The recent Finn Gold Cup in San Francisco was a dream location for the media. Great backdrops, stunning scenery, blue skies, sparkling water, fit and strong athletes, fantastic looking hi-tech boats and spectacular windy conditions. Every day for a week.
Every year the media output from the Class and the demands made on the media increases. Likewise the exposure for the Class and for the sport spirals upwards, but is largely unquantifiable in real terms. Twenty years ago a regatta was lucky if it got an end of week write up in the yachting press. In the 1990s the Finn Class was among the first associations to distribute daily race reports by email and no-one thought it would ever catch on. Things have moved on a long way since then with thousands of viewers, readers and enthusiasts worldwide demanding ever more detailed information as well as instant updates
The future of sailing media needs to be based around live on-site and on-the-water reporting, and this has generally been identified as being internet based. The ideal scenario would involve live streaming video from one or more camera boats, though blogging and fast text updates are still adequate in some cases - and it has to be easy, for the sailor, the event organiser and the viewer. Make it complicated or worse, boring, and people will switch off. That is the challenge today.
This year in San Francisco, there were a number of new initiatives, some originating from the St Francis Yacht Club and some from the Finn Class, coordinated by Robert Deaves, IFA Marketing Director. The principle one was the live video streaming from Chris Love and his SailGroove.org operation. Though it suffered from patchy network coverage in the Berkeley Circle area of San Francisco Bay, it brought in more than 17,000 individual viewers from 94 countries across the world.
The live stream took centre stage on the event website www.finngoldcup.com and was running from the five minute gun to the finish in every race. SailGroove brought the action – and there was a lot of action – with commentary to computer screens at home and work around the planet. In total some 450,000 minutes of streamed coverage was watched live.
For those without the time or ability to watch the live stream, an 'on-the-water' Twitter feed was located just below that window with all the race updates, mark roundings and other news posted live, as well as links to videos posted to YouTube and updates to the website.
For the first time ever the ‘On the Water’ feed was carried out using an iPhone4, generously supplied and supported by ‘MotionX by FullPower’. This facilitated the Twitter, Blogger and YouTube uploads direct from the racecourse and the dinghy park. A series of short interviews and mark rounding clips were emailed to the Finn Class dedicated YouTube channel. www.youtube.com/thefinnchannel each day with a corresponding Tweet appearing on the event website to notify viewers.
The iPhone4 was also enabled with the MotionX GPS app, which allowed, for example, a photo of the start line to be sent to Twitter along with a link to a GPS position on a map. With the reliable wind that was experienced in San Francisco, perhaps this was just of passing interest, but at changeable venues, with the start line changing position every day, it could provide extra insight into the racing.
During the course of the week around 250 Tweets were sent (covering start signals, APs, mark roundings, finish positions etc) including around 40 during the medal race, to try and capture the essence of the battle.
Around 35 on-the-water clips and interviews were uploaded to YouTube, including both short ones directly from the iPhone and longer ones after racing from a video camera. During the event these received some 15,000 views (peaking at 2,000 a day) from 41 countries. Perhaps of interest is that 20 per cent of the viewers were female. This marks a 50 per cent increase on the total views at the Finn Gold Cup in 2009, and since it was set up 18 months ago, The Finn Channel has had nearly 200,000 video views.
And if that wasn’t enough there was also live race-by-race tracking from Kattack. Each Finn was fitted with a GPS device with the battery pack that lasted the whole week. Again this was available through the event website, though hosted on Kattack's own site. During the regatta and immediately afterwards (the tracks remain online indefinitely) more than 60,000 tracking views were opened.
To supplement the live video streaming and on-the-water feeds, a daily IFA press report was emailed to the Finn Class mailing list of around 700 contacts each evening. In 2010, for the first time, these press releases were made available through a free subscription on the Finn Class website, with more than 150 people signing up during the week to receive these. Each report provided in-depth analysis of the racing as well as featuring the stories of some of the sailors competing in San Francisco. During the course of the year the Finn Class sends more than 50 such releases, covering all major championships, Sailing World Cup events as well as class related news, sailor interviews and other features. In addition more than 1,150 photos were uploaded to the Finn Class Picasa site.
As well as the web quality video camera of SailGroove, a camera crew from Xtrame Studio from Budapest, Hungary was on the water each day filming broadcast quality content, which was made available, free of charge, on FTP each evening to TV networks worldwide. These films also included daily interviews with sailors in both English and their native language. Of particular note, this footage was used by the BBC in a mainstream sailing programme broadcast in September. The FTP server was provided with support from the World Match Racing Tour.
Facebook is also providing a natural forum for sailing events. The Finn Class set up a page earlier in 2010 and has now passed the 1,000 fans mark. The page is used to announce news items, photo gallery uploads and other website updates to get messages out quickly and widely. Not only this but most of the Finn sailors make posts themselves about the event or comment on the Finn Classes own posts. With each ‘fan’ having an average of say 300-500 ‘friends’, the resulting effect is that Finn Class posts appear on tens of thousands of pages across the globe every day.
Bringing together all the different facets of the media plan and calculating its net effect is not easy. With so many different streams running simultaneously there is no way to accurately calculate the number of individual users watching the event – there is too much potential overlap. This is perhaps a task for the future – to unify the different media outputs into one homogeneous portal. But a rough total of web related page views across all platforms during the 2010 Finn Gold Cup would easily exceed half a million impressions. Add to that the extensive use of the TV footage by BBC and others, and the numbers increase dramatically.
By making footage and coverage so comprehensive, continuous, readily available and ground breaking the Finn Class wants to portray a message that the Finn is not only producing tactical, fair competition for fit, healthy and 'heavy' elite sportsmen at the top of their game but also that the Finn Class is leading the way to deliver the necessary media requirements to promote sailing and make it more attractive and interesting to a greater number of people and nations.
Media coverage of sailing events is in constant evolution. It has moved on unrecognisably in the last five years and will undoubtedly transform itself again come five years time as technology and access to it becomes more available and more affordable. As such, any media plan has to be in constant flux. It is almost impossible to predict what we will be doing next year, only that it will be better, more innovative and more wide-reaching. And, in the end, that is what matters. Any media plan should showcase the sailors, the sailor's stories and the sport to the widest possible audience in the fastest and most accessible way possible. But there is still a long way to go
Recently the Finn Class has been at the forefront of developing stern mounts for very small and light HD cameras; these have been chiefly developed by long time Finn sailor Gus Miller. The ultimate goal of combining a stern camera with a live feed remains a project for the future. With sufficient bandwidth and equipment, imagine following a race online using GPS tracking and then selecting which boat to follow and then watching the sailor's actions and manoeuvres through the stern camera. Then switching cameras to a different boat to watch a port-starboard crossing from another angle. Then switching to one of 1, 2, 3, 4 … camera boats to watch the whole race in wide-screen, before flicking back to the leading boat round the top mark.
Also, perhaps, it may not be long before on board cameras are built into boats, much like compasses are these days, recharged using a solar panel built into the deck or a small waterwheel attached to a self-bailer, rudder or centreboard case. This technology is surely coming soon, but perhaps the big question is, are managers and employers around the world ready for the drop in employee productivity that will inevitably be the result of such a move as thousands of people sit at their desks watching sailing rather than working...