Rising costs and late entries among complex factors that make greenfield events harder than ever to run

  • Rising costs and a complex web of factors are making viability increasingly challenging for event organisers despite their passion for the sport.

    Balancing the British Eventing (BE) fixtures calendar is no easy task. Nor is putting on events – particularly on greenfield sites.

    BE and organisers have both urged riders to enter as early as possible to help events.

    BE chief executive Rosie Williams spoke of the complexity of the calendar on the organisation’s podcast in January. Last week she added that BE will be “doing a full-scale review of all issues around fixtures management” this year.

    “We strongly encourage our members to make their entries as early as possible because delaying entries makes it problematic for organisers to make decisions on their events’ viability,” she said.

    A BE statement added that the fixtures calendar is “the biggest challenge BE faces every year”, and that the team in the background “works hard to help keep the calendar as full as possible by working with organisers”.

    Skipton and Buckminster Park are two greenfield sites that have both run for more than 30 years, but will not be in the 2024 calendar. The Pony Club Buckminster fixture will run.

    Speaking generally, Buckminster co-organiser of more than 30 years Kate Letchford told H&H it is a “sign of the times” that greenfield sites are finding it too expensive to run once a year.

    “The difficulty with running a greenfield site is that you have to bring everything on site,” she said. “That’s where the expense is.”

    She added that the shift towards later entries means that while organisers are waiting for them, they have costs to pay.

    Low entries in 2023, likely owing to elements including later entries and other calendar shifts, meant last year’s event was cancelled. These are also reasons it is not returning for 2024.

    Events leave and join the BE calendar for many reasons. It has long been a talking point – H&H covered calendar changes in 2013, and many of the topics are as relevant today.

    The numbers 10 and 20 years ago give a rough indication as to how the landscape has changed. In 2004, there were 160 fixtures at 128 venues. In 2014, there were 161 at 113 venues, and in 2024 there are set to be 119 fixtures at 79 venues. It means there is an increase in venues holding more than one fixture a year, and fewer unique events that tend to be on greenfield sites – although not always.

    “Financial viability is a key factor in our decision,” Skipton co-organiser Tim Bennett told H&H. “There was a myth years ago that organisers are making tens of thousands – they are not.”

    Both events noted how fine the margins are when it comes to balancing the numbers on a greenfield site. At Skipton, set-up costs are between £38,000 and £42,000 – 450 entries would likely result in a loss, 480 would break even, and 530 mean a small profit. The margin between profit and loss hovers between a section or two.

    Later entering, an overall downturn in entries, calendar changes elsewhere, increased costs faced by organisers and the abandonment insurance picture, have a combined impact.

    “I love eventing and think we have an amazing sport,” said Mr Bennett. “Somehow eventing needs to safeguard these greenfield sites, or it will all end up at centres, everything will be on a surface, and you will not be getting the variety you need to produce these horses.”

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