Monday, January 18, 2010

Sailing Trends

Is sailing in decline? Google Trends thinks so.

Google Trends is a tool that allows you to see how the number of searches on Google for any term is changing over time. As you can see from the top line in the graph above the volume of searches for "sailing" shows a pronounced seasonal variation, but there is also a clear long-term downward trend in the search volume from 2004 through 2009.

Click on either of the boxes above or here to see the actual graphs on Google Trends. Note this graph is for the United States only but the worldwide trend chart is very similar.

Is there any reason to believe that the number of searches for "sailing" is not correlated closely with actual interest in sailing?

I checked out a few other sports, just for comparisons...

Kayaking shows a slight decline, but nothing like as bad as sailing.

's seasonal peak in 2009 is at about 50% of its 2004 peak, just like sailing.

is pretty steady with maybe a bit of a drop-off in 2009.

And swimming shows a slight long term decline, but with big peaks of interest in the Olympic years.

Of course these charts combine the searches made by people interested in actively participating in these sports and those made by folk who are simply spectators of the sport.

But still... sailing looks pretty sad. Do any of you sailors out there have a rationale to explain this away or, even better, why it's really a good thing?

Where's the rum?


Tim said...

I'm coming back to dinghy sailing after a 25 year absence and I'm surprised at the decline in participation in the UK over that period. Why? Some of it will be due to so many other sports/entertainment competing for peoples time, especially youngsters (which effects the whole family). It's partly because other sports (particularly local clubs) have up'ed their game (excuse the pun). When I was a kid there was no such thing as Mini Rugby, youth football leagues etc. As an example, my son plays football, rugby, tennis, and cricket in the summer. I'm now trying to get him sailing, but it's a struggle to find the time. Maybe it's also because so many sports have become very professional and the marketing money they spend is 'crowding out' the smaller sports like sailing. Just a few thoughts.

Sam Chapin said...

Maybe more people just went sailing and have stopped looking and reading about it.

Zen said...

The quality of the Blog to get people all fired up has declined. Eg: the demises of the "SuperBlog", or people think it cost more to sail than to stay at home and watch TV.

Zen said...

...Or , it's O-Docks fault!

Andrew said...

I can't recall ever having typed 'sailing' in a Google search.
Maybe when you've made Clay sportsman of the week/month/year you can get us all doing 'sailing' Google searches and get sailing back up there where it belongs.

Capt. Puffy Pants said...

I think less people are sailing because less families are doing it together. Most sailors are men and most do not bring their kids/grandkids along. People think you have to be wealthy to sail and people who have not tried it think it is too difficult to learn. Also from my own experience people can be too impatient these days, everything has to be on their terms, which is not always possible when sailing. Thus they don't like it when given the opportunity to try it. Just my Puffy Pants two cents.

EscapeVelocity said...

The local trend is down, but I don't know how much of that is due to local conditions (increased population near the lake, and particularly increased population of people who have money to burn, and like to do so in cigarette boats and big cabin cruisers).

Pat said...

I'll accept the data as roughly valid, if crude.

It would be interesting to look at the trend for other sailing-related searches to see if they are consistently down and if some aspects of sailing retain more interest or others have declined more.

I suspect sports that require a larger investment of time, effort, money/equipment, and learning (slower learning curve) are down in comparison to sports that are more simple, quickly mastered, or purely social. Just a guess.

I think that regimented, organized sports have taken over much of the youth "market" and sailing has suffered for being less structured and having less effective leadership and weaker organization.

Sailing is decentralized, with almost no national or international leadership and structure for youth sailing or for transitioning young adults into sailing. It's essentially been left to the clubs, many of which have had limited focus on youth and even less of a notion of how to attract young adults.

Many of the successful sports have their real estate (playing fields, stadiums, tracks, gymnasiums) provided by taxpayer money. Thus, they don't need to pay for clubhouses or the equivalent of slips or dry storage.

Sailing has relied primarily on private support and more often than not has eschewed marketing and mass outreach.

doryman said...

Not to worry!
Most sailors I know don't even have computers.
There's a limit to statistics.


Carol Anne said...

I have to agree with Capt. PP (aside from using "less" where "fewer" is the right word). PP pegs a whole lot of issues that I think are relevant -- gender issues, the elitist image of sailing, bringing in the next generation, the modern hurry-hurry mindset, and so forth.

In addition, Pat, although he has a habit of over-analyzing things, does have some valid points.

Turinas said...

I hate to say it but it may a reflection of the older demographic profile of sailing. I have noticed using Quantcast that the majority of readers of my blog are middle-aged or older dudes. I checked this out on a few other sites and found the same to be true.

Sadly it may be that there are fewer sailors as they are dying out. I saw stats somewhere that sailing's growth was in the 60s and 70s but it has been in slow decline since then.

I was going to blame golf but even that seems to be flat to declining.

I suspect that it's really just choice. Sailing is in competition with so many different activitiies

David Fuller said...

Interesting numbers. Also interesting to note that while searches are down, the graph below for news stories is rising.

On the bright side, one of the reasons that the generic term might be down is that people are searching for more specific terms like TP52 or Vendee Globe.

There is another possible explanation. Social media is beginning to encroach on Google's turf. Rather than searching via google, more people are clicking through links sent to them by peers via platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Overall I think general interest in sailing is declining. My own reasoning is the lack of mass-market heroes. The total absense of a celebrity pro-sailor, particularly in the US.

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