What is perhaps the biggest issue facing equestrian sport today? It’s the fact that there isn’t one simple, universal way to watch it. Viewers have to search for the live-stream for each individual competition.
Sometimes it’s on the show’s own website, sometimes it’s live-streamed on Facebook, sometimes it’s on FEI TV, Clipmyhorse.TV, USEF Network, the Chronicle of the Horse…the list is endless. Rather than coming together to find a solution that benefits everyone – and, by association, brings more eyes and sponsor funds to the sport – every competition adopts their own system. Great progress has been made in providing live coverage of equestrian competitions, the Global Champions Tour and Event Riders Masters come to mind, but this still doesn’t seem to be part of an overall, big-picture plan – a distinct lack of cohesiveness amongst federations, disciplines and individual shows.
In last March’s Jumping Into the Future, a panel discussion about the state of show jumping, 10-time Olympian Ian Millar summarized the state of equestrian sport succinctly:
“Every sport that goes anywhere has to be commercialized. It must be a business or it will not be successful. You think of the NFL for example, the National Football League — they get more than $7 billion a year just in TV rights so right there, they’ve solved a lot of problems. I’m not convinced that our governing bodies, both national and international, are quite as sharp as they need to be about the whole business aspect. I believe we have a top group of horse-and-rider combinations and we provide great sport. It’s a matter of taking that great sport that we provide and commercializing it.
I think we have an extremely sellable product. You have to go a long way to find someone who doesn’t like a horse. It’s also pretty interesting to everybody that it’s a sport where men and women compete equally and there’s quite an age diversity in the athletes that helps too.”
1. One universal channel on which we would find all live equestrian sports broadcasts. We wouldn’t have to ask, “Hey, what’s the link to watch the Badminton Horse Trials or the FEI World Equestrian Games?” We would know where to find them – just as you’d find a football game on FOX or a hockey game on NBC.
2. Access to this channel would be free and wouldn’t require registration. (Remember: The more steps, the less accessible you make it.)
Other sports seem to have figured it out. If you’re a football fan, you turn on the television on a Sunday and boom, it’s there. There’s Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Baseball. If you’re Canadian, every Saturday night is Hockey Night in Canada. While horse sports don’t have a big TV deal (yet!), it is still important have to look at what successful sports are doing.
Without an in-depth analysis of each sport’s marketing strategy, you can see at first glance that they use certain tactics to get viewers to tune in. The following could be adapted by equestrian sports:
1. Create appointment TV.
How about Sunday Show Jumping every Sunday at 2 p.m.? Saturday Cross-Country, every Saturday at 9 a.m.? Establish a programming schedule that creates a habit.
2. Create FOMO (fear of missing out).
During games in other sports, there are highlights, gifs on Twitter, analysts and fans live-tweeting and discussing even the most meaningless game. There’s such a high level of engagement and conversation, that if you’re not watching it, you feel you should be. Equestrian sports could easily increase the level of buzz by getting analysts and influencers to tweet during live competitions.
Sports leagues understand that in order to generate revenue, they need to attract eyeballs. You do that by bringing the sport to the people and making it easy to watch it. If you don’t know when events are happening, don’t know who’s going to be competing, you have to dig to find scores, then you have to register on a website to watch it, only highly engaged fans will bother.
As long as the sport is financed predominantly by the riders, there is no real urgency to build a spectator sport. But with most competitions already having live-streaming capabilities, it seems like a waste not to seize the opportunity and make it part of a bigger marketing plan.