regatta. How many views does a billboard get?

Have you seen the BMW commericals that featured their AC racing boat? I'm not sure if they were ever aired in the US but they were online and perhaps aired in some markets. Sailing is always revered as a respectable, teamwork oriented, beautiful sport. So why don't more companies sponsor it and use the footage and pictures for their own promotional advertising? It's just not cost-effective for them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sailing Anarchy OTW

Everyday I have my usual "news" sites I check out. I start off at CNN just to make sure I'm not missing anything huge, then I wander over to some sailing sites. While there are many and I still haven't found them all yet, seems to be the best.

While I haven't spent a lot of time in their forums, their front page write-ups are spot on with the scene of the sport from my eyes. They are showing their frustration with the AC battle by entering their own team, mainly to see how the teams will respond. One of the sailors I sailed with (I won't mention any names) has been to many of their regattas and says that no one parties like they do. They always keep things interesting and have good things to say.

Well, if you haven't already checked out the site, this feature will get you there. In the forums, they've added a new tab where they blog live from various sailing regattas. Sure, that's been done before. But they actually post live video from the water. Minutes after the live start occurs, you can watch it from the water with commentary on YouTube. Then, 45 minutes later you can watch the windward mark rounding complete with personal/professional commentary. Incredible how they took the almost impossible task of live sailing broadcasting and turned it into a simple internet YouTube activity.

Now, obviously the features are limited and there are delays but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Keep up the good work SA.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

College Sailing

Did you know that there is a thriving college sport in the US that gets absolutely no media attention? As college football pulls in 12 million dollars per team per BCS bowl, sailing is stuck in the back.
"How come sailing is not an NCAA sport?

The Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) is the governing body of intercollegiate sailing, not the NCAA. Early in the 20th century a group of savvy business types got together and founded an organization purely devoted to competitive sailing at the collegiate level (the Inter-Collegiate Yacht Racing Association). In this manner, sailors ensured that they could govern their own sport rather than some ex-basketball coach who couldn't care less about a bunch of sailors. Most importantly to college sailors, the ICSA hosts the North American championships each year to determine which college is, in fact, #1."

--Straight from

Now, I'm not saying that the folks over at ICSA have done a bad job of managing the sport. In fact, I believe they have done a terrific job given what they have. Each year the fleets become more competitive and more active.

Unfortunately, 80% of the teams are club teams, receiving little funding from the school and likely with no coaching. Some have volunteer coaches from the yacht club, some have no yacht club at all. Sailing is a very expensive sport for the school to support and it takes in no profits. There are no paying spectators but new boats and sails cost a lot. Not to mention travel. Then you mention that you really only need four people on the team to compete (unlike other large team sports) and the funding drops even more. It's a difficult area to excel.

College sailors race mainly in 420s, Lasers, and FJ's. These are the perfect boats. While many criticize these boats for being underpowered and uninteresting for the sailors, I believe they are simple, cost efficient boats that force sailors to sail strategically. While it would be more fun to sail faster and more dangerous with spins and traps, the costs for programs would skyrocket and new sailor training would take any longer. The budgets of these teams are already stretched and they can't afford to stretch any more.

Many of the top sailors in the country and world have come out of the ICSA program. Many all-americans become future Olympians and even AC drivers. Others give up sailing for a while and then go back to it when they can afford it. But the point is, it is the breeding ground for future sailors, both professional and club level.

Would making the sport apart of the NCAA help the sport? Possibly. I don't think the ICSA would give up the program and I don't think the NCAA wants it but it would certainly help. Monetary support would increase but it might also widen the gap between schools. Many athletic programs would not pick up the sport as apart of their varsity programs and the lingering problems would remain.

A new sailing event could use this talent. It could even restrict its competitors to this age group. Instead of 40 year old million or billionaires, fans could watch young kids battle just like in all the other sports. The drama would be higher, the boats could be faster, and the 18-30 market could be reached much easier. Plus, the racing could go on in the summer and not interfere with classes!

If you attended college or live near one, consider donating to your team. They would most certainly appreciate it or any kind of advice you could give them. Most likely, they would love a monthly coaching session. Too many college sailors graduate and then forget about their college hobby. As the college scene expands, everything above it will expand also.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Southern Ocean is Crowded

I was so excited for this winter to come. Not because I got to break out my new spraytop, but because my favorite race is going on. The Vendee Globe. Ever since I read about the solo circumnavigation I've loved this race. All the way back to when it was called the Golden Globe. But even with 30 skippers on the starting line, only one American has entered. One. This is the pinnacle of Ocean Sailing! The New York Times has an interesting article about the races popularity in France. Of course with only one racer it's hard to spread the races popularity in the states but come on. I was simply shocked to learn that only one American is participating.

A little further south, the Volvo Ocean Race is still going strong. I haven't looked a whole lot at their website and what they have going, but I have listening to their podcast for the past year or so. That should tell you how good they are with connecting to the public. Very nice. They even had some money left over to race in the Extreme 40 series! Also good stuff.

