Extreme Sailing Series credits IMG for improving 'quantity and quality' of output
By Simon Ward in Cardiff
Teaming up with fresh media partners, including IMG, the international sports agency, for the 2017 season has enabled the Extreme Sailing Series to enhance its traditional television coverage, with “tier-one” broadcasters fully on board, while also achieving its online targets, according to the organisers.
At the start of the year, the series, which features inshore ‘stadium racing’ at venues around the world, announced it was splitting from its established companion Sunset+Vine, the UK-based television sports production and media company, to work with IMG on international distribution, and Red Handed TV, another UK company, as its host broadcaster.
The switch coincided with a stated ambition to increase viewership and engagement on digital and social media platforms which has entailed more short-form content, including on-board clips from the six-person GC32 catamarans that were introduced in the ESS in 2016.
With the 11th season now more than half-way through, Andy Tourell, the event director of the series, which is owned and operated by UK-based OC Sport, claimed the decision has been vindicated, with an increase in television programming and more high-profile coverage, and the investment in digital content paying off with figures having “gone through the roof.”
Speaking to Sportcal at the sixth of eight acts in Cardiff in Wales today, Tourell said: “Changing the production company to Red Handed and the associated distribution of IMG was quite a big leap. We’d enjoyed a 10-year relationship [with Sunset+Vine].”
“We recognised it was going to be a bit of a learning curve for both sides as we bedded into a new relationship. What we set out to achieve was… increasing the social engagement so have focused on getting the content out there, but at the same time not comprising the traditional media output we’ve been able to grow every single year since 2007.
“We’ve managed to get greater uptake on the live broadcasting so we stream live online for two days of every event and we’ve got live [TV] broadcasts on the final day of every event in each of the venues (host countries) as well. [So] in terms of the traditional media we have enhanced it, and the digital/social side of it has gone through the roof.”
The television series featuring highlights of the ESS now comprises eight episodes, up from seven before, and there are a greater number and higher quality of broadcasters, according to the organisers.
Tourell said that the added value of this would only be apparent once the TV figures for the full year are analysed, but that the early indications were promising.
He said: “We’re confident that we’ve been able to increase the live streaming online, the live uptake in terms of the number of territories that are taking that broadcast and the calibre of channels that are taking that live as well.”
For the four-day event in Cardiff, the UK broadcaster is pay-TV operator BT Sport.
IMG has considerable experience in sailing, which includes distributing live and highlights programmes for the World Match Racing Tour and producing the TV coverage and distributing rights for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
Asked what the agency had brought to ESS, Tourell said: “It’s the distribution and reach they have and also facilitating some of the tier-one broadcasts. For example we’ve got BT Sport taking this live from Cardiff on Monday, for the last day of racing. It’s improving both the quantity and the quality.”
The new focus on digital and social media was motivated by a desire to connect with a wider audience than that generally associated with sailing.
Tourell said: “Fundamental to all of that was increasing the amount of content from on-board [with use of] microphones on the boats, on-board cameras and interviews live on the water. It’s getting inside the racing a lot more than we have done previously and that allows us to tell a lot more of the sporting story and convey more of the human story and the emotions on board and the team dynamic.
“So we’ve been able to get out a lot more targeted short social stings [in the shape of] 20-to-45-second [clips] with very engaging content that is getting picked up and is ultimately increasing the fan base in terms of the number of followers and number of interactions. Most important is the number of direct engagements, not just the eyeballs, as we’re creating the interaction we wanted to achieve for ourselves and all of our partners.”
Aside from the change in media strategy, the 2017 ESS season has been notable for a first visit to Barcelona in Spain, for the fourth act last month, and the campaign culminates with the long-desired return to North America, at two new venues, San Diego in USA on 19 to 22 October and Los Cabos in Mexico on 30 November to 3 December.
There has also been another new development in the shape of the introduction by OC Sport of the Flying Phantom Series, comprising races involving two-man catamarans at the four European acts of the ESS. That series culminates in Cardiff over the weekend.