Dr. Carolyn's Model Visual Text Study

Yachts, You Tube, and Yearnings : A Sociocultural Analysis of the Newport Leg 7 Start of the 2015 Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is an around-the-world yacht race in which sailors compete in 11 legs and travel over 38,000 nautical miles.  The Leg 6 stopover in Newport, Rhode Island occurred from May 6-17, 2015, with six boats vying for a podium finish.  This televised sports broadcast on YouTube, titled "Newport Leg 7 Start of the 2015 Volvo Ocean Race," captured the five all-male teams and one all-female team as they began the next leg to Lisbon, Portugal on May 17, 2015.

Themes in Overview 

Sports media messages can tell us much about the cultural climate of the world in which we live.  The Newport Leg 7 Start of the 2015 Volvo Ocean Race identified a shift in professional, global sport: 1) support for sport no longer revolved around male voices representing a product and, instead, relied on extensive product placement; 2) commentators' gender-neutral language reflected males and females competing side-by-side rather than in separate venues, and 3) competition among sailors generally assumed a tense level of competition that contained elements of risk as essential for rewards.

Data Examples of each Theme 

Product Placements are Everywhere

  • It is the “Volvo” corporation reference that is placed strategically in virtually every camera shot: on the tops and bottoms of masts, on halyards, on the back-of-the-boat telemetry center, on t-shirts, footer of TV attributions, and leader board. The corporation Volvo is the voice of authority, to the point where they sponsor the race financially but also maintain control over the race regulations and penalties.

  • 2) Each team is named after a global corporate entity: Abu Dhabi/ the emirate’s entry; Dong Feng trucks; Mapfre insurance; Brunel, which specialises in project management, secondment and consultancy; SCA global hygiene and forest products; and, Alvimedica medical technologies.

  • 3) Other corporations or products placed on sails, such as “Etihad Airways,”“Scharten Global,” and “Modulo;” “Vestas” on a yellow course marker; the podium backdrop of corporate sponsors lists  “SCA,” Immarstat,” “ Maersk Line.”

Gender-Neutral Language 
  • 1) The 2015 Volvo Ocean Race contains 6 yachts: 5 have all male captain and crews, 1 has an all female captain and crew.  The male boats have 8 sailors, the female boat has 11 sailors.  The number of sailors is designated by total average weight.

  • 2) There was a bit of discourse using "girls” and “guys,” but the majority of discourse from play-by-play and color commentators referenced non-gender specific collective or singular nouns. Several second person/ "you" references also occurred .

  • 3) There were no depictions of females --- athletes, commentators, or spectators --- as Messner found, which he termed "sexy props."  In fact, the commentators almost always refer to the competitors in gender-neutral terms:  by team corporate name or “boats,”“sailors,” “commentators,” “spectators," “fleet," "trimmers," "public.

Competition and Risk for Rewards 
  • 1) The six Volvo Ocean Race teams are extremely competitive, regardless of team gender composition. "Carolijn Brouwer has a very strong Olympic pedigree… she’s very, very good at it.  That’s why she’s at the helm.” “A good start for this all-female team… Sam Davies must be happy that they’ll leave Newport right with the pack.” “You can see Sam Davies trimming the sail…" “You can’t take anything personally in this sport.. a friendly but fierce competition in this sport.” “This is going on for the next 9 days.
  • 2) The competition became a type of combat between experienced and inexperienced sailors, between luck and skill. The race conditions took the sailing crews toward battle.” “They’ll be in transitions now…"  There was “a little chance for the women.. forced to tack…” “The majority of the boats are coming in here on the starboard tack.”“Soon these boats will have to think about the transition to deep water sailing.”“It’s nice to see a sailor taking the easy line.”
  • 3) The competition did rise to the level of risk-taking, but, with risk, comes potential cost.  Two sailors were not in on boats to Lisbon, as each suffered an injury or illness during the Itajai to Newport leg, "... nearly testing the talents of the sailors…” Mapfre “... did hit a rock… fixed it under water last night…”
Data Visualization: Comparison to Messner's Data


The Volvo Ocean Race Newport to Lisbon Leg #7 Start transcended Messner, et al's (2000) "televised manhood formula" in significant ways. No longer was hegemonic masculinity the prevailing force to drive viewership; instead, a melange of ubiquitous product placement, combined with gender-neutral discourse and fierce competition, created global sport fandom. New online streaming technology offered advertisers alternatives to traditional marketing and, with that identification came understanding that sport can attract female consumers, who comprise 51% of the world's population. Thus, gender-neutrality, products that appealed to both genders, and keen competition have congealed within the Volvo Ocean Race series, bringing together sports and consumer culture in very different ways than previous generations of fans experienced. Sports have the capacity to improve society, so, perhaps, the Volvo Ocean Race will be only the first of many future sports competitions in which gender egalitarianism is the norm. The next step afterward, however, will be to disentangle sport and consumerism so play and competition is purely for its merits rather than a means to promote a market economy.