Just Keep Rowing, Just Keep Rowing

Calling all sunset chasers, early morning joggers, and afternoon strollers! If you’ve ever spent time on the Charles River doing these activities, in addition to the multitude of kayakers, paddle boarders, and sailors you may have seen a boat filled rowers glide down the river.


Feat. The Boston College Women’s Rowing Team

Boston is one of the most iconic cities for rowing. From the high concentration of colleges to the established high schools and vast array of alumni resulting from both – rowing has carved an integral niche into what makes Boston so unique. Last weekend, you could have strolled down the riverfront, eaten tons of free samples, and watched hundreds of boats row past at the 52nd Head of the Charles regatta

The Head of the Charles is the largest two-day regatta in the world. It began in 1965, taking place during the third weekend of October on Boston’s very own river every year. 11,000 athletes from over 25 countries participate in it each year. It is one of New England’s top three attended annual events, drawing tens of thousand of spectators each year. Planning and executing the event requires a team all on its own.  A full-time professional staff of six works year-round to plan the event, recruit and obtain corporate sponsorship. The committee is in charge of filling three scopes of sponsorship to make the event a success: (1) Premier Sponsorship, (2) Corporate Display, (3) Food Vendors.

Though the athletes provide the talent, the spectators provide the profit.  Their presence makes the Head of the Charles event an immensely profitable and attractive business opportunity to many potential brands. It draws, tens of thousands of spectators to the riverfront every year. According to the HOCR website, the event attracts 1 million unique web site visitors and reaches 5.5 billion global media impressions which generates the equivalent of $7 million in advertising. The local impacts on the city of Boston are equally as impressive. With over 50% of the spectators living within a 5-mile radius of Boston, the pride and spirit of the city is undeniable.  In addition to the local impact, traveling athletes from other cities and countries impact Boston’s economy through restaurants, hotels, and businesses. The estimated value of this activity is almost $55 million per year. Given these attractive prospects, the HOCR planning committee seeks corporate sponsors who embody the traits their rowers are known for and celebrated: “endurance, grace, strength, finesse.”

Research conducted by the Head of the Charles concludes that most HOCR spectators are educated, wealthy, and decisive. The participants and audience are demographically segmented as highly-educated and intellectual individuals. Over 600 schools and universities compete from Ivy League and NCAA accredited institutions. According to HOCR research, 85% of regatta participants are more likely to select HOCR sponsor products than generic during and after the event. In addition, 79% of participants appreciated sponsors more than competitors after the regatta because of sponsors’ commitment to the event. Therefore, the planning committee must recognize these specific segmentations to find the most fitting corporate sponsors of this event.

The spectators are an “accomplished and loyal audience” according to HOCR research. 32% of the audience earns more than $100,000 annually, 14% earns more than $150,000 annually. The average spend per person is over $321 for the weekend.

In addition, the vast majority of spectators are “influential decision makers,” meaning they have budget authority over corporate business expenditures or are heads of businesses. Lastly, there is a strong sense of community leadership with 76% volunteering for non-profit organizations and 37% serving as volunteer committee chairs.

So what do all these numbers collected by the HOCR organization mean? The race-course is 5 kilometers long. Aside from being a grueling and long head race feared by many, 5 kilometers offers ample retail space for vendors, affiliates, and corporate sponsors. The various points throughout the river offer promising business opportunities.

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The “Weld Exhibition Display,” for example, is the closest location to Harvard Square on the river. Its popular location brought 100,000 visitors to the site this past weekend.  It offers 10’ x 10’ parking for “Regatta Patrons” or venders interested in corporate sampling and product display. This year, for example, Chobani gave out free samples of its new Meze dip and pita products, Ghirardelli chocolate handed out free chocolate caramel samples and coupons for hot chocolate, Cape Cod potato chips debuted their new popcorn product, sparkling Ice drink handed out free flavored water bottles, and Justin’s peanut butter released free honey peanut butter sample packets.

As a lover of all free things, I stuffed my purse full of every sample possible. As I tried them throughout the week, next few hours, I was surprised by how awesome some of the products were and how I would be more likely to purchase them in the future. These samples helped me overcome preconceived notions that Justin’s peanut butter is extremely overpriced and unworthy of the all-organic, natural ingredient reputation they assume. I thought the only flavored water worth spending money on was La Croix sparkling water read this if you don’t believe me. Lastly, I thought Chobani had no place as a Greek yogurt producer in the hummus and dip space. Oh how wrong I was.

One tier above the “Patron Sponsorship” level is the “Official Regatta Sponsorship.”  These companies retain the right to sample their products like the vendors, but can also display their brands throughout various points of the regatta.  Below are the official regatta sponsors.

The highest tier of HOCR sponsorship is the Premier Sponsors are designated as an “Official Premier Sponsor of the Head of the Charles Regatta.” Which basically means that they can use the Head of the Charles Regatta marks and logos in advertising and promotions as well as market their brand throughout any of the public/private tents, vendor locations, and in print or online publications.  Below are the four premier sponsors of the regatta.

The purpose of analyzing the three different sponsorship tiers as well as the three key regatta spectator segmentation methods is to recognize the opportunity that exists for these businesses to align themselves with this event, attract new customers and instill, and attract and retain long-term customer loyalty from new and existing consumers.

So next time you find yourself walking along the Charles River, remember this post and the effort not only the planning committee goes through each year to implement a successful event, but the strategic planning each sponsor conducts to determine whether or not investing in the regatta is worth their resources.

Statistics and research references came from the below sites:


Current Sponsors


  1. vicmoriartybc · ·

    This is a really cool post that taught me a lot about the Head of the Charles Regatta, which I’ve never gone to! I had no idea how large of an advertising opportunity it is for sponsors, especially those in the local Boston area. Aside from just advertising to spectators physically present at the regatta, I feel like every year I see dozens of Instagram posts from it, which basically serve as free advertising for the event and its sponsor brands. With the beautiful Charles River and fall scenery, how can you not Insta it? Though I never actually made it there, I’ve always wished I could, and it’s mostly because of what I see on social media.

  2. Nice post, but don’t lose the digital focus!

  3. Really interesting post! I’d never given much thought to the scope of the HOCR. It’s kinda crazy that just 6 people organize that entire event — it’s enormous! Would be interested to see how they manage the social media/digital presence of the event. Or do they just let all of the participating teams do the marketing to their universities? The only way I’ve ever found out about it is via a Facebook invite from someone on the BC Crew Team.

    I haven’t been since Freshman year but would also imagine that there’s a lot these companies are doing in terms of digital sponsorships during the race (Snapchat geo-tags, etc). Certainly seems like there will be more of that coming in the next few years, if it hasn’t already ramped up.

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