EXCLUSIVE: Outreach effort dominates sail conference

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NEWPORT, R.I. — America’s Cup organizers are trying to reach the “Taco Bell demographic” in their continuing effort to grow sailing.

That’s according to Bob Billingham, San Francisco event infrastructure manager, who spoke Tuesday at Sail America’s 2012 Sailing Industry Conference in Newport, R.I.

America’s Cup has partnered with Red Bull to launch a youth series, America’s Cup regatta director and CEO of Race Management Iain Murray told the conference.

“America’s Cup has been closed to too many people for too long,” Murray said. “The response we’ve had to this has blown through the roof.”

The series will be for 12 to 15 crews between the ages of 18-1/2 and 19-1/2, and the first race will be held between the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup final in San Francisco Bay in 2013. The young sailors will be coached by the best sailors in the world, Murray said.

“Red Bull is not looking at this as one event in San Francisco, they’re looking at [sponsoring it] for the long haul,” Murray said.

The theme of attracting more people to sailing was prevalent at the show. Interactive workshops designed to grow the sailing initiative showed several topics emerging again and again.

It’s imperative to “bridge the gap between generations,” said Rod Johnstone, builder of Maine-based J/Boats.

By targeting young children and their parents through mentorship programs, more families would become indoctrinated into the sailing lifestyle, Johnstone said.

Another prevalent theme was increasing the accessibility of sailing to the public.

Ross Kilborn, CEO of Yachting Australia — that country’s USSailing equivalent — said a major study funded in part by the Australian government showed that people saw sailing as “the exclusive and inaccessible of all 96 sports surveyed.”

The groups came up with ideas for changing that, from making yacht clubs open to the public to creating more opportunities for fractional ownership.

Read more about the conference and the ideas in the August issue of Soundings Trade Only.

Reagan Haynes


7 comments on “EXCLUSIVE: Outreach effort dominates sail conference

  1. Lou Sandoval

    The “Taco Bell demographic”. Interesting choice of words. Would there be an inference in that?

  2. john ennis

    Nice try but the key with this age group..is to make it “the thing to do” like jet skis and stand up paddling. Sailing is perceived as being a rather expensive sport and a race here and there…while a start..is not going to do much. sotta like a fly biting an elephant and asking if it hurt.I think one solution would be to promote the one design classes by offering free lessons. IE: A moth boat can be built quite cheaply and is a great entry level craft.

  3. PoorSailor

    Re: Lou Sandoval

    It shows the disconnect between the Bob Billingham type of sailors (America’s Cup, boats costing more than the median home price) and the rest of us. He thinks that the regular folk like Taco Bell. In my experience the Taco Bell demographic prefers Nascar, WWE and the like. It’d be less of a stretch to reach out to the much referred to middle class to foster participation.

    I deal with people’s perception of sailing as an exclusive sport all the time despite the fact that my sailboat cost (and is continuing to cost) less than the jetskis and dirtbikes of many of my relatively “poorer” colleagues…

  4. Dave B

    I think the AC organizers have a challenging job ahead. I’m a lifelong sailor and own a sailing business. Quite frankly, I’ve lost interest in AC. They may be on the right track though with the idea of the “taco bell demographic”. SF Bay is a tight venue and there’s sure to be lots of spectacular crashes. Maybe that could attract some people that usually spend the weekend watching NASCAR and eating Taco Bell.

  5. Ill Wind

    What a joke. Big whoop, the cats will move at one seventh the speed of a race car. More sailors will be interested, the “board” sailers. But the general public will not have an enduring interest once the novelty wears off. Face it , sailing is a dying pastime.

  6. David Fuller

    Why on earth would the America’s Cup want to appeal to a ‘Taco Bell’ demographic? Has anyone told Louis Vuitton this is the plan?

    Does Newport even have a Taco Bell?

    While sailing should try and break down the barriers and be more accessible to more people, it still should be aspirational and retain the things that make it special – not pander to a fast-food, cheap and nasty audience.

  7. Wally Moran

    Lots of negativism here. At least someone is doing something, because sailing IS a sport regarded as an old white guy’s game, and exclusive. I met a fellow the other day – lawyer in his early 40s – owns a 21 footer, plans on moving up soon, caught the bug when he went sailing at 14.
    So perhaps AC is onto something and the industry needs to pay attention. Sure, you may not like Taco Bell food, but maybe you’re objecting to the choice of words without fully understanding what the term, Taco Bell demographic, means. Maybe you’re suffering from the ‘elitism’ that marks the sport of sailing and that was noted by the Australian study. Or at least that’s what I get when I read a remark such as the one above referring to ‘cheap and nasty’.
    The demographic refers to people under 34, who make up the largest part of Taco Bell’s customers – a group not well represented in our sport. Also – a group that IS the future of our sport.

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