Rowing is Growing in the U.S.
By Tammy Leytham
USRowing, the national governing body for the sport of rowing in the U.S., saw a 22 percent increase in its Championship members in 2016 over 2015, according to its annual report. Total membership is up to 85,000 members who participate within its 1,300 member organizations.
Growth at the junior levels also increased by more than 2,000 athletes in 2016 over 2015. Junior rowers make up more than 38,000 of USRowing members and 53 percent of its total membership.
Scholarship opportunities may be the driving force of growth at the high school and college levels. Since Title IX passed in 1972, women’s rowing has surged at the college level, creating more scholarships. In fact, the number of college scholarships offered is as high as 1 in 2 for female high school rowers.
Boys benefit, too. About 18 percent of boys who participate in youth rowing get some form of university scholarship funding, according to Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) and Sports Facilities Management.
Last year, SFA, USRowing and RowAmerica formed an alliance to expand the sport. SFA has overseen planning and financing of more than $5 billion in sporting centers around the world. USRowing and RowAmerica provide expertise to ensure new centers are developed to meet competitive standards.
CrossFit participation may also be fueling growth. As CrossFit athletes use the erg [ergometer] rowing machine in the gym, non-rowers are discovering the sport.
Each time Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood on Netflix’s “House of Cards” is shown on his rowing machine, sales of the WaterRower go up.
“Erg is becoming more and more a known thing,” said Adam Reist, director of the “Dare to Be” documentary on women’s rowing. “If you even quasi-enjoy it, it’s way more fun to do it out in the water.”
Building A Venue
While half of the USRowing membership comes from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the sport is taking off in other regions as well. Anywhere there is a body of water – ideally a sheltered body – rowing events can take place.
“As more people do it and enjoy it and find it’s a really cool sport, they can try, too,” Reist said.
USRowing looks for two things when choosing a venue: support of a local rowing club, and a facility that can accommodate six to seven racing lanes and is long enough for a 1,000-meter course from start to finish line. Water should be at least three meters deep.
In addition, the organization looks for venues with plenty of room for launching the boats.
When the 2017 FISA World Rowing Championships take place this fall in Florida, 40,000 spectators will line the lakefront for the nine days of competition.
They’ll witness 1,700 rowers from more than 60 countries that participate during the championships, held in the U.S. for the first time in 20 years.
The Championships are set for Sept. 23 to Oct. 1 at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., a $40 million, 600-acre park built to be a world-class rowing center.
“The event is expected to generate a $25 million economic impact for the two-county area, which consists of Sarasota and Manatee counties,” said Max Winitz, media and public relations manager for the Championships.
Having Nathan Benderson Park as a premier rowing facility has been a “real game-changer for us,” said Rob Wells, director of the Sarasota County Sports Commission.
In 2016, the facility hosted 28 events that translated into 14,000 room nights and a $14 million economic impact for the area. The facility is used mainly for rowing events but it accommodates a lot of training as well, Wells said. In addition to the World Championships, the center is hosting the USRowing Youth National Championships. In 2018, it will be the site of the NCAA Rowing Championships and the FISA World Rowing Masters Regatta.
“When we travel internationally and talk to rowers and we say ‘Sarasota,’ they say, ‘Oh, yeah, America’s course,’” Wells said. “So, it’s great to hear that when we go out.”
While Sarasota is the only FISA (international rowing federation) Class A venue in the United States, it is not the only city finding ways to accommodate the growing sport of rowing. Oklahoma City created its Boathouse District, which includes a series of rowing and paddling boathouses, and is home to the USRowing National High Performance Center.
Boston has Community Rowing Inc., on the famed Charles River, where more than 5,000 people row each year. Near Cincinnati, Clermont Sports Development Corporation succeeded in bringing several large events to Harsha Lake and the East Fork State Park, including the USRowing Club National Championships in July 2016.
It was an effort to meet those FISA standards that led Nathan Benderson Park to develop into a premier facility.
“Local clubs saw the potential with the site and thought this could be a major tourism driver for the community,” Wells said. “It progressed from there. Someone had the great idea to go to FISA and see what the requirements are to make it a Class A venue. We’ve been working hand-in-hand with some of the best minds in rowing to make it the best venue possible.”
Not only is it a premier rowing venue, it’s also a county park. “We advocate heavily that our local residents and visitors should use it,” Wells said. People bass fish on it in boats with electric motors, kayak, canoe, standup paddleboard and sail. The venue also hosts 5Ks and biking events.
To read more of Rowing Is Growing in the June 2017 issue of SportsEvents Magazine, click here.