Monday, December 1, 2014

Three reasons why selecting Bermuda for the America's cup is a bad decision for the sport of sailing.

Three reasons why selecting Bermuda for the America's cup is a bad decision for the sport of sailing. 

Written by: Lou Sandoval

In the next 24 hours, if the 'tea leaves' are correct, we will hear an announcement that the 2017 America's Cup will be held in Bermuda.  If there was ever a clearer lead-in, granting the AC World Series event for 2015 to Bermuda is a clear indicator that San Diego is most likely not in the running. 

Many outside the sport might shrug this off as something you would expect.  Sailing after all has the perception of being a sport of the rich and famous.   A past-time reserved with those who 'have the means'.   

As an industry we don't do much to dispel those perceptions.   Certain aspects of the past time benefit from enhancing the perception, highlighting the high cost of participation and the luxury or exclusive aspects limited for the wealthy.  Moving the venue to Bermuda, while a tax benefit for the current winner, does serve to place some obstacles that further the outreach that the marine industry has been working on over the past five years through initiatives at US Sailing and the Recreational Boating Leadership Council. I'm sure there are some well thought out and valid economic reasons for why Bermuda was selected.  Enclosed is my take on how these barriers might be bad for the growth of the sport overall. 

1. Exclusivity: Placing the sport in a remote location, means that only those that follow the sport will watch it on web relay and tracker.   While the 34th AC revolutionized this via the wizardry of Stan Honey, it presents a very one-dimensional appeal to the sport.

2.  "Too rich for my blood": The remote location of Bermuda furthers the perception that you have to be someone special (albeit wealthy) to travel to participate and watch the sport.  A rich man's playground if you may.   After the last AC, I was amazed at the number of 'non- sailors' who got caught up in the final races.  People in "car washes" recognized Team Oracle gear.  Comments on how picturesque the San Francisco backdrop was for the race were echoed by many 'non-traditional' fans. 

3.  "Sailing is too god-like":  The distance of a remote island and accompanying perception seek to further alienate the engagement of a younger diverse generation. 

The problem with that "island" approach is that it is generational and very limiting as it only seeks to appeal to those already in the sport.   You see as the 76.4 Million baby boomers (born 1946 -1964) edge towards retirement at a rate of 10,000 per day they leave a participation void.   Behind them the engagement and participation rates for the sport of sailing among the over 50 million Generation X (Born 1965-1980) and over 56 Million Millennials (Born 1980-2000) toils in the single digits for historically mainstream participants.    The National Marine Manufacturer's Association reports overall participation rate for 18+ year olds at 26-32% .  This figure includes small craft and power boats as well.  

Coming off an exciting finish for the 34th America's Cup in 2013, the sport of sailing could have used this momentum to engage a whole new generation of American youth in the sport. 

I fully understand that there are far smarter people than I making these decisions and people with a far deeper legacy in the sport.   Coming from someone who was exposed to the sport in my youth , but learned to really love it in adulthood, I see the move to Bermuda as one that may undo the work that many of us have been engaged in - exposing a whole new younger bloodline to the sport of sailing.   Engaging a new generation of sailors who look and think much differently than those currently in the sport. 

This task seems to be a bit out of reach for now, far away on an island. 

Lou Sandoval is the Co-Owner/Co-Founder of Karma Yacht Sales, the Midwest dealer for Beneteau, C&C and Alerion boats.   He was exposed to sailing at Boy Scout Camp in his youth and after a 17 year career in the biomedical industry he took on the role of entrepreneur and business owner by purchasing the boat dealership based in Chicago.  He is active in the leadership of the sport of sailing and serves as an opinion leader in the marine industry serving on several boards that seek to expand the participation of sailing and boating. 

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