The Scottish poet Andrew Lang had it in a nutshell when he said: “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamposts; for support rather than illumination.” Apply this to the latest rah rah statistics from the America’s Cup wash-up of the media coverage, released today, and it feels rather apt. Great reading on first glance in the main, and more than enough to present to the CEO and marketing manager of XYZ (Dubai) Plc but the more nuanced observer can’t help but feel that it’s a case of: can-do-better, must-do-better.
For my readers in the United States it’s just utter frustration as they were seemingly the only territory that were daftly excluded from the free-to-air coverage and faced with a one-off subscription fee to support. During a pandemic this was akin to the event shooting itself squarely in the foot and missing out on the massive opportunity that the land of the free (and the brave) presents.
As every rock band knows, you are quite simply nothing without breaking the States and with the Cup on life-support and commercially fighting for its life, the commercial exposure that America offers is something that shouldn’t and simply can’t be ignored going forward. This miscalculation will almost certainly have to be addressed for the 37th Cup and probably far into the future. I hope so. America is key to everything despite the glam-riches being proffered up from the East.
But the highlights are there. Framed squarely against the event in Bermuda, the Auckland Cup trounced it on nearly every metric. “The most watched America’s Cup in history” screams the headline. Hurrah! And there’s statistics to back up the claim. Social Media impressions and followers were through the roof and the surge in online news is reflective of the broader mainstream media that view the Cup as a funny little quirk on the sporting calendar.
Our sport is an online play in the main, served by niche sports websites with limited, dry largely irrelevant and pretty dull coverage in the major global newspapers who take this crass approach to the Cup as outsiders peering into rich men in fancy boats at play. Sports editors on the majors are culpable and clueless, obsessed by personality and breaking down the sport in the name of accessibility. I don’t see that in other technical sports. Why the Cup? I would go so far as to argue that broadsheet coverage is actually detrimental to the image of the Cup as the commentary patticakes and patronises the reader and presents an image that is some way from what aficionados know and love the ‘Great Game’ for. Mainstream media is lamestream in the main.
The undoubted highlight, and I apologise again wholeheartedly to Americans reading this who didn’t have a subscription or access, was the television coverage. My feeling is that in Ken Read, or ‘King Kenny’ as he’s known here, we have the true voice of the Cup. He’s PJ Montgomery and Gary Jobson rolled into one and that’s saying something. You just warm to his laconic tones and bow to his knowledge and with Nathan Outeridge and Dame Shirley at his side, it’s a team that the Cup organisers desperately need to secure for the next edition. They were brilliant day after day.
The visual production too was slick and of the highest quality and did the event a huge service despite the usual grumbles about talking over the sailors – something I didn’t really recognise as I watched bleary-eyed at 3am in the morning. That production team needs to be courted and cosseted and Tim Butt who did so much of the post-production and created that sublime, dramatic intro needs to be retained ad infinitum as his genius is rare indeed.
But no mention in the stats of the photography which I find curious. The America’s Cup is truly blessed, and always has been, with the most incredible photographers who capture the sport better than any other. Due to Covid restrictions only a select few could get to Auckland this time but those that did were quite simply off-the-scale in terms of the quality they output on a daily basis. It was almost as if they knew the importance of their work. It was remarkable journalism.
Carlo Borlenghi is quite simply the Grand Master of Cup photography. What he captured in the 36th edition are images that will last a thousand years and were displayed around the world during the harshest of global moments. It was an heroic effort day after day capturing the sights of the Cup bazaar both shoreside and on the water. He should win a Pulitzer for photography – the Cup community owes Carlo big time.
Grant Dalton, in overview, was clearly pleased with the results of the coverage saying: “We were always very clear in our broadcast and viewership objectives after we won the America’s Cup in Bermuda. It is great we have achieved, in fact exceeded, our expectations in growing the sport and the event globally, despite the many challenges we faced. Technically we raised the bar with the TV coverage due to our production partnerships with Circle-O, ARL, Igtimi, Shotover, Amis Productions and the whole production crew and commentary team in Auckland.”
And yes, he’s right – especially about the ‘many challenges’ that the organisers faced. But where I feel the event needs sharpening up is around the scheduling and the number of races sailed. In short, we need more. The two or three week delays between the rounds was interminable and unacceptable. The boats need to be doing more racing when they get to the regatta and less training a million miles from lenses. Those donkeys need to be thrashed and I’m not talking about the grinders here.
Get the boats racing more and at a higher frequency and have a maximum of five days down-time at any one stage. In Auckland it all felt too stop-start through the Challenger series and I hope they address this next time. If it is to be a global world series then fine, when the teams arrive at the venue – be that Doha, Qingdao, Newport, Cagliari, Cowes, Porto or wherever – the sailors need to be worked to the bone. The media needs to be on point. The Cup website needs to be humming. The social media channels need to be on fire and a burst of enthusiastic energy needs to be injected by media people who need no training and get the bigger picture.
The key appointment for the next Cup is the Director of Media running the event and the organisers need to really think outside the box and bring in talent. The Cup website was so poorly written in the last edition and that’s an area that needs huge attention. Quite why the event should let eyeballs wander to the Cup writers, blogs, forums and specialist websites is a travesty and the self-imposed hibernation that the website editors took between round robins was bordering on wilful neglect. There was a captive audience just waiting to be entertained through the official channel and…nothing. You couldn’t make it up and people like us made hay whilst the sun refused to shine. Incredible really. And the teams themselves weren’t much better – I’d fire at least 50% of the comms teams and let you do the maths and draw the conclusions as to the ones that actually performed well.
So I come back to my opening comment – the Cup can-do and must-do better. It was a brilliant event that had a locked-down worldwide audience at its mercy. Yes it converted and yes there were undeniable highlights but I can’t help but think that it’s scratching the surface of what could and should be achieved. The Cup is tantalisingly close to crossing into the mainstream lexicon. It has a golden opportunity now with the Ineos backing to go stratospheric.
Let’s hope the ball isn’t dropped. Recognise the media that matters, cut through the politics and deliver to an audience that is rapacious in its love for this curious event. Success is within touching distance but bravery and investment is required. I have a funny feeling that all will work out just fine.
The America’s Cup is, and always will be, the greatest sailing show on earth.