From 23 September to 1 October 2017, the Sarasota-Bradenton area in Florida, USA, hosted the 2017 World Rowing Championships (WRCH2017).

Sarasota as a rising sports events destination

The project was initiated thanks to the support and leadership of the Sarasota County Sports Commission (SCSC) and the Bradenton Area Sports Commission (BASC).

The SCSC is the sports division of Visit Sarasota County (VSC) and the BASC is the sports subsidiary of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (BACVB). The main objective of these two commissions is to use sport to support tourism and economic development in their respective communities. To do so, they market and host sports events with the aim of attracting visitors to the area.

In 2016 alone, the SCSC hosted 135 events (20 per cent more than 2015). These events generated an economic impact of more than $178 million, representing a 23-per-cent increase compared to the year before.

In the 2017 Sportcal Global Sport Cities Index, Sarasota moved up 79 positions from 2016, which represented the 13th best upward move in the top 200 ranked global sports cities. It is now ranked 1st in Florida (having leapfrogged Miami); 6th in USA (up nine places) and 102nd in the world.

Sarasota and other Floridian cities’ rankings in the Sportcal Global Sports Cities Index (2013 – 2017)


Source: Sportcal Research 

In recent years, Sarasota has hosted numerous international sports events, having already successfully bid for and delivered events in cycling, powerboating, sailing and triathlon. The area is planning to continue to stage major events in the foreseeable future.

Selected international sports events in Sarasota


Source: Sportcal Research 

Sarasota as host of the WRCH2017

The WRCH2017 was arguably the largest sports event ever to be held in Sarasota County and one that has put this territory on the sports world’s map. 

It was also the first time for over 20 years and the second time in history that the event had taken place in the USA – after Indianapolis hosted it in 1994.

The venue of the WRCH2017 was the state-of-the-art Nathan Benderson Park.


Credit: VSC/IEddie Kirsch 

Before hosting the world championships, Sarasota hosted youth national events, regattas and Olympic trials at the venue, demonstrating the facility’s full potential.

The development of this facility as well as the partnerships established by Sarasota County to deliver the event was made possible using a model of public-private partnership and regional collaboration.

Nathan Benderson Park is a community park with a lake. It was built to FISA racing requirements and first hosted rowing regattas in 2009. The race course specifications include 8 x 13.5 metre lanes, a 2,180-metre length, a 630-metre width and an average six-metre depth. The lake also has multiple 1,500-metre warm-up and cool down lanes as well as an exclusive cycling path for coaches and officials. In addition, the facility is equipped with timing towers and a floating wave attenuator platform that doubles up as a dedicated TV lane for broadcast requirements.

The venue: Nathan Benderson Park

Sources: WRCH2017 LOC and VSC 

Nathan Benderson Park is the only World Rowing-approved, Class A rowing venue in North America, and arguably the Sarasota-Bradenton area’s biggest asset for hosting major rowing events.

More than $40 million in public and private-sector monies were budgeted to build the facility.

The Sarasota County investment was $19 million. These funds were generated through the county’s ‘Tourist Development Tax’ or ‘Bed Tax’, a nightly fee paid by visitors to the area when staying in local accommodation. The county secured this fund before the bid for the World Rowing Championships was even launched and it contributed to financing the first two phases of the park’s transformation.

As hosting the WRCH2017 was too big an investment for the SCSC to fund on its own, it partnered with its neighbouring county of Manatee (where the Bradenton area is located) and looked for support from both local authorities and businesses. Other important stakeholders were US Rowing, the national governing body for the sport of rowing, the State of Florida, which invested $15 million, as well as the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (known as “SANCA”), the non-profit board of the organization that operates Nathan Benderson Park.

Thus, the last phase of the Nathan Benderson Park’s transformation project, which included the construction of a finishing towers and other amenities, was funded by SANCA and corporate support.

At institutional level, the Local Organising Committee also benefitted from the cooperation between political authorities, the business community and sports bodies.

Beyond this, the development of the Nathan Benderson Park and the organisation of the WRCH2017 benefited from the close collaboration between the Sarasota and Manatee counties and the belief that together stakeholders could achieve something greater than any of them alone.

The benefits of the WRCH2017 for the Sarasota community

The WRCH2017 hosted around 1,500 national delegation members, including 930 athletes, from 68 countries.

In addition, 1,907 registered volunteers supported the delivery of the event, working a combined total of 42,000 hours.

Over the course of the nine days of the event, 41,996 spectators attended the competition, including 6,544 foreign visitors. The peak was reached on the opening day with 9,000 people.

Key figures of the WRCH2017


Sources: WRCH2017 LOC, VSC and Sportcal Research  

When including direct, indirect and induced economic impact, attendees of the WRCH2017 generated $22.6 million for Florida before, during and after the event, according to a study from tourism research company Downs & St. Germain Research.

As for the direct, indirect and induced economic impact of the event for the Sarasota-Manatee counties, it totalled $18.7 million. Direct economic impact alone from non-resident visitors spending money on accommodation, restaurants, groceries, transportation, admissions, entertainment, shops and other expenses amounted to $11.3 million.

