Ivy League Regatta Rows Into Headwind

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- It draws 300,000 spectators a year, fills tents with legions of eligible prep and Ivy League alumni but couldn't land a major sponsor until almost a month before it starts. While its rowing field is as strong as ever, the Head of the Charles Regatta is hurting this year.

"We have had to cut back significantly, and it's been a struggle," says Fred Schoch, the regatta's executive director. "If you asked me 45 days ago if we were going to break even, I would have said no."

Before Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp. ( EMC) stepped in as a sponsor, the tony rowing event on the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge was $500,000 in the red heading into its Oct. 16 and 17 races. Longtime sponsors Audi, owned by Volkswagen ( VLKAY), and VF Corp.'s Nautica ( VFC) pulled out, while firms including MetLife ( MET) and UBS ( UBS) felt the $50,000 to $100,000 they'd allocated to private hospitality tents in previous years could be better spent elsewhere. Even the state of Massachusetts, whose tourism board usually kicks in a portion of the proceeds, pulled out amid a revenue shortfall.

The regatta is just one of many events this year struggling to keep its head above water. Advertising and sponsorship revenue for all U.S. sporting events dipped an estimated $2 billion this year after holding at $32 billion in 2006 and 2007, according to Plunkett Research. Global advertising in general has decreased for much of the past two years, with the Nielsen Co. reporting ad buys down 6.8% for the first half of the year compared with 2008.

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