Rowing, The Ancient Sport
Sports fans love a race. Land, sea, or air, it doesn’t matter. Line two of anything up, turn them loose, and someone will watch. It’s the nature of competition.
From ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’, to Michael Phelps’ eight golds, to Baxter Auto Parts Night at Sunset Speedway, a need for speed draws them in.
Whether a Daytona 500, or a Mayor’s Cup at Portland Meadows, sports fans turn to the drama between death and endurance. They love the stress and strain, the machine vs man, and winning; they love making the call most.
I’m making one now.
If millions and millions of fans enjoy horses and horsepower, and everyone but Mark Spitz celebrated the Phelps/Beijing Olympics, then the same fans need to see crew teams of of eight, four, and one go head to head rowing their guts out. They might be surprised to see pasty-Euros rowing through chameleon-like color changes during their races, but it’s part of the sport.
If you lived in Great Britain, Belarus, or Germany, you’d be surrounded by rowing fans.
You’d have a favorite sculler.
Sports fans in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are not rowing slouches. They are the sort who could raise the sport’s profile as far away as Oregon, and should.
If you’ve seen the movie Rocky, you remember him running up a wide staircase in his sweats and hat. Those stairs lead to the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At the top he runs in place and turns around with his arms in the air, giving a Rocky growl-out to the city below him.
Walk to the back of the building and drop down toward the Schuylkill River where you’ll find Boathouse Row, a series of beautiful buildings housing the Schuylkill Navy.
It is an institution, a long-term commitment for storing race boats on rare real-estate. It’s part life-style and part hobby, if you call soul draining, mind bending, exertion a hobby.
East coast rowing, along with their field hockey, and lacrosse, don’t all resonate to a larger audience. Finding more fans, the sort NASCAR pulls, means winning. Reputations are built on success, and nothing creates more excitement for a sport than taking down traditional powers. (Think Tebow and Denver over the Steelers last year.)
The Universities of Washington and California do their part. They often take the big trophy, the one Harvard and Cornell and Princeton row for. But new schools and winning traditions aren’t enough.
Men’s crew is not even sanctioned by NCAA. They have the prestige or their own governing body. It adds a special quality to rowing culture, a sort of “I paid for the ball, so I’ll play however I want,” quality.
Women’s crew, however, is an NCAA sport. Title IX asks schools to spend equal money on men’s and women’s sports, and crew fits the ticket.
They need boats and gear and storage and trailers and the rest. It’s a lot of stuff, and it costs a lot. Women’s crew soaks it up, which is good for all sports.