In April I wrote an article here about altering the domestic rowing calendar to make our great sport more interesting during some of the leaner winter months.
Meanwhile over in Germany a Rowing League (Ruder-Bundesliga) has existed for the past five years growing from strength to strength with more information found here if your German is up to scratch.
The premise is a simple yet brilliant one and totally designed to be exciting for people to watch and engage with. Racing is over 350m for both genders in eights, in front of some of the most iconic settings in cities across Germany. The first race took place in Frankfurt on May 27th with a time trial to begin before one-on-one racing takes place Henley winner takes all style. Points are awarded for the finishing position and the winner of the league is the crew with the most points at the end of the five races that make up that season.
So how could this work in the UK? Well to start with we could have open entry to compete in the time trials for any club or university senior eights and whittle it down to the best of 16/8/4 and finally a winner. There could be races that take in some of the best landmarks the UK has to offer. Given that its 350m racing, the opportunies of where to race are great. For example, the racing league could open with a race in Hyde Park followed by racing in the centre of Newcastle outside the Sage Gateshead building and under the iconic tilt Millennium Bridge (seen below left). The league could be completed with a final race under the Westminster Bridge and finish in front of the Houses of Parliament on the Thames (seen below right).
The importance of the races taking place in front of iconic venues is because, with short races with high excitement, the television companies and sponsors will be keen to get involved.
This is perhaps what our sport is currently missing? Even at Olympic level the results are starting to become predictable so the general public loses interest between the Olympic Games.
Once a domestic league is finished, those who top the leagues would be invited to the Rowing Champions League. Founded by the late Gerhard Meuer, the Rowing Champions League pits the victors of the Rowing Bundesliga against the best that other countries have to offer with further information to be found online here. The 2015 winners were from Dukla Praha, Czech Republic for the men, and RV Rauxal from the host nation, Germany, for the women.
Britain had representation in the form of London Rowing Club, with a men’s crew that finished twelfth overall. Crews that would look to be invited over to race in the Champions League on the men’s side would include the Oxford Brookes Temple crew, Leander Club’s Ladies Plate boat or the best that Thames Rowing Club has to offer. The domestic league could sort out who makes the trip.
On the women’s side Oxford University could head over once Boat Race duties are firmly over, or Oxford Brookes and Newcastle University eights could resume what is an excellent rivalry and race it out.
With the current race schedule, the Rowing Champions League is attracting television cameras with a format that can be sold to television across Europe with the potential to one day broadcast to the world. The development of the League could see the best of the male IRA crews or women’s NCAA’s university eights from the USA or the best crew the southern hemisphere has to offer such as Melbourne University or Waikato University Boat Clubs. Currently Henley Royal Regatta has the history and prestige to lure the best rowing clubs, universities, schools and nationals’ teams to race and the Rowing Champions League could offer a sprint version, 6 weeks after Henley.
The 2016 edition of the Champions League is going to take place in Berlin in front of the Mercedes-Benz Arena, a very impressive modern building, in addition to the historic Oberbaum Bridge (image below) and piece of the original Berlin Wall that will offer the sort of backdrop television camera’s love.
The format of the Rowing Champions League is completely television orientated. Close races, a crescendo in front of picturesque and historically buildings with lots of supporters lining the bank. With BT Sport confirming they are broadcasting the coverage of Henley Royal Regatta in addition to the live streaming on the Henley YouTube site, the opportunity to see rowing, particularly domestic racing, on television has never been so great. There are huge opportunities to capitalise financially for all those involved with interest from television leading to an increase in sponsorship, commercial opportunities and funding for those participating in the event. This truly is an awesome time to be involved in rowing.
In September British Rowing Chair Annamarie Phelps will be attending the Rowing Champions League finals in Berlin. I hope she is impressed with what she see’s and something can be added to the admittedly busy domestic schedule to ensure the best of British Rowing is participating in Champions League events in future. The event doesn’t need to compete against Henley or indeed the excellent, yet completely mistimed, Brit Champs, and can stand alone as its own great event. Racing over 350m is such an intriguing idea it might just be enough to get me, and I’m sure others, back in a boat.