The commentator and broadcaster gives his insight on how to return the sport to our screens
Every time there is a major showjumping event on British soil, social media erupts with condemnation of the lack of television coverage. Posts vary from outrage to blame; some even state their intent to contact channels in an attempt to educate them. There can be little doubt that our sport has a committed audience.
I would love to see our sport back on mainstream television, but there are huge obstacles.
Many may disagree, but I’m not sure showjumping is designed for modern prime time television. Worldwide, we have a marketing and educational crisis – my non-equestrian television colleagues have no idea what to cover because there are so many international series and championships. In the UK, we have events suitable for television, but historically the focus has always been on the grand prix. This takes at least two hours to broadcast and doesn’t attract the audience figures needed to make it viable.
There are channels willing to air the sport but the caveat is that it usually needs to be funded by the event. Technology is slowly bringing the cost of live television coverage down, but it is still expensive.
For an outside broadcast truck and the equipment required along with crew, talent and a satellite van you would be looking to pay around £40,000 for simple coverage of a competition. In some cases, there may also be a cost associated with the airtime.
I recently produced the coverage of a championship event that paid £55,000 for a one-hour slot on an international sports network and some advertising. Most event organisers would see this cost as prohibitive and have turned to live-streaming.
My vision for change is a hybrid output between quality live-streaming with viewer interaction and television. My company, Impact Media, was the first to offer live-streaming of showjumping in the UK and it still has a lot to offer. It costs a fraction of the price to produce and it gives easy access to an abundance of content.
The Olympics is a great example of how people are consuming content, seeing a 198% increase on its digital coverage between London 2012 and Rio 2016. When it comes to television we need a fresh approach and a motivated drive to change perception.
Think about format
The types of competition televised should be easy to understand, exciting and visually spectacular. The puissance and six-bar would be at the top of my list. These tick all the boxes and are short enough to schedule in a one-hour slot.
More complicated formats should be presented as high-adrenaline sport. At the moment, highlight shows tend to be the competition just chopped down to fit.
We need to promote our sporting heroes – human and equine – as other sports do.
Language and semantics are important. I tend to use the word athlete rather than rider, competition rather than class and event or tournament rather than a horse show. This is something I learned at Spruce Meadows and it has remained with me.
When I’m presenting or commentating, I always want the viewer to feel as though we are chatting in the pub.
We need to employ a more diverse group of talent that brings specialist knowledge but also engages with the wider sport-loving public whose hunger for great competition is seemingly insatiable. There is much to learn from other sports, too.
A unified approach
There is an opportunity for British Equestrian to promote a unified approach, encouraging all member bodies to work together – the British Horse Society approves riding schools yet seems so detached from British Showjumping, but those who are learning to ride already have an interest and would be an easy audience.
Where is the driving force behind better media training delivered by an expert panel over a number of days to help athletes give positive interviews and become a saleable product?
Showjumping could be back in the hearts of the public and watched by many, but we need to talk to the television industry and ask what our output needs to achieve for it to work for them. What will never work is offering the same as we always have – and expecting a different answer.
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020