Yes, But What Do They Actually Spend It On?

In 1910, the Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race was an event by – and for – gentlemen amateurs. However, there was still concern about the costs of putting it on.

28 March 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch says, “show me the money”.

In Robert Treharne Jones’s piece yesterday about Boat Race sponsors past and present, he wondered what some of the more recent “Principal Partners” actually did as a business. Whatever the sponsor’s raison d’etre, a related question may be, what is the money that they so kindly donate actually spent on?

Coaching and equipment seems a reasonable guess but, in modern times, the production of an elite sporting event that is also a national institution and that takes place on land and water controlled by numerous outside bodies will also incur many less immediately obvious costs. In its 2017 report on the Boat Race, the professional services firm, Arup, indicated just a few of the mundane things that sponsor’s cash has to be spent on: 

The Boat Race Company (BRC) is responsible for the planning and delivery of The Boat Race… for day-to-day Club liaison, sponsor sales process and rights delivery, contractual arrangements with key suppliers and partners, interface with London boroughs and Boat Houses along the Championship Course, oversight of 3rd party agencies, financial management and the marketing and communication strategy of The Boat Race.

Thus, there are many boring but necessary costs incurred in putting on a modern Boat Race. In the past, such things appear to have been cheaper and easier.

The Manchester Evening News of 11 February 1902.

Next week’s Boat Race will probably not spend 2% of its budget on “champagne and other necessary liquors” and it is tempting to romanticise “the good old days”. However, the budget of 1902 was high for the period, about £150,000 in today’s money, and it delivered the race that those of the time wanted and expected. Today’s competitors and spectators demand much more. Further, unlike in 1902, the race is responsible for its spectators and it also has to give its sponsors the publicity that they require. Someone has to pay for all this – even if it is in cryptocurrency and not in gold sovereigns. 

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