Direct economic impact of the WRCH2017 on the Sarasota-Manatee area (in $)

Source: Downs & St Germain Research 

In addition, a total of 82 TV broadcasters covered the event, with 14 of these originating from the USA and the remaining 68 coming from overseas. The championships also welcomed 46 digital international media outlets.

Overall, these outlets accumulated more than 1.6 million media impressions for the event.

The World Rowing Championships also attracted 9,664 followers on Facebook, 1,257 on Twitter and 5,853 on Instagram. In total, the social media accounts of the event brought in 253,294 social media engagements in the form of likes, shares and comments. Facebook was the main contributor to social media engagements with 68 per cent of interactions (173,733).

The media and social media exposure of the event contributed to introduce spectators and TV viewers to Florida’s West Coast and present it as a potential vacation and world class rowing destination.

According to a survey conducted during the event, 95 per cent of the spectators to the event were either satisfied (22 per cent) or very satisfied (73 per cent) with their stay in Sarasota.

Additionally, 86 per cent of spectators to the WRCH2017 recommended the Sarasota area as a vacation destination and only three per cent said they would not recommend it.

Spectators recommending Sarasota as a vacation destination


 Source: Downs & St Germain Research 

These reputational gains should also help the area attract more sports events in the future.

On top of economic effects, media exposure and image-related gains, the event also provided numerous social benefits for the Sarasota-Bradenton area and its population.

In partnerships with travel agency Eco Tours, the WRCH2017 offered nature lovers and environment-conscious travellers the opportunity to experience unique outdoor venues in Sarasota and Manatee counties. In addition, an Eco Passport was used to track Eco Tours paddlers that were attending the championships. Those who attended the highest number of events were awarded prizes such as passes to the VIP Hospitality Lounge in the finish tower, tickets to the Championships Pavilion and entrances for the Sarasota Memorial Grandstands.

Another social event was organised in partnership with public libraries of the Sarasota-Bradenton area and Daniel James Brown, the author of The Boys in the Boat, as the main attraction. VIP guests had the opportunity to meet and greet the writer around a lunch and an autograph signing session.

Organisers also held several events focusing on the fight against breast cancer in partnership with several organisations in the Sarasota and Manatee counties. The aim of these charity events was to educate about screening and early detection, raise money for research and celebrate survivors. A row for the Cure Erg-a-Thon using stationary rowing machines was also organised at the fan park to kick of the month of breast cancer awareness. A local charity, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, collected donations.

Finally, a very original “Adopt a Team” program was developed with Sarasota and Manatee schools, the Embracing our Differences non-profit organisation and Benderson Development Company to provide experience of other cultural and national backgrounds to youngsters in the local communities. Under the scheme, each school learned about a particular participating nation and created an artwork inspired by that nation. More than 2,200 students at 40 schools took part in the artistic initiative during the spring of 2017. The art represents the life and culture of 59 of the countries who participated in the WRCH2017. Then the pupils visited the Nathan Benderson Park during the championships to cheer for their adopted team, view their artworks on display in the Embracing Our Differences Rowing Art Exhibit and meet some of the national delegation’s athletes and coaches.

Examples of artworks from the “Adopt a team” programme 

Credit: Embracing Our Differences and their collaboration with Benderson Development Company

The establishment of these participation and legacy programs and the launch of the “Adopt-a-Team” program in schools provided great examples of the way major sports events held in the Sarasota-Bradenton area can showcase the hospitality of the area but also bring invaluable social benefits to local communities by tapping into the social and educational values of sport.

These initiatives as well as the WRCH2017 have been presented and studied as best practices at several conferences and sports events organisers from across the globe have enquired about training opportunities in the Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Credit: FISA/Igor Meijer

In 2018 the Sarasota-Bradenton area will also stage the World Rowing Masters Regatta.

The Masters Regatta is World Rowing’s largest event, featuring more than 400 individual races, typically attracting more than 3,000 masters competitors aged 27 and older from over 40 countries. This is three times more participants than for a World Rowing Championships. The last World Rowing Masters Regatta, which took place from 6 to 10 September 2017 in Bled, Slovenia, attracted 4,000 competitors.

In addition, unlike the participants to the World Championships which are elite athletes that mainly stay, eat, compete and then leave, participants to the World Rowing Masters Regatta tend to be amateur rowers that often come with their families and spend more time in the area as they use the occasion as their vacations. So, there is an argument to say that the impact from the Masters Regatta might even be greater than that of the World Rowing Championships – if it enjoys the same success in terms of drawing spectators.

Hosting events such as these could create a lasting legacy from Sarasota’s hosting of the World Rowing Championships and further contribute towards the area achieving the goal of becoming “the premier rowing destination in the world”.

This article is driven by the Sportcal Events intelligence service and Global Sports Impact (GSI) Report. For more information on how to access the Sportcal Events service or GSI Report, please contact