Grinder’s Cup

This weekend in Qatar, Formula 1 got ugly. It’s the business end of the season and tensions are rising as the top two teams, Mercedes and Red Bull, vie for the overall constructor and drivers’ championships. As things got heated in the desert amidst the distinct lack of wailing human rights protesters and eco-zealots, there to record everything in minute detail were the camera crews of the ‘Drive to Survive’ TV docu-series that supposedly engages and enthrals whole new audiences dialling in on streaming services.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

The teams find them an annoyance, but the contract is the contract, the commitment is the commitment, the boss says they have to do it and money talks. Hours after the main event, team members are stuck in tents with the lights on being interviewed and probed for juicy morsels when all they really want to do is get to the airport and the hell out of there. And the thing is, with all the drama happening right now in real time, the killer time to air is…um…NOW…but the editing, cutting and production will take at least three months with the airing of the first show in February 2022. By that time, it’s ancient history, we’ll all be looking forward to the next season. Old news.

The America’s Cup is down this path but without an audience and tough material to work with. The camera crews will be lucky to get any action at all – a deserted Team New Zealand base, a British team desperate to control the message and perhaps American Magic drawing pretty pictures and deciding whether to build a bonfire of cash or not.

©ACE / Carlo Borlenghi

The whole ‘Sail for the Grail’ or whatever they choose to call it, smacks to me of an initiative dreamed up by petrol-heads of a different era. Talk to any kids today and the chances of getting them to sit down around a screen in a living-room with Ma and Pa in attendance, settling in to watch some people they don’t care for in a sport they really don’t know, doing a waterborne contest that’s bizarre, is about as likely as the Star being reinstated in the Olympic Games. They’re gone…Snapchat, Discord, Telegram and the ones us oldies daren’t even ask about (and don’t understand) are far more alluring.

But I applaud them for trying. To be quite frank, there are far bigger issues at play at the moment as AC37 literally dangles by a thread like a Christmas decoration reclaimed from the dusty loft that’s seen better days and with it, at the bottom of the box, the fate of the most winningest sporting team in the Cup.

If it does get away, either with a last minute coming-to-senses by those in government or at a foreign venue – this week it’s Cork that’s favourite (really?) – then AC37 will be remembered for its physicality. Make no mistake, if the new-gen boats do get launched, this is the Grinder’s Cup. It’s the Macho Cup. Wanna sail on one – get in the gym immediately. Train like Tyson. Pump iron like Arnie. Live like Rocky.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Last time out, the AC75’s were monsters. Crews were on their knees grinding oil relentlessly to the utter bemusement of the spectators. It was all a bit daft as the physical effort looked pointless, arcane and akin to modern slavery – all it needed was a skipper with a whip and we’re back to Roman longboats up the Bosphorous.

So the considered hope and collective prayer was for a not-too-radical re-think in the new Protocol with more stored power on these leviathans which would have afforded the chance for inclusion of female athletes and those of a slighter build to be tweaking and trimming but oh no…the almighty Grinder’s Union lobbied hard to the grizzled dinosaurs in charge who love the whole work ethic and now we have eight-man crews where muscle will not just be required but a premium.

© Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

Quite how we got here is anyone’s guess but the new AC75’s are going to be horrific to sail. Basically, it will be seven grinders (or heaven’s forfend, ‘cyclors’) and a helmsman. And furthermore, they will need to be big grinders. Really big. Perhaps the Finn class is behind this, finding gainful employment for unemployed monsters of the human race as believe it or not, the AC75’s are highly weight sensitive. Big boys need only apply and there’ll be no luxury seats onboard for the chess player tacticians, flight controllers or main trimmers – they will all be grinders or cyclors first and foremost. Sad really.

And in terms of the Netflix show, dull as dishwater. What are we going to see, endless gym sessions as Muscle Mary’s attempt to ‘hit their numbers’ and the sheer desperation of some gym bunny that doesn’t quite make the cut? Don’t pass me the popcorn. I’m scrolling social already to find an interesting dog doing cartwheels to the Muppets theme tune.

©Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

Apologies to those trying to move the dial but I think they found the wrong button to tweak. Putting 60-year-olds and above in charge of media ideas is never a smart move as they just start talking their hackneyed, dated book and demanding that what they like is implemented. It never works. Never.

And with 50% of the audience already disenfranchised as women are benched once again and the cliquey pro-sailors old brigade gets another outing with very little young talent allowed to emerge this time, it’s looking like a desperate sell on social media or the relevant platforms to a very niche audience. Whisper it but the cool kids think SailGP is where it’s at – and that’s devastating for the America’s Cup. Devastating. In three years time, SailGP will have killed the Cup and left it for dead on the roadside. The kids will cancel it.

If you’re a marketing manager at a large corporate now, unless you’ve got a boss who’s die-hard into grand prix yachting and demanding inclusion, you’re walking fast away from the crash scene of Cup politics. Stop the powerpoint at the first slide. Get me that Russell bloke on the phone. Align me with a circuit that happens every month all around the world with diversity, inclusion and climate initiatives plus actually has some action and demonstrable engagement figures. That Cup thing is not only yesterday’s news, it’s not happening for three years and it’s where? – Forgeddaboudit.

©Bob Martin for SailGP.

Tough times all round. Everywhere you look in the America’s Cup it’s got more problems than are rightly feasible. If it were a corporation, the shareholders would be demanding the board be fired. Change would be demanded. The oldies retired and pensioned off to obscurity. In days gone by, in eras gone by, there was a surety that everything would be okay. The pinnacle would survive and thrive.

But I have a creeping sense that we’re entering a Kodak moment death-spiral with analogue players in a digital age. This is Blockbuster, VHS and Betamax all over again. It’s Nokia. It’s Friends Reunited. It’s Teletext and Ceefax. It’s Cabbage Patch Dolls, Action Men and train sets and I can’t see new media, new talent or new ideas being courted to buck the trend. The AC social media is dire. The website is like something from the 1990’s. The writing is poor. The presentation is dated. The footage is old and dull. And the future doesn’t look bright.

Precarious times. Fresh thinking and new blood required.

7 thoughts on “Grinder’s Cup

  1. I heard on coverage of the USA GP that attendance was up 40% driven by the interest generated by Drive to Survive in a wider general public. We live in a reality TV world and the audience want to see the celebs now. Sad but true.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know about the Romans and their longboats but it seemed to me that in this last AC36 it was the Italians who took it up the Bosphorus.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There was a letter to the editor in Scuttlebutt a few days ago that complained that the Protocol was “the latest attempt to make the Cup something organized and regular” as if that was such a bad thing. Maybe we could have some consistency and continuity instead of all of this uncertainty if it WAS a more organized and regular thing instead of basically operating under the rules of 19th century duels and gentleman’s agreements.

    “As the challenged party, I choose the site and the weapons.” is literally how they fought duels back in the day. It isn’t a very solid foundation for running a modern sports league. More and more, I think Coutts was right to walk away and start from scratch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Magnus, I enjoy your blog immensely but with regard to your latest do you not think that with TNZ for instance, with the 150 or so team they have working in the background they would have some whiz kid or two addressing the issue of which you so eloquently write, too me this would make sense as G Dalton strikes me as an on the ball guy that doesn’t let to much slip by him. Cheers Dave Rowe

    Sent from my iPad



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