G’day sport?
July 10, 2007, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Something over 30 years ago there was excited confidence that sailing was about to break into the big time of sports spectator consciousness as television would project it to a world just waiting to be turned on. And 0ver 30 years later, sailing is still struggling to conquer that craggy mountain.

There were some good moments from the latest America’s Cup, though the quality of the shots, especially onboard, was no better than in 1987, the onboard sound was, if anything, worse, and any audience figures you read should be taken with heaps of salty scepticism.  All sports television audience statistics are now highly skewed if they include China’s Channel 5, which claims a reach of 300m. Even in China, they can switch to other channels, so the potential audience and the actual audience are world apart.

Nevertheless, it was television that provided the spur to what is called the ‘medal race’ at Olympic regattas, where the top 10 take part for double points in the last race. That was because, formerly, a competitor or team could win with a race to spare, the tv guys would turn up for what was meant to be the climax, and the gold medal winner was sitting ashore already celebrating. So what?

Well, sport is no longer something which society finds valuable as a release from the pressures of everyday life. Sport is no longer sport, and sportsmanship is a concept so unrealistic and uncool as to be laughed at by those who excuse all of mankind’s worst characteristics as ‘the way of the world’.

Sport is a commercial platform, an exercise in branding and logo recognition, an opportunity to lush up guests in a corporate hospitality programme, and that means that the number of seconds some marketing director can count of his company’s exposure on television is more important than the game itself.

In the old days, sports photographers produced, apart from their war zone colleagues, some of the most dramatic pictures to be printed. Great picture, they would say to each other. Now, many publications are ready to save money by taking the free offerings from event organisers, competitors and their sponsors and public relations companies. Freelances just cannot make it pay. And the mutterings now as a picture is selected? Great branding, great branding. The photographers would not be allowed to send out pictures without the branding being the focal point.

And, just in case you might not be paying enough attention to the commerical message, then what used to be static advertising on perimeter billboards around a football or rugby pitch, have been turned into moving messages designed to do what? – drag your eye away from the game you wish to watch to the commerical message of some grubby little salesman.

 The people who pour their cash into sport as an advertising platform are not nice guys. That would come under the old heading of patronage. They want their pound of flesh and expect sports organisers to run around like headless chickens to ensure that there is ‘sponsor fulfilment’.

So it was that, on a day when it had been blowing 40 knots across the Bay of Cascais, and evening was approaching, that the first medal race, in the Star, a two-man keelboat designed nearly 100 years ago and noted for its fragile masts, was sent out in desperation 45 minutes before the 20.00 medal ceremony because the wind had dropped to 28 knots. It was, we were told, to provide ‘live’ television coverage and the additional expenditure of €3,600 for a helicopter was approved. When asked where this ‘live’ television was to be broadcast there were blank looks from senior officials before the admission that not a single television station in the world was taking the live feed. There were just a few screens around the marina in Cascais with 20 or so people in front of each.

When will these guys learn? The law that rules the world is written by Mr Sod and to challenge that is nearly suicidal. Sure enough, the hapless 10 were in all sorts of difficulties trying to protect their sails, rigs and good selves as the pump was turned back on, the wind speed increased and they all had to scurry home to safety.


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