The Resurgence of Rowing


Once the largest spectator sport in world, rowing is on the rise again. A significant number of athletes, young and old, are recognizing the physical and mental health benefits of participating in the sport & culture of rowing, a sport that athletes can continue to pursue well into old age. Recent growth trends in high school rowing is attributed to not only to the positive physical and character-building aspects of the sport, but also to the incredibly high ratio of college scholarships awarded to high school rowers…as high as 1 in 2 for female high school rowers.  A recent CBS Sunday Morning piece highlighted the growth in rowing in mainstream culture and the extension of rowing into the $75 billion health club market.

The trend in rowing is also being supported with the opening of new rowing centers.  Sarasota recently funded a $40 million park development, Nathan Benderson Park that is home to among many things (2 malls, 7 hotels, and a multitude of restaurants) a new world-class rowing center which will host the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Oklahoma City over the past 10 years has created the incredible Boathouse District which includes a series of rowing and paddling boathouses, a whitewater RIVERSPORT Adventure center ($45M), cycling, running, and zip line adventures. Boston has what is considered the largest rowing club in the world: Community Rowing Inc or CRI on the famed Charles River. Clermont Sports Development Corporation (nearCincinnati) has succeeded in bringing several large events to Harsha Lake and the East Fork State Park including the US Rowing Club National Championships on July 13, 2016.

Unlike other sports that spike following Olympic Success (women's softball, soccer, and others), rowing's rise does not seem to be attributed to the upcoming games. However, for younger athletes in the sport, collegiate scholarships may be a driving force.  Though a collegiate sport since the mid 1800's, the NCAA didn't officially adopt rowing (and the 12,000 newly available scholarships) as an official sport for women until 1997. A recent report shows that 55.5% of girls in youth rowing, 17.8% of boys get some form of university scholarship funding, making it a sensible sport for parents, schools and communities. Nationwide, ­US Rowing reports 85,000 individual members and 1,300 member organizations in total.

Entrepreneur Dr. Howard Winklevoss is a significant driving force in the Rowing industry. Dr. Winklevoss witnessed the positive transformational power the sport of rowing had had on his own twin sons, Tyler and Cameron, who successfully progressed their rowing career to the highest level by competing in the 2008 Olympic Games, and who have since become highly successful entrepreneurs in their own right. It is that transformational power that hasinspired Dr. Winklevoss to expand the reach of the sport of rowing through hisConnecticut-based company, RowAmerica, so that rowing can touch the lives of others. Since 2000, Dr. Winklevoss has dedicated his time and resources togrowing the sport of rowing through the development of multiple boat clubs, rowing support services, boat brand development, and through innovations in rowing equipment engineering, design and manufacturing.

On any given day more than 200 young rowers ages 12-18 can be found at RowAmerica's state of the art Saugatuck Rowing Club boathouse which features indoor training, fitness and wellness spaces, and waterfront dining – amenities traditionally found in high-end yacht clubs. Celebrating consecutive wins at the US Youth Nationals in both the Girls Open and Lightweight 8's events this month, most of the Saugatuck team has been given some form of scholarship or early admittance to a large number of America's premier universities.

Recognizing the upward trends in the sport of rowing, USRowing and RowAmerica partnered with The Sports Facilities Advisory & Management (SFA|SFM) in 2015 with the combined purpose to grow the sport of rowing, and to create rowing development tools and services in order to expand the reach of rowing. Glenn Merry, President of U.S. Rowing, is enthusiastic about this partnership in that "we have a number of industry consultants, but we have never had a service that includes financing and management in one package.  Now throughout partnership with the Sports Facilities Advisory, we are receiving 2 new inquiries per week from waterfront developers, existing rowing clubs, community and others with an interest in the sport.  We have even completed a site visit and will begin master planning a new rowing center at a major amusement park attraction."  Merry is bullish on the future of rowing and says that this new service is contributing to his confidence that the sport will continue to grow. 

Rowing is a beautiful sport for participants and spectators alike, and as community leaders and entrepreneurs look to engage their waterway, rowing is becoming a key cornerstone to developing hubs of cultural activity. All are beginning to see the many benefits a rowing culture brings to their community in the way of economic impact (events, hotel stays, memberships & fees, increased waterfront land prices), prestige and quality of life.

For more information about the Sports Facilities Advisory and its suite of planning-funding-opening-management services, visit

About Sports Facilities Advisory:

The Sports Facilities Advisory & Sports Facilities Management (SFA | SFM) are leading resources in recreation facility planning and management. Since 2003 the company has helped more than 800 communities to plan, fund, or optimize more than $6 Billion in community based sport and recreation assets. SFA | SFM's mission is to improve the health and economic vitality of communities. For more information, visit