Why sailing needs the America’s cup

by Chris Kameen on July 28, 2014

Team AustraliaI read this interesting open letter to Robert and Sandy Oatley on Sail World about the demise of the Australian entry for the America’s cup and that they should invest the money instead in grass roots mass participation sailing.

The letter raised some interesting points about the public perceptions of sailing being elitist, exclusive, expensive and dangerous and that the America’s cup perpetuates this, and also that funding for the Tackers Programme instead  of the America’s cup could help the sport massively. 

At first read, I tend to agree  wouldn’t it be brilliant if a wealthy benefactor gifted a couple of million dollars to the sport of sailing to be distributed through clubs to help them  grow sailing, but I then started to think this through with my sailing marketing hat on.

I have built Sydney Sailing School on the back of the Gemba report and other participation research. I question does the general public think that dinghy sailors, Tom Slingsby or Jamie Spithill earn mega bucks from sailing in the America’s Cup and that the only reason they are doing it is because they had a silver spoon, I doubt it. They recognise them as professional athletes with a story like Israel Folau or Michael Clarke. Do the general public look at clubs with “members only signs”, and people sailing fancy yachts for fun at the weekend as exclusive and expensive, almost certainly and I think this is the image problem we have to shake. Humble dinghy sailors doing their thing in the America’s cup is aspirational.

All sport has become commercial and the America’s cup is just another avenue for brands to get exposure like Formula 1, English Premier League(EPL), The Rugby Union Super League etc. The America’s cup also creates an avenue and a pathway for professional sailing, no different to what happens in Soccer.  In fact I would argue that events like the America’s cup make the sport of sailing more real, especially when the sailors are recognised as true athletes. Tom and Jamie, coupled with Nathan Outteridge, and possibly Ben Ainslie (certainly in the UK) are all names that the general public now know or are getting to know. This is an awesome turn of events for our sport, and hopefully we can continue to develop more personalities like this that the public and sponsors can relate to.

So this leads on to the whole thing about money. Big corporates that sponsor sport need to get a return on investment, even a benevolent trust would need to see a sustainable use of it’s money and be sure it didn’t disappear into club projects that are here one year gone the next. Tackers, as a product is standing the test of time and is a great product and the concept is great. It deserves a major sponsor but it needs a return on investment that can be measured and  that can be leveraged. I’m not certain that the sport through it’s club structure can offer that ROI consistently across the country just yet.

As a commercial sailing school Sydney Sailing School has had no financial support and yet have introduced more than a thousand people to the sport in 1 year by offering products that non-sailors want – two hour sessions, modern boats supplied, adventure sailing etc. etc. so why do clubs need more money instead of the America’s cup?

Don’t get me wrong, I think sailing needs some serious money into it, but let’s start thinking commercially across the whole sport and creating something that works and is marketable to the mass public that can get on TV. My concern for the sport of sailing is that money that comes in to support clubs, will get spent doing the same things that were done 30 years ago that clearly didn’t work in retaining people through their 20’s and 30’s.. If we want to reduce the demise in youth and young adult sailing – we need to change the offering.

by Chris Kameen


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