Sailing world champion and America’s Cup regatta director Iain Murray AM shares his insights on executing an international event in the digital era and the changing nature of sports communication.
The America’s Cup is the longest running international sporting trophy, rooted with tradition and rivalry. Since the first contest in 1870, it has remained one of the most prestigious sailing events in the world.
The concept is simple, with two types of competitors: a defender of the cup and a challenger, requesting to battle for the title. After all these years, the regatta has remained much the same, with the yachts and racing format gradually evolving.
However, the 34th America’s Cup was a complete re-invention that propelled the event into the future of competitive sailing. A revolution occurred, with sweeping changes, such as the creation of hydrofoil catamarans that exceeded wind speed, shorter races and elite World Series events.
For the first time, the regatta also used ground-breaking, state-of-the-art technology to broadcast and execute the event. In 2014, the America’s Cup Mobile App won an Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches – Sports Event Coverage, along with four other nominations. This achievement succeeded the 2012 Extraordinary Technical Innovation Emmy Award for the live coverage technology LiveLine.
These radical changes required a skilled team of visionaries. Iain Murray AM, Australian sailing world champion, was appointed as the regatta director in September, 2010, and continues in this role today. Murray was the ideal front-runner, with his extensive sailing experience and, more specifically, his 20 years of involvement in the America’s Cup, long standing passion for boat design, and experience in maritime infrastructure.
As he prepares for the next America’s Cup, being held in Bermuda in 2017, Murray reminisces on the last challenge and draws from its success in attracting a large and diverse audience.
A. Technology is everywhere. We used to travel the world every month for meetings and now we all communicate through online virtual meeting rooms.
It’s the digital world’s development that has allowed the regatta to provide credible broadcasting and accurate controlling of the race. With the boats going three to four times faster than they used to, it means everything has to happen much quicker. So, the evolution of digital equipment – whether it be GPS, computers, telemetry or software – has created the opportunity for races to be run and communicated with much more precision and ease.
“Social media and the creation of the America’s Cup mobile app added a new element to the event’s communication, engaging a new demographic that desires instant updates and access to personalised details.”
For example, the Electronic Race Control System, which is incorporated within LiveLine, visually displays the positioning of boats, boundaries, weather conditions, marks and more on the screen to help viewers have a clearer technical understanding of the racing. The 34th America’s Cup, held in San Francisco, in 2013, was the first event to use this ground-breaking technology and it was well-received by all. Also, social media and the creation of the America’s Cup mobile app added a new element to the event’s communication, engaging a new demographic that desires instant updates and access to personalised details.
Q. How has the America’s Cup changed the structure of the event to appeal to more people?
A. We have brought the races to the shore, allowing the public to easily view the sailing, and shortened the duration of the races from four hours, which stood in 1983, to 25 minutes. The slogan is, ‘best sailors, fastest boats’ – what is more enticing than that?
Q. What is the advantage of having Red Bull as a sponsor?
A. The America’s Cup had a goal to transition into a highly competitive, extreme sport and shift its image from old sailors in heavy boats to young, fit athletes in incredibly speedy, difficult boats. Red Bull has a place in the market, which is extreme sports and extreme athletes. So, having them as a sponsor and hosting a youth event gives you credibility that you are in that sector of sport.
Q. How important is storytelling when communicating the event, rather than reporting?
A. It is super important. All sport is about is creating personalities and heroes, and ultimately making a fan-base for each of them. In fact, the whole event uses content marketing to communicate.
If New Zealand won the event in 2013, nine to one, it would have been the worst America’s Cup in history – ‘the biggest slaughter of all time’. But, with a bit of storytelling to reveal the US’s comeback, it went from the worst America’s Cup in history to the biggest comeback in sport. That’s storytelling, isn’t it?
Q. From a marketing perspective, what was the strategy behind The America’s Cup Pavilion – an arena that hosted world-class music concerts for the duration of the event?
A. When you’re doing a big event over a long period of time you have to build a lot of infrastructure. You also have to rationalise the infrastructure and advertise it over as many events as you can, with the goal of bringing as many people as possible to the event.
People are looking to fill up their days with activities besides just watching the racing. If they wanted to solely watch the racing they could just go home and watch it on their TV. But if they want to experience the event, taking it in, in many facets, you’re looking to build a multitude of events, within the one event. In the case of San Francisco, we had the superyacht boat show, music concerts, team displays and exhibition centres, functions, bars and more. We were building an experience.
Q. The 34th America’s Cup redefined the event, while still remaining true to the regatta’s legacy and history. What can we expect for the 35th America’s Cup and future of competitive sailing?
A. The push this time is for more teams from a broader range of countries, at the highest level of competition. Nearly every gold medal sailor has a job in the America’s Cup, now that’s saying something about the worldwide significance of this event for sailors.