Could sailing be bigger than soccer?

It's often said that sailing will never be a spectator sport, but Secretary General of the Danish Sailing Association, Dan Ibsen, begs to differ. “New technology is making it easier to convey the excitement of sailing competition in a way that has never been possible before,” says Ibsen. “This year we wanted to see what was possible by bringing in live GPS tracking of boats and combining it with top quality event reporting at some of the big regattas taking place in Denmark this summer.”

The Danish Sailing Association focused on promoting four major sailing events in Denmark over the summer:

– Finn Gold Cup
– Laser Radial European Championshi p
– EUROSAF European Match Racing Championship
– 470 World Championship

In 2008, with the backing of insurance company CODAN (part of Sun Alliance Group), the Danish Sailing Association bought 150 GPS tracking devices and signed up GPS tracking specialists TracTrac to cover the ISAF Youth World Championships in Aarhus. “With friends, family and sailing fans logging in from around the world, we had nearly 30,000 viewing sessions from 69 countries all over the world. We've already seen the huge appetite for live tracking of round-the-world sailing events like the Volvo Ocean Race and the Vendée Globe, and it seems there is just as much enthusiasm for following inshore racing events too.”

Some of this year's world championship events eclipsed the 2008 Youth Worlds figures, with the Finn Gold Cup attracting 48,226 viewing sessions and the 470 World Championships a whopping 103,083 views. Even Ibsen is surprised at the level of interest from these events. “We thought the ISAF Youth Worlds figures were big, but this year's numbers are incredible. I think it's probably the result of an ongoing publicity programme that we ran throughout the summer with international press releases before and every day during all the regattas, and the combined effect of supporting a number of events across the season. This proves that there is a big potential in this for sailing, and I believe we are still only scratching the surface of what's possible in future.”

Although the tracking has value in itself, Ibsen believes it should be integrated into a wider media output from a sailing event. “Having a well-organised press function around an international event is also extremely important, and for this we brought in some very experienced specialist sailing journalists from British company Sailing Intelligence. They have reported on every major sailing event from the America's Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race, to the Olympics, and they bring colour and life to the GPS tracking data from TracTrac,” says Ibsen. “Combining press reporting with the live tracking worked very well, and brings added value to being a sponsor of a sailing event. The potential is even bigger using modern media platforms for web TV and live streaming of sailing, as well as using new social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.”

In addition to the four major sailing regattas which the Danish Sailing Association supported, the GPS units were also made available to the Contender World Championships and the Dragon Gold Cup, which also attracted impressive viewing figures. Below is a list of the full viewing figures from each of the six events in Denmark this summer:


470 World Championship: 103,083
Finn Gold Cup: 48,226
Dragon Gold Cup: 39,570
Laser Radial European Championship: 23,045
Danish Open Match Race: 20.636
Contender World Championship: 17,958
EUROSAF European Match Racing Championship: 10,919

The total number of viewing sessions across these six events amounts to 263,437, with the average viewing session last 15 minutes.

Ibsen says these figures start to have real impact with a sponsor, and compare very favourably to other sports, even football. “If you multiply the 263.437 viewing sessions by 15 minutes, you end up with 65,859 hours, or 2.744 days, almost 7.5 years of total exposure. Another way of looking at this would be to think of 43,906 spectators watching a 90-minute football match. So when you start to look at the level of exposure sailing can offer a sponsor, it is becoming very good value for money.”

Ibsen is proud of the innovative role that the Danish Sailing Federation together with the organising clubs in Denmark is playing in proving the commercial viability of new technology in sailing, and wants others to follow suit. “It looks as GPS tracking platform is becoming more and more interesting to a sailing audience, and we would encourage organisers of other sailing events to seriously consider implementing tracking alongside other more established forms of media. The Sponsors at sailing events in
Denmark is now nearly demanding that the event has tracking.”

To review all the tracked events, visit

M.O.S.S Australia
NAV at Home
Cyclops Marine
M.O.S.S Australia
Race Yachts
West Systems