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Daniel Wlochovski: Sailing on the screen

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28 April 2011 | Feature,America's Cup

Daniel Wlochovski: Sailing on the screen

HBS has become one of the world's leading host broadcasters of large-scale sporting events, and was responsible for the production of the 2007 America's Cup. SportsPro caught up with Daniel Wlochovski, a former professional sailor who now leads HBS' marketing division, to find out how the company is continuing to help broaden the television appeal of sailing.

Sailing has traditionally had trouble translating itself onto television, but what aspects of the sport are attractive to a television audience?

Certainly sailing has a very specific audience but there are several key selling points. I think firstly the beauty of the sport and the beauty of the pictures, the boats and the sea. Everything to do with the sea is mysterious and it has a sense of adventure and drama about it. Then there’s the technology and the glamour – it’s a little bit like Formula One in that respect. However, sailing is a technical sport as well after all, and, although it is a technical sport, it is clean sport and it is a green sport because it uses wind and not fuel to power the boats.

"Everything to do with the sea is mysterious and it has a sense of adventure and drama about it."

Clearly there are lots of challenges you have to overcome to make sailing more mainstream, what would you say is the biggest challenge preventing this?

There are a number of challenges but the biggest challenge, to start with is maybe the lack of recognisable heroes. Whilst there is an immediate identification with football players or Formula One drivers, in sailing, that is not the case. There are not many stars. Admittedly a few stars exist like Eric Tabarly, Peter Blake and Ellen MacArthur, but there are only a very few who are very good and very dominant. Probably one of biggest challenges is to bring these people to the foreground and get the people used to seeing these stars.
What is the hardest part about producing sailing content for television?

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to turning sailing into an accessible sport for television. We usually say when we talk about the whole broadcasting process that production is the visible part of the iceberg, but beneath the surface there is a lot more and most of what it is, is not seen. For sailing, it is the same. Production is, well the iceberg we will get rid of because it is not very sailor friendly, but the production is perhaps the sail, but there is a hull and there is a keel and a body too. It is important but there are many other aspects to consider too.

"People watching football 80 per cent know and understand the rules, while probably 90 per cent of people watching sailing have no idea what is happening"

What conditions must be met in order to attract new audiences to the sport?

There have been several improvements in production that have made sailing more interesting and more exciting. Although improvement in production is necessary, it is not enough. There is a need to the address the specifics of sailing, two things come to my mind – one is the unpredictability of the start time, it can be any time. For example, the timing of a football match is set, but with sailing, it can go on for any length of time so that is one difficulty. The other thing is there are not many people who understand the rules. People watching football 80 per cent know and understand the rules, while probably 90 per cent of people watching sailing have no idea what is happening. There a lot of variations in the amount of understanding within sailing’s audience, this means you can’t just make one programme to suit just one level of knowledge.

How important are improvements in technology in improving sailing’s TV appeal?

Technology is important because sailing is difficult to cover. There is not a single one camera you can use to capture events as most of the action takes place far off the shore. You can’t have five cameras five cameramen out on the boats, you can maybe have one though. Also, there is nothing worse for a camera than to put it into a salt water environment so the equipment has to be really robust. One example where we’ve seen technology increasing appeal is through our online virtual racing where you can not only race against other people online, but also with the actual sailors in the competition. This is a very good way to promote the identification of the athletes and a very important way to attract younger audiences, all of which is a vital part of broadening sailing’s appeal.

Daniel Wlochovski will be taking part in the Legends Regatta in Alicante in November. To learn more about HBS click here.

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