New Year’s Resolution For H1

2017 is upon us, and Unlimited Hydroplane Racing would like to offer H1 Unlimited our thoughts in the form of a suggested New Year’s Resolution – a resolution geared to bolstering a sport struggling with years of conflicts and needing an infusion of younger fans. Part 1 of 2.

I resolve to…

The 2017 H1 Unlimited Annual Meeting takes place January 13 and 14 at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott. There, agreements and decisions (resolutions, if you will) are made for the future of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing. We thought this would be a good opportunity to explore what we believe would be an excellent point of discussion – one point of many, of course.

H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Annual Meeting

A “Resolution Resolution”

In this thought exercise, we serve up one possible discussion point on which the Meeting could focus. We’ll go a little deep, but only on one point. Just as New Year’s Resolutions are made to start a year with improvement goals, we hope H1 will pass resolutions that will start their year on a positive trajectory.

“Full Circle” Not Just for the Race Course

The sport of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing is (once again) going full circle. The current governing structure of the sport grew out of a “revolt” by race sites in 2004. At the time, HydroProp owned the sport (from 2001 to 2004) and had previously increased the appearance cost of bringing boats to venues. (Insiders call this “Tow Money.”)


Additionally, team owners were frustrated with the steps taken to encourage parity on the racecourse under HydroProp’s tutelage. Their “managed competition” model meant winning teams were slapped with lower fuel consumption allowances. This resulted in very close, deck-to-deck action, but purists objected to these arbitrary assignments.

You can learn more about this very interesting segment of our Unlimited Hydroplane Racing history in an article by Fred Farley, posted on the Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum web site.

As you can imagine, when a relationship is pulled in two (nay, MANY!) directions, something has to give.

It Did

The result was a “partnership” between team owners and race sites, with representatives of each group serving on the Board of Directors of the American Boat Racing Association, formed in 2004. (This entity became H1 Unlimited in 2009.) “Partnership” may be a bit generous, but certainly this promoted increased collaboration.

The Madison Courier shared perspectives on the “revolt” while it was under way.

This Worked Well… For a While

This collaboration had a positive effect on the relationship between owners and race sites. However, in recent years, owners have become increasingly dissatisfied with stagnation of payments from race sites.

Glimmer of Hope

While no one expects substantial increases in Tow Money during times of low inflation, one could envision some growth over time. The reality is the amount paid to race teams for participating hadn’t really changed in well over 15 years. That changed in 2016, with Tow Money increasing for the first time since 2004!

Is Another “Revolt” Coming Full Circle?

In recent years, a growing number of owners have expressed willingness to “draw a line in the sand” unless the race sites pay more. In fact, one owner group has already stood their ground, with the Ellstrom team participating only at Tri-Cities and Seattle in 2016.

On the race site side of things, they argue their fan base and attendance has actually declined and they can’t afford to pay more.

Show Me Yours; I’ll Show You Mine

In any significant financial transaction, due diligence is practiced. The parties must know the others’ true picture to value or cost the scope of the agreement. However, in a much “looser” relationship, like that between the race sites and race teams, not much seems to be shared.

It is natural for businesses to keep financial details about their operations, let’s say, close to the (life) vest. This is proprietary information and simply not shared. Race sites don’t know a race team’s financial picture and of course, teams don’t know what it actually costs for any given venue to host an event.

Additionally, with financial challenges faced by some sites in recent years, owners have become increasingly skeptical of the accounting involved.

If you were going into business and your full partner refused to divulge their side of the balance sheet with you, what would you do? Better yet, if your business was swimming against the tide and you didn’t have full visibility, how would you change course? Let’s take a look at a different racing model as a comparison.

Finding the Root Cause

Stepping back for a second, let’s consider the reason for these tight financial times. Times where race sites are getting squeezed financially, and race teams needing to fully support a very expensive operation.

It’s simply a numbers game. The numbers in question? Fan base. Solid, long time, Damn Smart Fans continue to support the sport, but they aren’t making too many of them any more these days. It’s time to look at adding to their numbers.

This is the heart of why we are pursuing this thought exercise.


