BY ED MORAN
PHOTOS BY LUKE REYNOLDS AND COURTESY HYDROW
When collegiate rowing was shut down this spring as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association was forced to look at not just if there would be a regatta in 2021, but how the extreme loss of revenues to participating schools would impact the ability to hold future championships.
While there is no way of predicting if the pandemic will be controlled enough to allow the regatta to be held in 2021, a large part of the funding issues have been solved for at least the next three seasons with a new sponsorship agreement between the IRA and Hydrow, makers of the Live Outdoor Reality™ (LOR) rower.
The sponsorship, which was officially announced Monday morning, will fund “a good portion,” of the cost of running the next three regattas and enable the IRA to not significantly increase the cost of competing to schools who want to participate, according to IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell.
“This is a three-year partnership for the next three IRAs that we run,” said Caldwell, who added that the sponsorship will remain in place for three consecutive championship regattas regardless of when the IRA is next run.
“Who the heck knows if we are going to have a regatta next spring,” Caldwell said. “We don’t even know who is going to be at school. Right now, the sponsorship goes from 2021, through 2023, and if it doesn’t begin in 2021, it will roll over and go from 2022 to 2024.
“What this provides us, at least initially in the first year, is a budget backstop,” Caldwell said. “It gives us budget relief when we don’t know how many schools are going to be able to show up if we do run a regatta,” he said. Caldwell pointed to the economic loss schools have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic, and the fact that those losses are being made even more extreme by the cancellation of collegiate football schedules being announced in many of the biggest conferences over the past several weeks.
“Right now, with everything that is happening in college football, it’s a pretty good indication of what college sports might be experiencing in the spring. We just don’t know yet,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to have to feel our way through this, but when we release this news to the college community, and the coaches and administrators and sports information directors, the most important message to them is that this really puts us in a position where we have flexibility with a significant increase in our financial state that will allow us to not have to go to the colleges and say it cost you X amount to be at the regatta last year and it’s going to cost you double that this year.”
“Unlike the NCAA, we are a cost share championship, where the membership shares in the enterprise and there is no mother organization that is coming with a big check so that nobody has to pay for their participation in this sport,” he said.
For Hydrow, the sponsorship an extension of a relationship the company has had with the IRA dating back to when the company was founded in 2018. Hydrow has been a sponsor of the regatta since then, and has had plans to expand the level of support since.
According to company CEO and founder Bruce Smith, Hydrow is excited to partner with the IRA because it will help the company not just to support the sport but spread the story of rowing throughout its customer base.
According to Smith, most customers who purchase the live virtual reality rower the company produces have no background in rowing. “Ninety-six percent of the people who buy Hydrows have never even touched a rowing shell, or even owned a rowing machine before,” Smith said.
“They are all brand new to the sport, and for us, this partnership is a great opportunity to share with non-rowers one of the coolest stories in our sport. It allows us to share the extraordinary history of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, and the beautiful trophy, and the constant competition and the longevity of the event, and the role that it has played in the sport in the United States.
“Nobody knows about that among our customers, and it’s a great opportunity to share the story of rowing.”
Smith said that since getting started in the rowing machine and wellness product market, the company has been thriving. But, unlike what the pandemic has done to the economy of collegiate athletics and associations like the IRA, sales of the Hydrow rower have ballooned since the spread of the virus forced people to find ways to stay fit on their own.
“Sales were crazy before the pandemic, but then the pandemic made them literally explode by seven times in the month of July over January,” Smith said. “For a wellness product to sell seven times what it sold in the doldrums than what it sold in the middle of the year is just crazy.”
Smith said Hydrow has always had plans to increase their sponsorship level with the IRA, but the increase in sales has allowed them to do just that now when the need is greatest.
“The pandemic has helped accelerate our business to the place where are able to continue to invest in marketing and use some of those resources to not just pay it back but really to share the history of rowing with people who have never had an opportunity to learn about it, and we’re really excited about that,” he said.