Ocean racing just goes along with what kind of brand I think will sell. Extreme. High Definition. Drama. It's all there. And as you can see, it's flourishing in the foreign markets. So how do we get the race to flourish here? How about adding more American skippers for one thing. What if someone started a race just like the Vendee Globe but that set off from the US? Only United States sailors could enter. Put the start live on TV out of New York or San Francisco and have a weekly recap show with maybe some live interviews. Races like the Vendee globe and VOR already have the equipment to broadcast this information, just not the medium in the US to do it. What company or what person is going to force ESPN or a network to broadcast this stuff? No one. Why? Because they will laugh you out of their office.

No one would watch the Vendee Globe. No one wants to watch the French sail around the world just like they don't want to watch the Russians have another spacewalk. But show little Jimmy from Houston out there in space and then you've got something. Returning national pride and interest to sailing is something that would jumpstart the AC's US interests and other programs. The problem is, these organizations don't care that they are losing out on the US because they can do so well in Europe. But I think they are missing a HUGE market.

The cable sports program was born here. Reality TV was born here. Fantasy football was born here. If there is ever a sports hungry market, it's the US. day will make it happen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The America's Cup

*Disclaimer* Obviously at this time there is so much legal crap surrounding that AC that any discussion of its merits should involve these topics, yet, mine will not.

The AC is the prized glory of all sailors. In fact, in the movie "Wind" (the best attempt at a popular movie about racing that I know of) the plot is based on the lure of this trophy. But it seems that since the 80's, the cup has lost popular attention in the US. But why? Well that's a pretty easy question. There is no American team. While BMW Oracle claims to be an American team, it is sponsored by BMW (not American) and has a non-American crew. Now, I'm not anti-everyone else as some "patriots" are, but I believe that in some respects, you have to remain strict. BMW Oracle is a fine campaign, but it is never going to rally the American people. The problem is, they don't care. As long as they can keep the sponsors happy, any extra support is icing on the cake.

Many people have suggested that the AC return to a competition between nations. But there is a problem to this, and also the reason they changed the rule. Not every country is equal. Even with billions of dollars, it would be difficult for Egypt to put together a citizen team and compete with the Kiwis. It's just a fact. But with billions of dollars and no citizenship rule, they can buy out all the Kiwis and win! You see this way, more money and sponsors can enter the scene.

The way I see it is, if you can increase the popularity of the AC to the public, you don't have to worry about having huge sponsors because they will come flocking! Sponsors originate from people seeing their advertisements. So instead of trying to sign more sponsors, why not invest that labor into finding more ways to get more viewers! Change the rules if you have to so that the AC returns to being popular.

It's so cool to see the spinnakers in the Olympics because they are the flags of their countries. Imagine seeing that on an AC boat. Instead of the US team flying a big BMW kite, it would but a beautiful USA flag.

There's a reason that in the NFL, they don't wear advertisements on their jerseys, they don't have to. They have so many fans already that they don't have to worry so much about the sponsors wanting more advertising space. They have found more subtle ways to introduce the advertising. Naming the stadiums, having tons of commercials, sponsoring the "first down line", etc. But the sport itself isn't suffocated with corporate advertising as sailing is.

But there are some sports that are also saturated with marketing. Look at European football (soccer). There jerseys have ads on them. Why can't sailboats? Because sailboats are meant to be named beautiful names. Not corporation names. These giant syndicates and race heads need to find more subtle ways to introduce the sponsors into the AC.

You don't hear about "Courageous" anymore or the other incredible boats. It has all been bought out.

So is the AC lost forever to the US market? Of course not. But more Americans need to be involved in the process and they can't be afraid to market and advertise their teams to the American public. They need to have brave, interesting skippers like Dennis Conner again who would die for the cup, not die for more money.

The heart of the AC used to be passion for sailing, but as of late it seems to be simply a passion for money.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Round the World Racing

I love ocean racing. It is my dream to one day race around the world. I, like perhaps many of you, have sat at home for hours figuring out the finances of starting a mini (the boat) campaign. Of course, this will probably never happen. But wow, these races are incredible.

Unfortunately, like all things sailing, they are hard to spectate. Being 3000 miles offshore doesn't help either. Equipment failures and weather keeps from live transmissions being broadcast. But at the same time, it is extremely easy to follow. There aren't any complex rules to follow, the boats simply go fast and find wind. The main problem is, they are slow. Although the boats move at incredible speeds, the races themselves last for months! What a difficult proposition.

The boats are what keeps me coming back for more. They are, first of all, gorgeous. The incredible graphics and shapes of these machines are amazing. Then there's the speed. I figure the top speed I've gone on a sailboat is 14 knots or so. I can't imagine going 30 or more! Much less 3000 miles from land in essentially a hurricane. These guys are the real deal.

I do believe that these races present an excellent opportunity for sponsors, especially the ones with multiple ports (VOR). But, there are very limited opportunities for US sponsors. You won't see even a commercial featuring offshore sailing in the US. My thinking is, how is a whale splashing around or a talking head more attractive to an audience than your name on an insanely cool offshore racing sailboat. It is classy, professional, and fun. I saw a BMW commercial online two years back featuring their AC boat and it was very cool looking. Why not broadcast those? I understand they've expensive to shoot but when you already have the footage, use it!

One day we'll see a well done ocean campaign or race, one that includes heavy United States publicity. Just not right now.