British Eventing to focus on growth after membership drops *H&H Plus*

  • Growing the sport and its membership is the major aim for British Eventing (BE) after a challenging period and a hit to its finances.

    A review of the past 12 months and news of some exciting developments for the 2020 season were given at the organisation’s AGM in Stoneleigh on Sunday, 24 November.

    A significant overspend, compared to the budget, plus a drop in full membership numbers were among concerns raised. The “challenges and opportunities” BE faces with the growth of the unaffiliated sport was also a big talking point.

    But there were also many positives and a huge number of ideas from organisers, riders, volunteers and BE head office as to what could help push the sport forward next year.


    BE chairman Fiona O’Hara, who was appointed in January, told the meeting increasing the sport’s reach and popularity is a major focus.

    “The key thing really for us to focus on is around growth. We have to grow the sport and the membership; that is absolutely critical,” she said.

    “Unaffiliated is both an opportunity and a challenge [for BE]. We really need to ensure we have a really differentiated product. There is a real chance for us to work with organisers and participants as a feed through to affiliated eventing.”

    There was a much more positive tone at the meeting than the 2018 extraordinary and annual meetings, at which frustrations were raised over issues including communication and spending (news, 25 October and 8 November 2018).

    “It is easy to focus on the negative points, but for the sport it has been a fantastic year with medals at all championships,” said BE chief executive Jude Matthews.

    “The final stage of the IT project is under way and we are looking forward to the year ahead as an opportunity to stabilise and grow the sport.”

    The meeting heard how BE is trialling new initiatives, including fresh series, “slicing and dicing” data to better understand how members plan their entries, and is in the process of looking how to better serve the middle ranks of the sport. For example, from 2020 the Corinthian Cup, which has historically only been open to riders who have competed up to novice, will be open to those who have ridden at intermediate, and a full review of how the sport is serving a core part of its membership will take place next year.

    Financial challenges

    BE chief operating officer Wendy McGowan told the meeting 2019 has been “significantly challenging financially”.

    BE suffered a forecast loss of around £500,000, against a budgeted loss of £84,000.

    Ms McGowan explained that this was due to a drop in income from membership and entries, as well as a unplanned spend on a management restructure and further spending on IT support.

    Spending on the IT project was up around £100,000 compared to the last update, taking the total to around £2.6m, which is down to BE keeping the project team in place to ensure the right support is there at the start of next season.

    Nisha Punj also confirmed to organisers that a plan B will be there for entries, results and scoring, should there be problems with the roll out of the final phase of the system.

    New FEI CCI* class pilot

    Three venues will hold CCI* classes — the FEI’s new 1.05m international level — in 2020. These will be Chilham, Brand Hall and Blair Castle.

    “Those events have been specifically selected to run test events to see the uptake and how they roll out,” said chief sport officer Paul Graham. “We will look to roll these out further, if [the pilot is] successful.”

    Mr Graham also confirmed that the regional team competition, which was piloted in 2019, will run next season at BE80(T) as well as at BE90 with the final remaining at Weston Park.

    BE is looking at restarting its end of season ball from next year, while performance metrics will be available for every member. A volunteer working group is also in the process of being initiated.

    The BE80(T) championship finals were cancelled twice this season due to the weather and a third attempt will be made to hold these at Norton Disney in the spring, with the 2020 season finals at Burghley in September.

    BE is also looking at working with events to have a consistent approach to how announcements are made on social media when there are questions as to whether an event is going ahead due to adverse weather. This is help avoid confusion, especially given the fact that social media posts don’t always appear chronologically.

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