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24 Oct 2017

FEI seeks title sponsors for each discipline in commercial model overhaul

By Jonathan Rest at Sportel Monaco

The FEI, equestrianism’s governing body, is in the market for title sponsors for six of its seven disciplines following a significant restructuring of the commercial model.

Ralph Straus, commercial director of the FEI, told Sportcal that the federation needs to give greater recognition to each of dressage, jumping, endurance, driving, eventing, vaulting and reining, and give brands the opportunity to “own a discipline.”

Longines, the Swiss luxury watch brand, is already the title sponsor for top events in jumping.

Straus said: “We don’t govern one sport, we govern seven sports and within that you have to work out what is the uniqueness of each sport. It is a significant way in which we are approaching the commercial programme. If you look at dressage and compare it to jumping or eventing or reining, they are very unique sports. We have different athletes and different people watching it, and so they convey different messages.”

The new commercial model will be officially unveiled to FEI members at the general assembly in Montevideo, Uruguay next month, but Straus said the federation has held a number of “positive pre-discussions with potential partners,” adding: “This model is resonating well with the market.”

Straus joined the FEI in November 2015, at the same time as the federation signed a deal with London-based The Sports Consultancy to sell sponsorship packages.

However, the FEI will now sell sponsorship directly, with Straus noting: “We have seen that having direct relationships with brands is the way to go. You can better explain the concept. It’s not just selling, it’s really about co-creating.”

Title sponsors are now being sought for the individual championships and World Cups of dressage, endurance, driving, eventing, vaulting and reining.

In late August, Longines signed up as the title sponsor of the FEI Nations Cup Jumping series, replacing Furusiyya, the brand name for the Saudi Equestrian Fund.

As part of the deal, Longines remains as a ‘top partner’ of the FEI, and at a lower level as the official timekeeper of events across all the disciplines.

Straus said the aim now is to replicate that model, with the title sponsors of each discipline becoming top partners of the FEI, and also potentially having an official supplier role across the spectrum of FEI events.

He continued: “Longines really own the jumping discipline and we are in the same process for the other disciplines.

“It is a refocus of the commercial model and for a brand it makes sense because the brand values of some companies may be much more related to a discipline like, for example, dressage, than others.”

Away from sponsorship revenues, the FEI is eyeing growth in China, following a five-year partnership with China National Sports International, a sports and entertainment company, announced earlier this month.

CNSI becomes the official business partner of the FEI in China, and the two organisations will work together to develop a large-scale esport, e-commerce and social media presence for equestrian sport to launch in 2018.

Straus said: “China is a growth market for FEI. Equestrian is one of the 10 sports that is recognised as part of the national fitness calendar. With CNSI, we want to develop a digital footprint in China. We will be translating into Chinese, developing bespoke content for a Chinese audience and there will be a big social media presence, mainly on Weibo.”

As for televised equestrian sport in China (as well as Hong Kong and Macau), the FEI is looking to negotiate its way out of a five-year deal, signed in October 2015, with LeSports, the beleaguered sports arm of the big-spending Chinese technology giant LeEco.

LeSports’ astonishing spending spree has come to an abrupt halt over the past year, and it has lost many of its flagship rights amid payment problems and a power shift in China towards the likes of Suning’s PPTV, the Desports agency and Tencent.

The FEI’s broadcast rights outside Europe are distributed by IMG, which last year renewed its agreement until 2022.

Straus said: “The deal [with LeSports] is still in place but we are, through IMG, discussing with LeSports what the next steps are… Yes, we may be looking for another partner.”

Meanwhile, Sportcal has learned that Christian Osterode, head of broadcasting and media rights at the FEI, has left the federation.

A recruitment process is under way to find his successor.