Future of Dressage, Most Popular Online, in Print Media at 2012 Olympics, Discussed at FEI Sports Forum

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IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell with the chairmen of FEI Olympic disciplines (from left): Frank Kemperman (dressage); Giuseppe Della Chiesa (eventing) and John Madden (jumping) at the FEI Sports Forum. © FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber
IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell with the chairmen of FEI Olympic disciplines (from left): Frank Kemperman (dressage); Giuseppe Della Chiesa (eventing) and John Madden (jumping) at the FEI Sports Forum. © FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 27, 2015–The International Olympic Committee reported Monday that dressage was the most popular online and in print media of the three Olympic disciplines at the London Games although jumping was given the most coverage on television.

“Equestrian was an outstanding success in terms of ticketing at London 2012, with over 98 per cent of all tickets sold across the three disciplines,” IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell told the annual International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Sports Forum.

“In broadcast, jumping was well ahead of the other two disciplines in terms of hours of coverage, but dressage was the most popular discipline online and in print media coverage.”

The World Cup Finals of dressage and jumping staged on Las Vegas earlier this month also showed substantially greater ticket sales for the Grand Prix Freestyle over the two-round jumping finals.

Kit McConnell’s report came during a day of discussion at the Sports Forum on the future of the three Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping and proposed steps to make the sports more attractive to an audience outside the core base while maintaining values and history that appealed to current participants and supporters.

He likened the review of the Olympic equestrian formats to the same process the IOC went through to prepare its so-called Agenda 2020.

“It’s timely that we could join you while you’re focusing on the evolution of your sport, as we are on a similar pathway that the IOC and the Olympic movement have been on for the past 18 months,” he said.

“The reasons you’re going through this process are similar to the reasons why we’ve gone through the process of Agenda 2020. We need to embrace change and be a driver of change, not a passenger, and we are moving forward with a completely holistic review of the IOC and the Olympic Movement.

“We have a fantastic relationship with the FEI. It’s a constructive and very open one, and it’s a relationship based on partnership, with an open and constructive dialogue.”

Frank Kemperman, chairman of the six-member FEI Dressage Committee, opened the session dedicated to the future of the discipline by emphasising that dressage is in a good position, especially thanks to the Freestyle, but there were strong signals from the IOC that change is needed.

He outlined the discipline’s goal to be one of the main equestrian sports and highlighted the need to unify formats at the Olympics and major championships to attract new spectators and sponsors and generate increased media interest.

“We need to come up with a single format for Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games and Championships so that the public can more easily understand our sport,” said Frank, who also leads the team that produces the annual World Equestrian Festival CHIO at Aachen, Germany.

“Most importantly, we have to be open to innovation and learn how to make it better. There is a young public out there and we need them, they have iPhones and iPads and they follow everything ‘in the moment’ online–that’s their world, and we must be part of it.”

The main topics raised during a discussion after Frank’s presentation were judging–dropping of highest and lowest scores for each movement–open versus running scores at major events, changes in dress code and the increased use of social media.

Highlights of a survey conducted by a market research company in late 2014 found:

–New and shorter formats are crucial, as are commentary and graphics on television;
–Key events should be actively used to attract new audiences;
–Modernization and increased freedom of dress code and music should be actively considered;
–Human interest stories in media would broaden interest, but
–Modernisation should be handled carefully to retain the core dressage fans.

The survey determined that 86 per cent of those surveyed were attracted to dressage by its beauty, the relationship between horse and rider, the horse itself, as well as the sport’s grace, elegance, aesthetics and fun. Only 24 per cent were interested because of concepts that included discipline, control and training.

Proposed changes to the Olympic format included teams of three or potentially two combinations instead of the current four with one drop score, shorter tests and Pas-de-Deux or Pas-De-Trois (performances of two or three combinations).

The positives of these proposals were considered to be a larger number of nations, which would increase universality, and separate individual and team competitions. The removal of the drop score would increase drama and entertainment and contribute toward more unpredictable results.

The negative aspects would include a possible decrease in the level of excellence as top nations may bring fewer participants, and significant consequences for the team if a horse was eliminated or disqualified.

The proposal was also that formats for the World Equestrian Games and European Championships should match the Olympic Games format.

Greater interaction and explanations on the sport, social media, use of music during tests other than the Freestyle, length of tests, formats, quotas, open scoring, a redefined dress code, lifestyle stories, higher prize money, more attractive prize giving ceremonies and the involvement of young riders, were outlined as likely to have a positive impact on the attractiveness of the discipline.