NASCAR Both Good and Bad Comparison

First, let’s get something out of the way. While NASCAR and Unlimited Hydroplane Racing are both “motorsports,” the strong similarities end there. Millions of NASCAR fans drive cars, but dozens of boat racing fans might drive Hydroplanes. A NASCAR race takes place conveniently in an afternoon, while boats run all weekend. NASCAR might have a rain delay, but flooding in Madison cancelled the race and cost us the entire ESPN3 coverage. The list is quite long, but let’s save this comparison for another day.

Where it is instructive to look at NASCAR’s efforts is in their new corporate sponsorship. A lot can and should be learned from their focus on a younger fan base through their Monster Energy Drink partnership. Announced December 1, it appears to be a mutually-beneficial relationship.

This Monster (no pun intended) agreement notwithstanding, motorsports corporate sponsorship has been declining in recent years. There’s no secret there. NASCAR has experienced a decline both in attendance and “traditional” media ratings in the recent past. (“Traditional” will play a role in this exercise in a moment.)

By The Numbers

To frame the numbers discussion, let’s look at it through the lenses of “attracting a younger audience.”

Although NASCAR’s TV ratings are down 6% this year, their social media engagements have grown by 87% from 2015 to 2016, not to mention substantial increases in video content views.

Moral to the story? A younger, more mobile-device-friendly audience is stepping up… in big numbers! This new fan base is watching NASCAR action on phones, tablets, and laptops. Monster saw the numbers and associated the numbers with the audience they wanted to reach.

An infusion of younger fans – in any sport – is a healthy characteristic for the future. More fans, yes. But more fans who can stick around for many years, that’s a BIG YES!

Early Dog Paddling (Baby Steps)

The sport of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing, while struggling to grow its fan base, has been showing nascent steps in the right direction over the last few years.

In 2014, took the first “micro-step” by successfully live streaming races through UnlimitedHydroplaneRacing.TV. With any effort to pilot something new, there were significant challenges, but they were overcome and a modicum of successful viewing took place.

While KIRO and KNDO/KNDU in Seattle and Tri-Cities respectively, have done a great job of streaming coverage in years past, it was part of their professional programming. Very classy exposure? Of course. Part of a cohesive streaming strategy for the sport of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing? Not so much.

Then in 2015, H1 Unlimited contracted with GoLive to carry two races. Although fewer races were streamed, a more established partner upped the game a bit. However, Mother Nature threw a curve at the ESPN3 coverage due to the weather when high water debris caused a course and race format change. H1 did stream a compact version, but ESPN3 had already aborted their coverage due to the delays.

It’s time we take another run at envisioning a “media-coverage-friendly” future to appeal to a younger (read that: broader) audience.


H1’s New Year’s Resolution

These steps combined made for movement in the right direction – a direction that gets closer to a destination where a younger, more mobile audience will have an opportunity to enjoy really fast boats. However the sport needs to up its game in that area. Teams and sites need to cooperate to make for the best possible experience for all fans – especially the younger ones.

Here at Unlimited Hydroplane Racing, we’re fans just like you. Our commentary and perspectives are all meant to be positive cogs in a wheel that turns towards a more healthy and expansive sport.

We believe a central discussion topic for the 2017 H1 Unlimited Annual Meeting in January should be to explore all options for rejuvenating the sport. A key element to the rejuvenation is an influx of newer, younger, more “mobile” fans.

Continue to push forward on the three baby steps trail already blazed, and explore what would be considered the next logical step. There are affordable media coverage options available if we give up the notion of streaming “traditional” multi-camera coverage with behind-the-desk anchors, and all the expensive trappings that accompany this outdated mode of coverage.

Many of the pieces are there – we just need to get them connected.

Just One Opinion

This is just one perspective. We want to hear from you on what you believe H1 should focus in their meetings. Give us your feedback in the comments below. Comment on the comments. Let’s get a conversation started – and momentum built – before January 13.

Happy New Year to all you Damn Smart Fans!

UHR Dave

Update: Read Part 2 in Possible H1 Meeting Topics!

