Fencing - 15 Oct 2013 - By Catherine Davies at Sportel
The FIE, the international governing body for fencing, is set to launch its revamped Fencing Grand Prix series next month as part of a major overhaul of the sport's media product.
The series, which was approved by the federation’s board only last month, has been streamlined and will comprise nine consistently-branded events per year, starting in November and running until May.
It will be followed by regional championships in June and the World Championships in July and August, ensuring a longer season than the previous January to July schedule and "giving the sport the opportunity to tell a better story”, according to Frédéric Pietruszka, the FIE’s secretary general.
Pietruszka, who took up the post last December, has spent this year working to restructure the FIE's media operations and convincing its members that far-reaching change was vital to increase the sport’s visibility worldwide.
The 2013-14 Grand Prix series begins at the end of next month in Torino in Italy, and it is expected that an agreement will be confirmed with Rai, the Italian public-service broadcaster, to produce live coverage of the event. Rai already has a contract in place with the Italian federation to air up to four national competitions per year and also provides live coverage of the World Championships.
In the new structure, the Grand Prix will be divided into three zones - Americas, Asia and Europe - with three events in each zone, all of which will be held in an "iconic" city. Each city will host one of the sport's three disciplines, namely foil, épée or sabre.
The new series also brings together the men's and women's competitions for the first time, which, according to Pietruszka, will make it easier - and more affordable - for national teams in terms of being able to send personnel, including coaches and medical and administrative staff.
Television production of each individual event will depend in large part on deals agreed with the local organising committee. The Shanghai event, for example, already has a commitment in place with the organisers and with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, which will produce the signal and broadcast both live and highlights coverage of the event.
The FIE has committed to producing a minimum of three of the nine events for live television, including full high-definition and slow motion coverage, as well as HD highlights of each event.
Barna Heder, a former fencer who has worked on the television production of Olympic fencing since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, has been contracted by the FIE to oversee production of the series, a key element in creating a standardised product with consistent coverage and branding, according to Stéphane Mottaz, the FIE’s head of marketing and TV rights.
He said: "Fencing is a very high speed sport, and it’s often difficult for television to anticipate the next move. The fact that Barna has fenced at a high level is crucial.”
In addition to funding contributed by the local organising committees as part of their hosting agreement, the FIE also draws money as a share of the television revenues allocated to the summer Olympics international federations. Following the 2012 Olympics in London, at which there were 26 sports, federations in Group D, the fourth tier, which includes fencing, were promised awards of $14.5 million.
Increasing fencing’s visibility both in the Olympics and in the intervening four years will help the FIE’s case to move up to Group C, one of Pietruszka's aims during his mandate. This group now includes archery, badminton, boxing, judo, rowing, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting.
Another primary goal is to increase fencing's exposure in Latin America in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro through television deals with pan-regional and domestic broadcasters and by setting up fencing schools in the region.
The FIE is also looking to develop the sport in southeast Asia, beyond the already-strong markets of Korea, Japan and China, as well as central Asia.