“What we’re trying to do is put on a better race for the fans because I would rather see four boats racing hard than eight going around in parade laps, saving equipment. We’re trying to reach a younger crowd and they want to see races, not parades.” — Madison Regatta 
President Dan Cole
“What we’re trying to do is put on a better race for the fans because I would rather see four boats racing hard than eight going around in parade laps, saving equipment. We’re trying to reach a younger crowd and they want to see races, not parades.” — Madison Regatta President Dan Cole
The Madison Regatta may have a slightly different look, both on and off the water, when the event kicks off in late June.

The organization, which has been mired in debt recently, is making three moves to not only bolster its bottom line, but to also help cater to the paying customer as well.

The first involves the race format, a pet project of Dan Cole’s since he took over the Regatta presidency in September. Cole wants to deliver better on-water action while also trying to save the Regatta money in the process.

To that end, Cole has sent two proposals to H1 Unlimited, the sport’s governing body. The first is a round robin series of two-lap duals between the top four boats in a two day event that would pair with the recently signed Grand Prix West class and would last no longer than five hours each day. The second proposal involves the same format as in recent years only that the Regatta, not H1, would pay prize money to teams based upon performance. Both proposals involve paying H1 far less than its customary $165,000 sanctioning fee.

So far, Cole has not heard back from H1 about the proposals and new H1 Chairman Doug Bernstein has not issued a counter-proposal, according to Cole. However, Cole said the H1 board was supposed to meet yesterday to discuss the matter.

“We have to do something to help each other out. We don’t have any money and H1 doesn’t have any money,” Cole said. “What we’re trying to do is put on a better race for the fans because I would rather see four boats racing hard than eight going around in parade laps, saving equipment. We’re trying to reach a younger crowd and they want to see races, not parades.”

The Madison Regatta has been hit with a series of weather-related setbacks over the past several years that have hampered attendance and destroyed the organization’s bottom line. Between 100-plus degree temperatures and high water or rain, six of the last seven races have faced serious weather-related issues.

As a result, the Regatta is in debt and Cole doesn’t shy from that fact. While he still maintains that the organization’s check from last year’s race did not “bounce,” he admits that the committee still owes H1 Unlimited money.

“We owe them money, that’s a fact and I’m not going to lie about it,” Cole said. “But we have a plan in place to repay that debt but in order to do so, we have to restructure the way we do things. These proposals are that first step.”

Cole said he is hopeful that he will hear from H1 about his proposals by Feb. 1 and hopes to have a contract in place by March 1. Regardless of what happens, he is hopeful that the two sides can come to an agreement that benefits both.

“In 1954, my dad was instrumental in bringing the Unlimiteds to Madison,” said Cole of his father Phil Cole. “I certainly don’t want to be the one that causes that to end.”

Along with restructuring the race format, the Regatta has also tweaked two of its traditional festival events and may add another.

A concert, headlined by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, will be held at Bicentennial Park on Saturday, July 1along with Nick Dittmeier & the Sawdusters and the Jimmy Davis Band. The three acts, which combine folk, country and rock & roll, will perform before and after the traditional Regatta fireworks.

The concert will be separate from the rest the Regatta festivities and come at an additional cost to fans that Cole said will be announced later. It will be the only music held on Saturday but the fireworks will remain free of charge.

“H1 really wanted us to find additional sources of revenue and this is one way we figured we could do that,” Cole said. “Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is really taking off and is becoming a real cult favorite and the other two are really good bands. We’re excited.”

In order to put on the concerts, Cole said that additional volunteers are needed and he said anyone interested could attend any Regatta meeting held on the first Wednesday of every month at the VFW Post 1969.

Cole is also making a change to the annual golf scramble, which will be held Friday, June 30 at Sunrise Golf Course. This year, he hopes to have drivers and other personalities paired up with each foursome, giving the tournament a “celebrity feel.” The Regatta is also exploring the possibility of bringing back either the balloon race or a balloon glow, both popular festival events that disappeared more than 20 years ago.

The next monthly membership meeting of The Madison Regatta will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend.