Big Numbers

This time last year there was an element of our sport that would do everything it could to knock SailGP. The naysers were holding court and predicting doom and gloom, machiavellian intent and opining at fiscal self-interest. Fast forward a year and it’s arguably the premier global event on our sport’s calendar, the one where the truly great compete and – whisper it quietly out of Russell Coutts’s earshot – hone their skills for the America’s Cup.


©Bob Martin for SailGP

SailGP is the ultimate proving ground and shop-window for the uber elite of the game and those that will be the elite of tomorrow – of that there’s no question. It’s relentless in its ambition, embracing even the climate emergency by weaving in a ‘purpose’ which is so a-la-mode in the times we live in.

The marketing is top drawer in its execution aided in no small part by the truly stunning visual spectacle of the boats themselves and all those nice-to-haves that we talk about in the sailing club bar are enacted: pathway programs, globality and diversity being the obvious examples. It’s almost as if Father Christmas was running a sailing programme.


©Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

In the data driven world we all live in however, where numbers simply don’t lie, the whole SailGP initiative gets proven. Look away now if you don’t like the truth or still live in the camp that doesn’t get this truly game-changing sporting jamboree. A recent summation of Season 2 was posted. It’s pretty extraordinary. And I quote:

SailGP’s total broadcast audience (dedicated and secondary) saw an increase of 220% to 823.4 million viewers, with the dedicated broadcast audience of 39.2 million representing a 131% increase on Season 1. Over 700 broadcast hours were enjoyed per event in over 186 territories, as the league was seen by more fans than ever before around the world. At the same time media coverage of the league greatly increased, with 23,943 press articles written about SailGP, an increase of 246% from Season 1. On site, 144,522 fans attended a SailGP event, an achievement made all the more extraordinary given it was a season heavily disrupted and restricted in terms of in-person attendance by COVID-19.

What struck me was nearly 24,000 press articles. That’s off-the-scale and I’m fully aware that I may well account for 1,000 of them as a devout devotee fully immersed at the church of SailGP but still, that’s something that shows how much this new religion is creeping not only into dedicated fan sites like this but more widely into the public conscience. This is great for our sport.

For so long we’ve been stuck with castles, fusty oil paintings, politics, elitism, prancing billionaires at play (an ugly sight) and the notion that sailing is a gentlemanly pursuit out of date with modern times. SailGP continues to smash that to smithereens by projecting an image that is impossible and downright wrong to criticise.


©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

But there’s more and this gives me even more hope. Where I have always thought SailGP excels is in digital, their team does a job that is best not only in sailing but could compete anywhere in any sport, and they’ve posted numbers that are mind-boggling in this respect:

On digital platforms, SailGP surpassed 1 million followers globally, and SailGP’s digital content delivered 97 million views, representing a 355% increase on Season 1. 16 million of those views came from event live streams on SailGP’s digital platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, with a total watch time of 2.5 million hours. SailGP’s docuseries Racing on the Edge totalled 7.43 million minutes watched. The league’s female fanbase also greatly grew in Season 2, and it increased its younger viewership, with a 21% increase in the number of 18-34 year olds watching SailGP events digitally. 

Now, you break that down and look at the global penetration of SailGP onto devices and into the eyeballs of a generation that is more distracted, entertained and fickle than any ever before in human history and what we can see is simply remarkable.

SailGP is right in there delivering nearly 100 million views of its content into a heartland that is nigh on impossible to engage and what’s more, the runway forward could potentially double, triple, quadruple that in short order. And then what that means is monetisation the likes of which hasn’t been seen in sports since the 1970’s when Bernie Ecclestone took over Formula 1. The future is brighter than the sun.


©Bob Martin for SailGP

In a changing world where even the iPod is a thing of yesterday, SailGP has created a platform that is not only sustainable and self-generating but can safely assume a top step on the pedestal of our sport for decades to come.

These are the early foothills of the possible and yes, it’s true, that the cold hard cash of Larry Ellison’s largesse is still required today to keep the show motoring but pretty quickly it will be standing on its own two feet without the need for patriarchal support.

Sponsors are coming thick and fast and what’s interesting is that they are the kind of sponsors we don’t see elsewhere in our sport – the crypto and blockchain gang are interested, climate campaigners like what they see, finance houses, sovereign wealth funds and M&A specialists want to hook a ride on the train, and of course the traditional accountancy, lifestyle and watch brands just can’t resist the opportunity. I don’t blame them. It’s a good thing to be a part of.


