WEG Projects Big Increase in Ticket Sales But Below Previous Estimates

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Kentucky Horse Park's Outdoor Stadium, centerpiece of the World Equestrian Games.
Kentucky Horse Park’s Outdoor Stadium, centerpiece of the World Equestrian Games.

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Ticket sales for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that only six weeks ago were below 160,000 are now projected to reach 460,000 for the championships in Kentucky less than six months away.

Even if sales reach the latest projection, the number of tickets sold will be almost one-fourth lower than the 600,000 tickets that has been the official estimate since Kentucky was awarded the Games five years ago, the first time the event that is held only every four years is being staged outside Western Europe.

The WEG Foundation said that it had always referred to the ticket/spectator number as “600,000 tickets available for purchase.” A review of official news releases, however, shows that WEG repeatedly stated it expects to sell 600,000 tickets.

Now, a spokesperson said, WEG’s “budgeted revenue for ticket sales, which includes both competition and general admission tickets, is not based on 100 percent sell-out.

“We are conservatively estimating with the data we are now attaining from our ticket buyers that we could sell as many as 460,000 tickets to 250,000 unique visitors. We are confident in our ability to meet these projections as estimated in the report.”

Business Lexington, a weekly financial newspaper, first reported that “organizers now project a total crowd for the 16-day event of 250,000–down from the previous estimate of 450,000.”

The official WEG projections were made in a study by Dr. Paul Coomes, Professor of Economics at the University of Louisville, aimed at measuring the economic impact on the Lexington area of WEG that will be held from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.

Based on ticket buying patterns so far, the study projected 66,211 “paid attendees” each buying five tickets for a total of 331,000, and an estimated 129,320 one-day general admission tickets. That would make the total 460,320.

Figures released on Feb. 11 by the WEG Foundation that is the official organizing body reported that of about 600,000 tickets available, “close to” 160,000 had been sold in 48 countries and all 50 states of the U.S.

Almost 50,000 room nights had been reserved, WEG said, about 50 per cent of the expected total. The average length of stay for individual reservations is six nights and for group bookings is nine nights.

At the previous WEG, in Aachen, Germany, in 2006, 570,000 tickets were sold. Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein e.V. that ran the show spent €21.6 million (US$26.6 million at the exchange rate at the time) on WEG operations and €17.7 million (US$22.6 million) on capital improvements

Aachen became the first WEG to break even since creation of the event in 1990 that is the world championships of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting. Para-equestrian was not held as part of WEG at Aachen, but will be at Kentucky.

The latest Kentucky projections showed that the 66,211 paid attendees were made up of 13,750 from Kentucky, 4,987 out of state day trippers, 41,499 beyond 200 miles (322km) but within North America and 5,976 outside of North America. The number of one-day general admission tickets was projected at 38,796 for Kentucky residents and 90,524 non residents.

The average number of tickets for paid attendees, projections show, was five. So the total of 66,211 attendees was projected to buy a total of 331,055 tickets.

There is, however, a question as to how many days ticket buyers will be at WEG.

Dr. Coomes told dressage-news.com that the study assumed “tickets” meant days. But as more than half the competitions days are broken up into two separate sessions requiring separately purchased tickets for each session, he said, the five-day assumption may not be correct.

For example, of four days of dressage, three days are two session each; two of the four days of eventing are two sessions; two of the three days of driving; two of the five days of jumping; two of five days of vaulting, and three of the four days of reining; endurance is a single-day competition.

If the average visitor who buys five tickets does not attend WEG for five days that could alter the economic impact projections.

However, the projections of 66,211 “paid attendees” and 129,320 day trippers puts the total number of unique spectators at 195,531.

The study estimated Kentucky could realize $96.5 million (€71.5 million) in total direct economic impact from WEG.

By using economic multipliers–an example provided was that $1 million in new demand for hotel rooms leads to $1,534,000 in new sales by all firms in the 27 counties of the Lexington region–the total economic impact would be $167 million (€124 million) compared with earlier projections of $150 million (€111 million).

The study identified hotels as the biggest revenue generator–more than $20 million (€14.8 million)–after ticket sales with visitors paying an average of $273 (€202) per room per night in the Lexington area’s estimated 7,500 hotel rooms.

That rate, according to the study, was three times higher than the average room price of $86 (€63.80) per night that would be paid at the same time of the year if there was no WEG.

Ticket prices at Kentucky are also substantially higher than those charged at Aachen in 2006, with the economic impact study showing the average ticket price at $89 (€66).

At WEG in Aachen, an all-day ticket for a covered stadium seat for the dressage Grand Prix ranged from €36 (US$49.50 at current exchange rate) up to €70 (US$94). Open air seating was €24 (US$32) and standing room €16 (US$21.50).

The dressage Grand Prix at Lexington has been broken into two sessions each day with ticket prices ranging from $60 (€44.50) to US$90 (€66.75) per session, or an all day rate of $120 (€89) to $180 (€133).