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3 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolution For H1

  • January 24, 2017 at 1:04 PM

    I have been reading a lot of sites concerning “unlimited” hydro’s and very view are discussing the actual product. You can go social media all you want but you better start the focus on a product worth promoting. Nascar starting going down hill when all the focus was on the COT car and they lost site of a decent race car that fans wanted to see. Same with the boats, 0 innovation such as new design hulls and engines are my reason for not attending, Nothing new to see so it’s not very interesting. Always hated the “even the field” game, Good teams with less restrictions will figure out how to beat the guys winning but when you take away those options or penalize success who wants to waist $ and time.

  • December 30, 2016 at 11:48 AM


    #1) Identify who H1 Unlimited’s current customers are and who they want their target customer to be moving forward.

    #2) Create a business plan. The plan is an essential road map for success of H1 Unlimited. The plan would be a living document projecting 3-5 years ahead and would outline the route H1 Unlimited intends to take to grow revenues. This would be the guiding light for the H1 Unlimited management to follow as well as each race team and race venue eliminating much of the sports current bickering. Because it is a living document, it would be changed and updated from time-to-time to reflect the changing market.

    #3) Capitalize on the diverse characters involved in the sport. It is the number one thing the sport has going for it. Exploit their stories, backgrounds, experiences, family etc. on H1 web site, social media, mainstream media outlets. Create a buzz around the characters.

    #4) Tell the story from “qualifying”, mechanical breakdowns, team rivalries, national points race, preliminary heats, and finals, that creates excitement. The narratives need to be consistently told from race-to-race with a plot and story line that will write itself. This will build fan excitement and traditional media coverage which gives them a reason to follow from race-to-race.

    #5) Work with race sites to create a schedule with less “down” time for the customers, aka the fans, that also adds to the drama and story telling discussed in no. 4.

    #6) Sell a marketing partner the “clock.” When the boats are on the water they are “under the clock” more than the actual race. Five minute gun, one minute gun, start of the race ~all revolve around this unique element ~ a unique element unlike other racing events. According to Fortune, the watch business alone is over $10 billion a year. Get someone out selling this dynamic element to the sport even if on a commission basis.

    #7) Sell a marketing partner the buoys. With today’s manufacturing they can be shaped and sized to just about anything. The Red Bull Air Races pylons, an iconic symbol of the air races are 82 feet tall and adorning with marketing partners. Why not market the same way?

    Then take that money generated from the buoys and clock and invest in H1 management (aka URC paid Director, PR Manager, Office manager) and give some back to the teams.

    #8) Sell contingency partners programs. Wear a decal of a contingency partner on the boat/uniform get some cash or product. Maybe start with a rental car company or hotel chain. Free or discounted rooms I know for a fact would help ever single team, including H1 Unlimited. This also becomes a feeder for that contingency partner to get their feet wet in the sport, and if serviced correctly, might increase their involvement in future years when they experience the value the sport offers.

    #9) With simple modern technologies identify bodies of water around the country that H1 Unlimited could race, taking into account size, possible pit area, viewing, control of the water etc. Begin with places H1 Unlimited has previously raced. Then proactively solicit promotion/production companies in those geographic areas that current produce events. Generally, they already have relations with marketing partners in their regions. Maybe they want to expand their portfolio for their existing marketing partners or want to give new companies an alternative from their existing events? With more “professionally” run events it becomes easier for teams to obtain marketing partners and gives structure so new events don’t become “one and done”.

    #10) Create a marketing partner “deck” that is available for each H1 Unlimited owner to utilize. It would be the same for each team and would allow for a professional, consistent and honest message that each team could use to appeal to new marketing partners for their teams.

    • December 30, 2016 at 2:06 PM

      This is a comprehensive, and well thought out set of strategies. It is likely each one could be a valuable enhancement, each to some varying degree. With the Annual Meeting upon us (January 13 and 14) now is the perfect time to identify any and all constructive suggestions like these.

      For what we need to condition ourselves though, is a realistic timeline for not just setting strategies like these into motion, but for when we might start to see the fruits of our labors. These are bold steps (and they are needed) so it will take time to get traction. As we indicated in our article, baby steps have already started. More steps are needed – many like the ones suggested here.


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