©Bob Martin for SailGP

SailGP is the de-facto annual global series where the very best can test themselves in a highly visual, engaged, always-on environment. It gives the athletes the perfect launchpad to a truly global audience and is fast becoming more relevant than the Olympics as a pathway to the America’s Cup. The athletes, it has to be said, are executing their part of the plan brilliantly.

Yes there will always be the challenge of the Cup as the unique cyclical nature of that event will always pull the top names towards it like a moth to a flame but SailGP can both survive and thrive in those 18 months when the superstars are called back into the Cup teams. The opportunity for the next generation to prove themselves whilst the Cup is in progress is tantalising. It’s the ultimate pathway. I’m genuinely excited to see the next generation superstars emerge.

SailGP is doing everything right and as a force for good, it’s an unparalleled experience that is engaging new audiences and promoting the very best facets of the sport that we all love. As it embeds further and embraces the challenges that it undeniably faces going forward, it can survive and more than thrive. As a vision it’s what good looks like.

Here’s to Season 3 – it promises to be a cracker.



5 thoughts on “Big Numbers

  1. SailGP is fantastic, but it could be so much better!
    Aside of the backdrop of some great edge of the seat racing last year, the whole thing continued to be marred by poor umpiring and a blatantly unfair penalty system.
    We can write off the Ainslie/Outeridge incident as an unfortunate “bad call” which are inevitable when the umpires have to make snap decisions in the heat of the moment, but what turned that incident into a complete farce – as it so often does – was the subsequent “relative” penalty which meant Ainslie having to get behind a boat that had just sailed right out of the breeze to the dead side of the course. So this ended the race for al 3 competitors, yet there have been plenty of other instances where relative penalties have effectively been no penalty at all.
    Meanwhile, there have been other far worse incidents that have been completely unpenalised. Why did USA receive no penalty for actively turning into the path of another boat and causing an avoidable collision resulting in damage and retirement. Whether the other boat had room at the mark is a point to be debated and ruled upon, but the fact remains USA ignored rule 14 without any penalty.

    It just seems that there are so many other fairer ways of taking a penalty, and that the umpiring is being driven not by the search for fairness, but by the need to make the whole thing into a “crash bang wallop” spectacle for tv audiences.

    I went to spectate at Plymouth last year and it was a great weekend out, but still I think the way it is being umpired lessens it as a sport.

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  2. Come on Magnus. Do you really believe the hype?

    Yes, SailGP is a fabulous series, but the numbers do not add up. 97 million views?

    I looked up on YouTube and the total viewings for instance on Day 1 Sydney 2021 was 731k. Highlights of Sydney 200k, highlights Denmark 100k. All far short of 97 million!

    As for sponsors rushing in, I suspect if you did your homework, you would find that LE is still bank rolling the whole series as well as the individual teams, and always will. I guess as long as he feels pissed about being hung out by Grant and the Kiwis in Bermuda.

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    1. Even if Larry funded it for the rest of his natural life it would probably mean only owning one less mansion and making fewer political donations. What’s the downside?

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  3. I won’t say they can’t be criticized because there are absolutely things I would do differently if I were the director of the league. I would rather that speed be listed in both knots and kph, that Dubai was not a host city and Fukuoka was, and that anyone who even mentioned silly crypto-gimmickry was slapped with a trout. And most immediately, I would rather the “nine boats, ten teams” problem be resolved by benching a different team in each event instead of Japan for two/three events in a row.

    But I make these criticisms out of love because, like you, I believe in the promise of SailGP. I think it’s one of the absolute best events in our sport available to watch, an inshore adaptation of everything that made me fall in love with The Ocean Race. If part of the attraction of sport is that sport at its best presents a vision of an ideal society of fairness and teamwork, then I would say that at its best SailGP is a microcosm of my ideal society— high-tech, environmentally-conscious, diverse and inclusive, adventurous, and FUN!

    They don’t always get there, and I will criticize them when I feel they don’t, but it comes from a place of love. Because I do believe in the Race For The Future.

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  4. There was a Tri Series Cricket tournament held in Australia, for many years with Australia taking on two other countries. Coincidentally, the two finalists were always one apiece going into the hyped-up final match.

    The last thing the SailGP owners want is a small group dominating so they pull out these unexplainable umpiring decisions to flatten the curve as it were. This is what has happened in World Rugby with the introduction of random red cards to make sure there is a diversity of results.

    Now, the Once Mighty All Blacks are Harlem Globetrotters in drag, with a glass ceiling of say, an 80% win ratio.

    Oh, how I yearn for the Spring series of the Sydney 18 footers where ‘fortune favours the brave and arms them with audacity’.

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