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The Boat Race 2017

The direct economic impact of The Boat Race in the local economy is estimated between £2.1 and £2.9 million, with indirect contribution reaching £2.8 to £3.7 million each year (Source: Arup)

What is the economic impact of an outdoor event? The question was the starting point for a research into The Boat Race that Arup, an engineering and strategic consultancy business, conducted on behalf of the organiser of the annual rowing contest between crews from Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs.

Arup released the report in October. The company boasts a wealth of experience in working with host cities of major events. It was heavily involved in London 2012 and its staff designed buildings for Beijing Olympics.

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Chris Dite

Chris Dite, associate director at Arup

The Boat Race is a significant fixture on the UK sporting calendar and the organiser wanted to understand the impact of the event in London beyond the river itself. The findings would inform future planning, engage wider audiences, and meet the needs and expectations of spectators.

Whilst the findings relate to the race  – it covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake – Access talked to the lead author of the report who revealed useful insights for organisers to take on board.

Chris Dite, associate director at Arup, said that they recommend organisers to take a holistic approach when planning an event. “We looked at how The Boat Race organiser engaged with the audience, from the transport links and signage to staff on site,” he said, noting that every little detail counts.

Arup’s study revealed that the key consideration for the organiser is to communicate with the audience. This could be done via big screen, mobile app, or even video stream. “It really is about how the organiser tells a story to the people attending,” Dite explained.

These factors help the organiser to build a picture of the event. In the case of The Boat Race, it had nothing to do with the race itself and more about how they cater to the people attending.

Leverage resources

“It’s all about the experience”, we have heard the quote so many times, but how organisers go about to achieve that. For The Boat Race, which dates back to 1829 (the Women’s Boat Race was first rowed in 1927), the task puts the organiser under pressure, as the race doesn’t need an audience; it had taken place ­– and will continue to do so – whatever the spectator, whatever the weather.

So for sporting events it really is about how they put on a show that is relevant to the event, and interesting enough to get people in.

Oxford v Cambridge University Boat Races 2017

The Oxford men’s crew celebrate winning The Cancer Research UK Boat Race on April 2, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

For a festival organiser, the challenge is no different. “The days of pitching a tent and say ‘come and see me because I have a great act’ is not enough,” Dite said, noting the increasing ability to live stream or broadcast the event makes the planning even harder.

The answer, Dite believes, is for organiser to put a greater effort in identifying what the event can do for the people on site. “Think what’s the benefit for people to be there instead of watching it at home,” he said, adding that organisers should use their ability to draw hundreds or even thousands of people to an event on a Saturday/Sunday to give the project a more sustainable and commercial model. These considerations are particularly relevant to events that aim to become a firm fixture in the calendar, rather than a one-off.

The research on The Boat Race was carried out by Arup’s host cities and Sports Venue Design teams, comprised of architects, engineers, city planners, economists, designers and consultants. The team supports cities, bid and organising committees across the globe through the feasibility, bid, delivery and legacy stages of their events.

The full report is available to download from The Boat Race website.