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Sure, we all go to regattas to race. But seriously, who doesn’t also look forward to digging through JL bargain bins, or checking out the gear that local and regional vendors offer up?

On March 31, USRowing announced via social media that it is now “proud partners” with Nike, showing off a simple graphic of their two logos side by side. No additional information was provided. There were initial cheers of support, but in the past week it’s come to light that the USRowing contract with Nike confirms that no vendor selling “competing products” will be allowed to sell at USRowing-hosted events.

Among others, that means clothing vendors won’t be allowed at:

  • World Rowing Cups
  • Youth Championships
  • Club National Championships
  • Masters National Championships
  • USRowing Conventions (I assume, not verified)

Of course this is a sad day for your wardrobe, overflowing with rowing t-shirts and spandex but seemingly never enough. But it’s an even more depressing day for small vendors like me. Did you know that RowSource isn’t supported by a staff of writers, editors, and salesmen? It’s literally just me – Rachel Freedman: coach, rower, coxswain, rowing enthusiast.

While I’d like to think RowSource is on USRowing’s radar (their masters coverage has increased since RowSource launched with a focus on that demographic in 2014), they have no idea that when I set up shop at local regattas the money I earn helps keep this website running – ad free – and the lights on in my home office/t-shirt print studio. USRowing doesn’t know that I decided to take this year off from coaching specifically to focus on growing RowSource – partially by attending and selling unique gear at Masters Nationals for the first time. I have bins full of shirts and hats ready to sell.

USRowing’s partnership with a giant like Nike supports our national team, and for that we can be grateful. But the opportunity to place the Nike swoosh on national team rower’s kits could have just signed a death warrant for clubs that host regattas, and small vendors that rely on regattas for advertising, outreach, and sales.

“I can understand [USRowing signing] a major sponsor. Head of the Charles has a major clothing sponsor in Brooks Brothers. Then they have their main athletic gear sponsor now in New Balance. They still have all the little mom and pops that set up their own tents and sell retail,” says Long Beach Rowing Association coach AC Chacon. “If there is room at Head of the Charles for everyone it seems like Nike can share local USRowing regattas but still be the one that outfits athletes for the Olympics.”

JL responded to this announcement with a lengthy (worth the read) piece that highlights the value that local vendors bring to USRowing hosted events. JL alone paid rowing clubs over $85,000 in vendors fees, explaining that “Sponsorship depends on profit. If JL profits, we can support the community that supports us. If we can’t attend [USRowing hosted events], we can’t pay the vendor fees that help keep your regattas going. JL and all the rest of the rowing vendors sponsor your rowing event.”

“I can’t believe that USRowing would be so narrow-sighted as to throw long-time partners [and supporters] under the bus,” rower Anita Pitts Oudega lamented.

Details on the deal with Nike are slim, so I hope that USRowing will be announcing details in the very near future, which will hopefully ease some of my concerns.

In solidarity with JL – a big name you all know – and all the little guys like me (that you probably don’t know), here’s what you can do to support the vendors you’ve come to rely on:

  • Share this article, and your opinion, on social media.
  • Follow, link to, and tag RowSource. Every time you engage with RowSource, I’m able to reach a wider swath of the rowing community and grow the conversation. Find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn (@Rowsource).
  • Talk with your club’s regatta director about the importance of maintaining a vibrant, diverse vendor marketplace that reflects local interests.
  • Contact the USRowing Board of Directors and tell them how important this is to you, your club, and the small businesses you support.
  • Shop local. Shop small. If you’re looking for an alternative to the preppy pageantry of high-end vendors, or just want unique designs, I hope you’ll visit my online shop.

Stay in touch on social media, sign up for my newsletter at RowSource.com, and stop by to say hi at non-USRowing hosted regattas.

Thank you for supporting RowSource since 2014. Hope to see you soon!

Rachel Freedman, Founder

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