Why You Should Thank Kevin Spacey and ‘House of Cards’ for Making a Star of Rowing Machines

Kevin Spacey speaks on stage at the portrait unveiling and season four premiere of Netflix's "House Of Cards" at the National Portrait Gallery on February 22 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images For Netflix).

The WaterRower and the emerging use of rowing machines by fitness enthusiasts and health clubs was put in the spotlight by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal report correlated the WaterRower's recent rise in sales with its repeat appearances on the popular Netflix drama "House of Cards." Frank Underwood, who is portrayed by Kevin Spacey, uses the WaterRower to manage the stress of his sometimes underhanded political life in Washington, DC.

The Wall Street Journal story noted that WaterRower's factory in Warren, Rhode Island, has tripled its production capacity in five years to more than 1,000 machines per week. The use of WaterRower and Concept2 machines in various club settings, including Orangetheory Fitness, Equinox and CrossFit, was profiled in the report.

Here is a key stat from the story:

"More than 10 million people used a rowing machine at least once in 2015 in the United States, a 3 percent increase from the year before, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association."

I looked back at the recently released Physical Activity Council's 2016 Participation Report to see if additional data was available on rowing machine usage. The Participation Report tracks sports, fitness and recreation participation the United States, and the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) is part of the group that released the report.

Although the Participation Report did not include rowing machine usage or water rowing in its methodology, the spike in rowing machine sales is not all that surprising when looking at other data contained in the report.

Fitness sports recorded the highest participation rate among Millennials (66.7 percent) and Generation X (66.2 percent), according to the Participation Report. The Participation Report also noted fitness- and activity-related spending is trending more conservative over the last three years. Spending on sports and recreation equipment ranked fourth on the overall spending list despite the conservative trend – one position ahead of gym membership/ fee spending.

The SFIA and the Participation Report statistics become more insightful when looking at the 'House of Cards' demographics. The show's viewership is young and wealthy: the primary age range for show viewers is 18 to 35 and the income spikes showed a range of $75,000 to $124,000 per year, according to data from SpotRight, marketing strategy firm.

Millennials and Generation Xers are statistically the most likely to participate in a physical fitness activity and to invest in sports and recreation equipment. These age groups also intersect with the primary "House of Cards" demographic with disposable income. Since some health clubs are looking to capitalize on the boutique programming trend, it's not too surprising to see the surge in "obscure" rowing machine sales, as the Wall Street Journal calls it. A rowing machine for personal home use is by most standards a significant investment, but there appears to be a market.

Last year I wrote a story about the launch of Gronk Fitness Products. New England Patriots star tight end (and Millennial) Rob Gronkowski is the face of the brand, which offers a Gronk-branded WaterRower as part of its product line. The Gronk WaterRower sells for $1,905, the entry-level WaterRower model sells for $945 and the entry-level Concept2 model sells for $900, according to each brand's website.

A friend of mine and his family were big into the river rowing scene when I was growing up in Minnesota. Although I was unable to match their passion and financial commitment, they introduced me to the sport, and I always wanted to participate in it somehow. I discovered the rowing machine when I first started frequenting clubs about six years ago and came across one on a business trip. I didn't see a rowing machine in a club outside of that location for almost three years. Today, there are two rowing machines sandwiched in the free weights area of the low-membership fee recreation center I currently frequent. It makes me wonder if rowing machines are or will be the next big craze in the boutique fitness movement.

What do you think?

Are you using rowers to differentiate your health club? Are you running rowing machine-based exercise classes? Are members asking you for a rowing machine (or more machines) at your club? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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