Future of World Games “Huge Logistical, Financial Challenge” Center Stage at FEI Sports Forum

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Tim Hadaway, FEI Director of Games and Championships. © 2015 FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber
Tim Hadaway, FEI Director of Games and Championships. © 2015 FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 27, 2015–The World Equestrian Games that were created a quarter century ago has “evolved into a huge logistical and financial challenge” as the flagship event of eight international horse sports, the annual International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Sports Forum was told Monday.

The WEG in Normandy, France last year that was the latest of the seven equestrian extravaganzas held once every four years was described by the FEI as “successful overall,” but “some aspects of the event did not go well.”

The Normandy championships was the biggest ever with 74 nations represented, more than 25,000 individuals including 900-plus athletes, 3,000 volunteers, 1,750 media and 250 officials accredited and more than 1,000 horses competed at five venues spread across the Normandy region. About 46,300 hotel nights were booked through the Organizing Committee, 103,500 meals served to the accredited population and a near record of almost 575,000 tickets sales sold. The FEI also cited substantial media coverage around the world.

Total budget for the Games was €79.6 million (US$86.6 million) with an economic impact in Normandy estimated at €190 million (US$206 million) and €368 million (US$400 million) for France, according to a report by Tim Hadaway, the FEI Director of Games and Championships to the 270 delegates representing the International Olympic Committee, national equestrian federations and other stakeholders.

The aim of the Sports Forum begun four years ago is to help frame changes and development in the equestrian sports of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para-equestrian governed by the FEI.

The French organizing committee was expected to announce what Hadaway termed “a significant surplus.”

The FEI acknowledged that despite “these positive developments, which had made the Games successful overall… some aspects of the event did not go well.

“A thorough debriefing process involving numerous stakeholders had identified that holding the Games over multiple venues had resulted in complex logistics and had led to increased cost. Other problems included delays in publication of key information and issues with IT systems, transport, security, and delays in issuing of ministry paperwork on departure of horses. Insufficient amenities and services, along with cross country day traffic problems, had resulted in a level of frustration for some spectators.

“The FEI has acknowledged that the FEI World Equestrian Games had evolved into a huge logistical and financial challenge and that, despite the many positives, the excellent sport and enjoyable atmosphere, the multiple venues had amplified complexity and stretched financial and human resources, occasionally resulting in the loss of the original concept of uniting the equestrian family.”

Matthew Wilson of The Sports Consultancy presented a report on a detailed strategic review of the WEG following the Normandy Games.

The review found that an overwhelming majority of stakeholders consulted supported maintaining the eight disciplines in the Games that themselves should “remain as the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar.”

It had become clear, however, there was a strong appetite for change with the biggest challenge to ensure the event delivered sustainably and continued to thrive.

A key finding of the study was that the budget of the 2014 edition was considered by many as exceptionally large, and required extensive investment from the public sector that only a few nations could afford.

The study suggested changes including:

–Reduction in the size of the number of competitors;
–Reduction in length of the event to nine to 10 days including two weekends, instead of the full two weeks that was considered too long to sustain media and spectator interest;
–Re-design of competition formats and schedule to encourage a more compact foot print, and
–Development and implementation of leading sport presentation concepts that deliver to the non-equestrian fan needs.

The Games, the study said, “must remain differentiated from other FEI events and remain a pinnacle of the equestrian calendar; it must help grow the sport and assist with delivering the global appeal required for Olympic status; the budget for hosting the Games needs to be as attractive as possible to hosts and carry a lower financial and delivery risk; the public sector investment must be achievable for a greater number of prospective hosts through delivery of a significantly improved return on investment; the Games must be commercially effective for the FEI; and the Games must be accessible for and attractive to spectators both on venue and via broadcast to increase the stakeholder experience.”

Stefan Kürten of the European Broadcasting Union, a professional association of European public service broadcasters, pointed to fierce competition between sports events, less airtime for sport on generalist channels, fragmentation of the TV market, increasing calendar conflicts and the duration of sport events versus entertainment programs as issues. Sport was expensive compared to other programs but remained strong when there was emotion and national interest and it was broadcast live.

The key to increased airtime on public television, which was an essential component of a successful sponsor package, was a high quality television production, telling stories, meeting the broadcasters’ needs, and a requirement for strict timetable discipline and focus.