A major shake-up to provide better value for money is planned as British Eventing (BE) takes action to reverse its declining membership.
Chief executive Helen West, who took on the role in August, shared a vision of the sport’s future at the organisation’s AGM on Wednesday (24 November).
The main takeaways were a cheaper membership for the lower end of grassroots riders, better value for all involved in eventing and the need for the sport to be on the front foot to weather future storms.
Existing members competing at BE80 and BE90 will pay 26% less on their 2022 renewal, with new members paying 33% less. The day-pass system will also be scrapped in favour of a pay-as-you-go system.
“The whole purpose of this restructure is to address the balance of the membership fee, versus the number of times members actually compete and at which levels,” said Ms West.
The move comes as BE’s membership levels as a whole have taken a battering. The pandemic is in part to blame, but increasing competition from the unregulated market and costs are also factors.
There was some bounceback from the Covid-hit 2020 season, but despite this, total membership and horse registrations are both down 15% compared to 2019. This is particularly marked at grassroots level, with total starters at BE80, BE90 and BE100 down 21%, 24% and 22% respectively from 2019 to 2021. BE105 and the new FEI one-star level was the one height to buck the trend, with a 23% increase in starters this year.
Ms West cited BE’s three biggest current challenges as “finance, IT and people”, asking members to keep in mind that “Rome was not built in a day” as the team works to address these.
“BE is a solvent business. I fully acknowledge over the last six years that it has run its reserves down, and this needs addressing urgently,” said Ms West.
“BE’s great advantage is that it is a cash-positive business. Moving forward, it’s imperative that we build the reserves back up to enable us to invest back into the sport. Our reserves are not as strong as we would like, but we do have a plan.”
She added that income from Badminton and Burghley will go into the reserves “pot”, and not used as operational income, while building membership is crucial as that is BE’s main source of funds.
“Historically, we’ve been in a position to subsidise the sport to a significant degree. We will only return to this position in future by increasing membership,” she said.
Ms West explained that BE has had a 24% reduction in competing membership and 27% reduction in runners in the past six years. In that same time frame, the average percentage of the membership that never competes above BE100 is 72%.
“It has never been more crucial that we address the membership decline at these levels and start bringing members back into the sport at entry level,” she said.
“This is the first step in redressing the balance for membership. I wish I was in a position to implement a complete membership restructure, but with the IT constraints I’m working with and the extremely short timeframe, this simply isn’t possible in time for 2022. Therefore, at this point in time, it’s the entry level to the sport that I’m focusing on and these levels that will see the greatest benefit.
“This does mean the cost of membership will increase at the higher levels. However, you have my word that there is more work to be done on this. For 2023, I’m committed to finding ways to reward the loyalty of the members who renew year-on-year, as well as those single-horse amateur riders competing at the higher levels.”
Ms West said she is also looking at the price of entry fees, and a proposal on a replacement for the “poor value for money” abandonment insurance premium, which currently adds between £15 and £57.33 on each entry. Confirmation that the scheme was to be scrapped was sent to members two days after the AGM.
“I strongly believe that we need to make the sport more affordable and be very careful that we do not price ourselves out of the market,” she added.
British Eventing AGM: ‘Golden years ahead of us’
Other key news include a roadmap out of the IT mess, hopes of an elite four-star series for 2023, the process to recruit a new chairman, plus a new intermediate masters series in 2022.
She also took the opportunity to highlight topics outside the eventing “bubble” that the sport cannot afford to ignore.
“We need to look ahead and start taking measures to minimise our carbon footprint,” she said, adding that she “would not be surprised if we are taxed every time the lorry is started” in a few years’ time.
“With this in mind, should we be looking to give riders the opportunity to run as many horses as possible at the same event, rather than expecting them to run one or two one weekend, then travel 200 miles to run another one or two a few days later?”
“Horse welfare and social licence are more important than ever right now,” she added. “Following Tokyo, we have seen the loss of the riding phase from the modern pentathlon. Horse sports are coming under ever-increasing scrutiny and we cannot be naive enough to think that we can continue to function unaffected within our bubble.”
She stressed that there are challenges, but eventing in Britain is in “such a strong place” with Olympic, world and European champions – as well as the “incredible strength in depth beyond this”.
“The golden years are ahead of us, but I’m asking for your help. BE has been through some tough years and needs your support,” she said. “There is a clear path forward and with your help we can get this organisation back where it rightfully should be.
“Together, we can achieve great things and all enjoy our wonderful sport.”
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