The audience for race reporting is about the same as the readership of 'Filtration & Separation' magazine


In all the years I’ve worked at Yachting World (I joined around the time Moses was hidden in the bullrushes), I have never had such a big response to anything I’ve written as I did to my blog about elitsm in ocean racing and the boys’ club that dominates its ranks – if not its audience.

This seems to have struck a chord, as the emails were nearly all broadly in agreement. Some of you disagreed with specific points, though, and had interesting comments.

There were a few variations of the remark that ‘sports sometimes progress out of the reach of women – size matters’. But my answer to that is twofold. First, what do we regard as progress? Should that be judged on the basis of speed?

If so, consider that Ellen MacArthur alone broke the non-stop round the world record in a boat far faster than the VO70s, yet no women are competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.

If speed were the most important criterion this race would be sailed in maxi multihulls. But then the boys’ club would be diluted by Frenchmen?

I was interested in the assumption of another respondent, John Pahl , that ‘there does seem to be an appetite for sport viewers to see the highest level of competition’. While in general I would agree, sailing is not a pure sport and can never sell to a mass audience as such.

There’s no point in comparing ocean racing to rugby or football. Ocean racing is too technical and distant to be followed in the same way – it would cheaper to phone round everyone interested in weather tactics and true wind angles, never mind percentages of polars, J2s, A3s and Code 0s, than publish something for them to read.

Ocean racing is most popular when it can be seen as a heroic feat with an uncertain outcome and more than a frisson of mortal danger. It has more in common with a polar expedition than a football match. It is competitive, sure, but beyond that is the larger achievement of human fortitude and ingenuity pitted against the unimaginable and indifferent might of Nature.

We know sailing sells better as a gladiatorial contest than a technical sporting feat. How? Well here’s one telling example.

From the 125,000 copies of yachting magazines our group sells every month, what percentage of readers do you think are ‘very interested’ in racing?

Would it be 20% maybe?

Perhaps just 10%?

Actually it’s neither of these. Reader surveys have been amazingly consistent over the last 20 years, and the answer has always been roughly the same: the percentage of readers who are ‘very interested’ in sports report-style racing coverage is 4% (ie 20% of Yachting World’s readers).

So if the most passionate sailing audience, who shell out £4 or more a month to read about it, aren’t interested, what on earth makes anyone think there is a vast, untapped audience to be found among people who don’t sail?

The thing that so many sailing events organisers do not, and will not understand is people are always, invariably, much more richly fascinating than boats. And those sailors who have the skills and abilities to communicate the experience in the most interesting or visceral way will always have a bigger audience.

They may be men, they may be women, they may be French. They may be first; they may never even finish. Remember Jean Le Cam’s rescue? That got the biggest web viewing figures of the entire Vendée Globe race.

So you see, from a wider media perspective, it’s not about the ultimate performance. It’s not even merely about winning.