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America’s Cup coverage back with a splash

The America’s Cup World Series returned from its winter break with some exciting racing in Naples over the weekend. Sky Sports, Mediaset, Viasat, Canal+ and NBC Sports all got on board with the racing, writes David Fox.

The America’s Cup World Series returned from its winter break with some exciting racing in Naples over the weekend, although it did lose a day to the weather. However, it has gained more broadcast followers, writes David Fox. Sky Sports, Mediaset, Viasat, Canal+ and NBC Sports have all got on board with the racing, which has been tweaked to make it even more exciting. Yachting has not previously been a great sport for spectators, but the America’s Cup formula of short course, in-shore racing is proving attractive for both the onshore audience (with crowds of up to 250,000 watching in Naples – one of the Italian teams came first) and on video – where it now reaches more than 190 countries and territories around the globe. “We’re delighted to see the growth of interest of the America’s Cup World Series by pivotal broadcasters like Sky Sports,” said Richard Worth, Head of America’s Cup World Series Development. “We believe that the athletic and competitive nature of the sport is showing far wider audiences just how exciting the sport of sailing really is. The reliability and drama of the events are proving intensely attractive.” In addition to traditional broadcast outlets, every minute of live action is available on a dedicated America’s Cup YouTube channel – streamed live and on demand – with a choice of commentary, as well as a multi-screen player with four different feeds so viewers can choose the action they want to view. “In every sense of the word, the America’s Cup is reinventing itself, from our cutting-edge boats to breakthrough sporting technology to our close-to-shore racing,” said Worth. “Everything about this new America’s Cup is designed around the spectator experience.” For viewers, it is now possible to hear and see everything that happens on board each AC45 yacht, thanks to multiple remote-controlled HD camera systems and waterproof microphone system (developed by SIS Live) – for more on the technology behind the Cup, see our feature from the December issue of TVBEurope. Central to the redesign for TV is a breakthrough in sports broadcasting using augmented reality from a helicopter. Called LiveLine, it was created by the Emmy award-winning team that developed the yellow first-down line widely used in the broadcast of American football. The LiveLine graphics enable it to make the racing much clearer for viewers, and include ahead-behind lines to show who is leading the race (something that isn’t always evident in regular coverage). “Through our investments in technology to capture and explain the race action we have been able to produce more dramatic coverage and build interest from both new and existing fans across the world,” said Stan Honey, Director of Technology and creator of LiveLine. “This America’s Cup is breaking remarkable new ground in the broadcasting of sailing, which is intensely watchable and much more reliable for sports schedulers than in the past,” added Worth. The TV pictures are a real achievement of this edition of the America’s Cup. Finally, the sport of sailing looks like a sport when watched on TV,” said Stephen Barclay, interim CEO of the America’s Cup Event Authority. “To connect with a national television audience, we know we must deliver a product that is compelling, exciting and world-class, and I believe we have accomplished that goal,” said Worth. “We’re telling the America’s Cup story in a way that is unique in sports today, bringing the audience right onto the boats so they are embedded into the action.” Racing reformatted The race format has also been changed from the three events that took place last year, to give broadcasters a more balanced schedule of match racing, fleet racing and speed trials across the five days of competition that climaxed on Sunday. Each fleet race is now longer than in prior events (but still short at 35 minutes), while the Fleet Racing Championship is now determined by performance across nine scheduled races, as opposed to the previous, winner-take-all race on the final Sunday. There was also a tenth race which took place during the week, but was held in reserve in case Sunday’s final race couldn’t take place, to give broadcasters a guarantee that something could be shown (and only then would its result matter). “The fleet race on the final Sunday is the most valuable race on the schedule in terms of points, with the scoring heavily weighted to that last race. But now, all of the other fleet races will also count towards determining the overall Fleet Racing Champion,” explained Regatta Director Iain Murray. “We think this strikes a good balance between rewarding consistently strong performances over the five days of racing, as well as energizing the crews and fans alike with a critical final race on Sunday.” “Although the individual fleet races are longer in duration, the race courses themselves will remain very tight, placing a premium on boat-handling and crew work,” Murray explained. The match races remain short and sharp with a target time of 15-minutes. Teams race for three days to advance through to Saturday’s one-race showdown for the Match Racing Championship (which was postponed a day due to high winds in Naples). But here too, the format is unforgiving, with a single loss meaning elimination. The America’s Cup World Series will now move to Venice (with racing from May 15-20), then go to Newport (June 26 – July 1), and San Francisco (August 21-26 and October 4-7), leading up to the 2013 America’s Cup regatta in San Francisco, where there will be racing on larger (72ft/22m) catamarans in July and August, 2013 to decide the challenger, and a final five-race America’s Cup Match pitting the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup against defending champion Oracle Racing from September 7, 2013. The success of the World Series so far makes it increasingly likely that it will become an annual event (with the America’s Cup itself probably happening every three or four years). Photos: ACEA/Ricardo Pinto/Gilles Martin-Raget