H&H’s showjumping columnist discusses improving standards at show venues
Running a show venue is one of the toughest businesses to operate. The hours are long, the income is sporadic and the overheads are high. I had a taste of this about 15 years ago and I don’t mind admitting that it isn’t an avenue I will be revisiting.
As the husband of an amateur rider, I like to moan as much as the next person about the amount we spend competing. I then remember the operating costs involved. There are the rates to pay, which on average cost between £25,000 and £50,000 a year, plus insurance, staffing, utilities, maintenance, prize money and officials.
The truth is that we should be paying more, especially during this current period when fewer entries can be taken and an additional spend is required to meet the Covid-19 protocols.
During more normal times, an alternative would be reducing the number of dates in the show calendar. This would increase the demand and turnout at each event and provide a viable model that would encourage higher standards, more investment and greater profitability.
Show centres vary greatly and while it has been tried in the past, I would love to see another discussion about how we grade venues. This needs to go further than the standard facilities and look at the entire package from sports presentation to catering. It’s not uncommon to visit a venue that continually starts late, has timing equipment that doesn’t appear to be reliable or that ignores drawn orders. As the world and sport evolves, it is vital that we keep up.
Certain values must apply whether it’s a small national class or a big grand prix. Venues aren’t just putting on horse shows, they’re running national sporting competitions that pave the way to finals and a stairway to team selection. Attention to detail is paramount and you should expect to find the same high standards whether you are in the international ring or visiting a back ring.
We have some exceptional officials but unless shows are able to provide them with a fee that reflects their expertise and the personal investment they have made, they will spend more time abroad.
I would give priority to those running multi-day shows and place value on a tender system for weekend dates. Those who go the extra mile by using arena decoration, run fun competitions and use a commentator should be rewarded and ranked higher in the queue than someone making little effort.
This would leave a good supply of venues that are motivated to provide top-class sport.
I am fascinated when I read social media posts from the occasional venue who say if we don’t support them, they will stop running shows. How would that sound if a supermarket chain used this as the basis of a TV commercial?
The British Showjumping (BS) show calendar is a handy tool that is updated based on the information provided by organisers. But venues need to work harder to let competitors know what they are offering and make sure there’s a reason they can’t afford to miss a single show. It could be an in-house series or a way to reward loyalty.
Getting the word out has always been possible. Before General Data Protection Regulation, organisers could get address labels from BS. Now, digital marketing is the greatest tool any business could have.
If a venue promotes their event with a screen grab of a schedule alongside some stolen clip art on Facebook, then they are missing out. Marketing is so important and if organisers utilised a professional to help them run a targeted campaign, they would see great results.
Investing in a promotional video, sending out digital releases or even posting results on social media are all simple ways to build a positive digital presence and to attract a wider customer base.
Venues need competitors to survive and without venues, we have nowhere to jump. We all have a part to play in improving standards and it is time to make a start.
Ref Horse & Hound; 23 July 2020