Volvo Race Village Flops in Miami

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:55AM - Comments: (10)

May 29, 2012

Mar Mostro's hull is polished to a slick finish during the layover in Miami.

Being raised on the shores of Biscayne Bay, I should have known better than to expect crowds of sailing fanatics to converge on Miami when the Volvo Ocean Race sailed into town last month. Still, I held faint hope. Now, as the fleet of around-the-world racers closes in on the coast of Lisbon, and the flurry of press releases begins anew, I'm reminded of my many disappointments in the Miami stopover.

More than anything, the event recalled a birthday party for the elementary school outcast. His parents had promised that “this year will be different.” They hung streamers, blew up balloons, hired a magician with a real live rabbit, yet once again only a few close cousins showed up to somnambulate around the Doritos bowl.

It was sad. In its heart, the Volvo Race is a good kid, and deserved much better.

Miami is a tough town to host a sailing race, and at the risk of infuriating my sailing friends in the city I still hold close to my heart, I would offer this piece of advice to future race organizers: Unless you are ready to invest hugely in promoting the event, your U.S. dollars are better spent elsewhere.

I’m not even sure better promotion could have saved the event, but I do know that the local effort on the ground was pathetic. A few flashing highway signs, a couple of stories in the local press, and some ephemeral spots on the local TV news channels was about as far as it went. In fact, you could be driving right past the port village and still not be sure what exactly was going on beyond the stark portable trailers at the front gates.

Featuring a small soccer pitch, a pub, and a stage, Puma Powered by Berg was a highlight in the Miami Volvo Village.

The venue might have been half-pleasant had the hosts or organizers gone to the trouble of trucking in some shade, a few more potted palm trees or some tents. As it was, a barely concealed urban desert greeted the public: a white-hot parking lot beside a downtown canal, some weeds, chain-link fences, and wind-whipped dust. A poor singer on the main stage serenaded the scavenger seagulls. Some teams, like Puma, had gone to the trouble of laying mulch around their mobile fan bases, but others, like Camper and Abu Dhabi sprung like hopeful daisies through the cracks in a neglected sidewalk, splashes of color in a concrete prairie.

In spite of the venue's best efforts to ruin the affair, I still enjoyed my weekend. Highlights for me were the young racers whirling around race buoys in multicolored Optis, and the Volvo boats themselves, far more impressive in person than in any YouTube spot. Several were clearly undergoing significant repair and maintenance (rudders were the subject of particular attention), and all the crews were engaged in meticulous fairing of the hulls.

My boys loved the virtual racing in the Volvo tent, the race boat simulator, and the chance to see a hunting falcon up close in the Abu Dhabi tent. We all enjoyed listening to the super-enthusiastic Puma promoter read a book about saving the sea, while a smiling stuffed octopus named Marmo pantomimed. After a couple of hours, though, we were ready to go to the beach.

I suppose that is the hardest part about promoting watersports in Miami. It’s hard to get excited about someone else’s adventure when your own is so close at hand.

Comments (10)

There was almost no promotion of this event in the local media. A few articles in the sports section in the Miami Herald, nothing on TV. No one heard about it, not even that it was free. Whoever was doing publicity for this event should get fired.

Posted by: DEAN W | June 1, 2012 7:34 AM    Report this comment

How about Newport, RI, who's main street is called "America's Cup Ave" and the childeren take sailing class in school

Posted by: Tyler W | May 31, 2012 1:22 PM    Report this comment

How about Newport, RI, who's main street is called "America's Cup Ave" and the childeren take sailing class in school

Posted by: Tyler W | May 31, 2012 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Come back to Baltimore-Annapolis VOR. We love you!

Posted by: Bob F | May 30, 2012 9:58 PM    Report this comment

We in Miami (I was born and raised here) unfortunately are still suffering the effects of Miami Vice. While there are many sailors here -- some world-class -- there are many more that see us as a nuisance. Case-in-point was the recent purge of boats, virtually all sail, anchored here because they were an "eyesore" to the residents in the upscale waterfront homes. The culture of fast-and-furious just doesn't mix well with slow-and-technical. Local yacht clubs I believe are doing their best to promote the sport, but it will always be a small minority here in a city that doesn't have any collective memory of a sailing heritage. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Cornelius that Lauderdale would probably be a better venue. Now maybe if they got the Miami Heat to crew one of the boats against the Dolphins on another for a round-the-buoys race...

Posted by: oscark | May 30, 2012 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Good point Guy. Must be the Scot within me that sends me lurching off into these rants. I do feel that how sailing is promoted does matter to the ordinary sailor. If we can't find a way to ignite a passion for sailing in the next generation, our children and grandchildren will lose more of the things that are already disappearing such as waterfront access, anchoring and mooring rights, clean waterways, etc. -- not to mention joys of the "fellowship of the sea." Huge international races may do little to advance these causes locally, but when carried out correctly, I think they have the potential to do some measurable good. The VOR's intentions were well placed (the Opti racing and beach cleanup, group bike ride, etc.) and they had terrific success in other port cities; it was the execution in Miami that fell far short.

Posted by: DARRELL N | May 30, 2012 11:28 AM    Report this comment

They should have come to Charleston . . .

Posted by: TIMOTHY V | May 30, 2012 10:43 AM    Report this comment

What was wrong with Boston... it seemed to work the first time and would have access to a bigger population base...

Posted by: RICK K | May 30, 2012 10:42 AM    Report this comment

I hope the money I pay for a subscription to Practical Sailor was not used to write this article. This is an article about the failed marketing of a sporting event, it's not about sailing and it's not practical either.

Posted by: Guy J | May 30, 2012 10:32 AM    Report this comment

Excellent points. Even as an avid sailor and much interested in the VOR, if it had not been for the invitation by one of the teams to come over and visit the boat and join them on a dedicated spectator boat for the in port race, I would probably not have been there either. As it happens, I did not even visit most of the sites... shame on me. I wondered if Fort lauderdale would not have been a better South Florida location as Miami has seen declining sailing interest year after year. If we don't get some fresh blood interest in this fantastic sport I am afraid that Miami will be relegated to the have been podium in the very near future, and this in spite of some of the great yearly events such as the Bacardi, Orange Bowl, etc.. It is sad when it takes all sorts of effort to get maybe 10 boats on a PHRF starting line. Something needs to change - or we should all move to Cascais! ;-)

Posted by: CORNELIUS S | May 30, 2012 10:26 AM    Report this comment


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