The three reasons most people race are the competition, the trophies and the social event; to increase participation you have to promote all three aspects. If you say "I don't want the racing to be too serious", the most likely people to participate (the serious racers) are immediately excluded. Marketing to people that aren't buying seems a little futile. The beercan format can be a great tool to increase participation by promoting in among the serious guys as a training race (an by putting in non-conventional courses that will challenge them abit), providing a useful "trophy", leaving you only having to promote the social aspect.
Agreed, you just can't make everyone happy. It's intimidating for newbies so the racing has to be easy. For the OD snobs like me -- we unctuous self-appointed assholes who feel it's our due to judge all right and wrong -- "baby-racing" is a complete waste of time, needlessly wears out sails, and puts the boat in harm's way. The happy medium is when the beercan format is truly fun but at the same time can be used for quality training. Much easier said than done.
Where I think it goes off the rails very very quickly is when people who ONLY beercan race take it much too seriously -- they start doing the water-lawyer thing as if it were the Olympics, and act all macho 'n' shit around the newcomers who are really just trying to get their boat across the starting line and the buoys without wreaking too much havoc. And the different classes inevitably fuck each others' race up. And then there's less smiling and fun. It's why I've pulled my head back into my shell and only do OD at this point; I have seen it in plenty of other people too.
Beercan racing could of course be tons of fun but for the most part it gets wrapped around itself. Take your prototypical Wednesday or Thursday night buoy racing program. The RC that night may be great, or they may be drunken hacks who couldn't care less -- who knows what sort of course or start sequences you might get. You zip around the cans, get sworn at by folks who aren't in your class, the guy you picked up at the dock because he wanted to sail just got his ankle tangled in a line and is yelping, but you finish and go back in. The tough guys come into the clubhouse off their J29s and one-off PHRF specials, and act like they're Rambo. The old guys come in off their J105s and funky antiquated IOR machines, may still be wearing their suits from work, and lodge lots of complicated protests against each other even though the tough guys laugh at them for not being any good. Little racer-cruisers and creaky old J24s with keel sump issues are the subject of lots of eye-rolls, because they just get in the way of the so-called actual racers. The drunk guys are still out on the course and the RC is getting kinda annoyed in the dark waiting for them to get back. The RC themselves has probably had a few beers, and done their best to time boats across the line down to the second, but it's not so easy and there's probably a margin of +/- 3 seconds (and the deemed course length may be several %age points different than the actual length). And by the time you do the PHRF multipliers, etc., you have boats winning or losing by tenths of a second. Lastly, the trophies that most YCs give out these days are a far cry, dignity-wise, from the cool little engraved plates your dad still has from back in the 1960s -- they're probably cheesy as hell.
Then you come back to the clubhouse. It's kind of an older crowd, because not too many folks under 60 can easily get away on a weekday evening anyway. The old wrinkly hags from the Ladies' Auxiliary or whatever are being unpleasant and you're pissed because they are getting a free ride and you might get a little chirpy with one or two. If you're a beginner, the whole thing's intimidating, complicated, geriatric, and expensive at the same time. The food sucks and it takes forever to get there. At least you can get really drunk (after all, might as well use up your monthly minimum bar tab) and then get in your car and take chances driving home.
For some racers, it gets hokey pretty fast -- much better to go out for a training sesh and order a pizza, and just be social misfits.
It's all just, as the UK blokes are wont to say, a big cockup.
What club do you belong to up there? That utterly, utterly, to a tee, describes the wednesday night racing program at my club. Eerily so.