No Needle

Bruno Trouble (“Troublay”) has been at all the great press conferences in America’s Cup history. The most memorable of which, in my lifetime at least, were in the days of ‘Mr America’s Cup’ Dennis Conner. Who can forget the: “if you wanna build a glass boat, why would you do it unless you wanted to cheat?” line which he aimed at Chris ‘eyes like a U-boat Commander’ Dickson. Or the absolute classic presser with David Barnes in ’88 when DC came out with the: “I’m sailing a cat out there. Someone else is sailing a dog.”

Bruno Trouble was, and still would be given half a chance, the master manipulator of the assembled ranks of the press and hoards of photographers. His enigmatic genius as a conductor of rabble-rousing, half drunk journos was/is legendary. He had to know you for you to get the chance to speak. It was a huge privilege. His pronunciation of names is legion. How times have changed. How Bruno must pine for those days to return on the face of today’s turgid press conference in Auckland. The YouTube stream switched to a quarter-full room mostly made up of Kiwi staff hacks and team members coming along to support their bosses. As far a cry from the glory-days as you could get. Covid’s done that for sure but you can’t help but think the media has changed too.

Professional sport has morphed into a homogenous blob. Pick any sport. Characterless in the main. The athletes have become fitter, faster and commercially sensitive. It affects all sports. Their dedication has made them duller – although no-one could say that Dennis Conner wasn’t dedicated and he was gold-dust wrapped in an inferiority complex on a rostrum. Today’s athletes are cool, smart, media trained and savvy. They know that this is just a gig and in a few months’ time they will be on to the next thing. The Cup madness and intensity gives way to relative obscurity in a nano-second. For most this is just another line on the CV. Fun whilst it lasted.

The media has changed too. And the Covid effect is amplifying the digital march. This is real user-behaviour change. The written word quite simply isn’t as powerful today as it was 20 years ago. Consumers, not fanatics like you reading this, want an immersive experience in 15 seconds. It’s all about capturing attention and these ridiculous gekko yachts do the job perfectly. It’s a visual world today – who the hell has the time to read anything? And the likes of the Live, Sail Die channel on YouTube are the new Angus Philipps, Bob Fisher’s or Stuart Alexander’s of the Cup world now. They are brilliant and they serve a demanding audience.

However, I’m afraid that the Press Conference format has had its day. Like a lame animal, it needs to be put humanely to rest. It just doesn’t work. Leave the media stuff to the teams and insist, no demand, they produce daily content actually talking about the racing or the issues they face on the racecourse. No-one but no-one is interested in the stooge show anymore. It is way past its sell-by-date and an embarrassment to all involved.

So what did we learn today? Not a lot. Nothing we didn’t know already. As a quick precis let’s go with: All the boats are working through “issues.” These boats are highly “technical.” The real racing starts in “January.” All the teams will be bringing “modifications” (that you can’t see). Ineos is Exocet-missile like, whippet fast, faster than greased-weasle-poop in a “breeze” and the obvious line, trotted out at every juncture, that: everyone has maximum “respect” for each other.

No needle. Dull. Spithill required. Especially if the racing gets ugly.

The highlight though, surprisingly, was Pete Burling. If I could master the “what the hell are you asking me that absolute load of drivel for” look, I would be a happy man. It has to be the comedy gold of the entire Cup. Watch it again, he’s a genius. Every time he gets a question he plays “the look.” I would hate to ask him a question just for the withering put down that he manages to somehow convey in a twitched eyebrow and a glance aside. He can’t hide his utter contempt for the media or the stupid situation that he finds himself in on a rostrum. Utterly brilliant. I’m with you Pete. We are all clueless morons in the media and Burling has our number. Note to the media in Auckland: Remember that the next time you ask a daft question. The world is watching.

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