I’m sure many of you reading this would have heard about or viewed on television the epic show jumping phenomenon that is the Longines Global Champions Tour. Renowned for being one of the most extravagant, high-profile and competitive show jumping series, it attracts the best horses and riders from across the world. A keen show jumper myself, I jumped at the chance to spectate at one of the most beautiful and unique locations on the tour; Monte-Carlo in the port of Monaco.
Situated on the edge of the central city harbour, my first thought on arrival was “how on earth did they manage to fit an arena in here?!”. Mind you, it was a pretty small ring – about the size of your average indoor. My second thought was more of a mind-boggle as I watched an inconceivable number of the most beautiful horses warming up in the tiny ring. It was like poetry watching these horses and riders navigate seamlessly around each other in such a dramatic setting; there were literally boats and yachts just meters away on the water.
I’m not going to lie. I was more than a little star struck as I saw riders I’ve long admired casually strolling past, most looking as relaxed as if this were a normal everyday occurrence (which, I guess for those that attend different tours almost every weekend, it would be). Scott Brash, Bertram Allen, Edwina Tops-Alexander, Christian Ahlmann, John Whitaker, Pius Schwizer…. Just to name a few! There were definitely some sneaky fan girl moments (as my poor followers on Snapchat can attest to).
But, I digress. Other than being star struck and drooling over the amazing horses and gear, what were my main takeaways from attending this spectacular competition? And what is it that we in Australia can learn from the Global Champions Tour? Of course, I am no expert on the matter; I have never competed in Europe (but hope to one day have the opportunity to do so!). However, I thought I would share my thoughts on what I believe makes the GCT so successful – and perhaps what we should be thinking about when it comes to our own competitions here in Australia:
- Central Location: Photos do not come close to doing this breathtaking setting justice. Not only was the competition held on the edge of the harbour (within walking distance of the famous Monte Carlo casino and Prince’s Palace), but it was a busy central city location. This meant that the competition drew interest not just from the crazy jumping enthusiasts that flew across the world (me), but from both other tourists and the local population. They literally had to walk/drive past it to reach most places in the city! In my view, the more outside interest we can get in the sport, the better.
- Marketing to the public: Again, this point is in reference to attracting new fans of show jumping. The marketing of this event was excellent; almost every street in the city contained signs, posters and banners about the event (including in Nice airport and even outside the most famous casino in the world, Monte Carlo Casino). There was also a lot of hype about it on mainstream media.
- Television coverage: The LGCT has a free Live stream available and coverage on Eurosport. Whilst we are seeing a growing number of live streamed equestrian events (particularly in the Eastern states of Australia) thanks to some generous sponsors, and a few events such as the Adelaide International Three Day Event broadcast on national networks, I believe we should be enjoying longer, more regular coverage (and at more conventional times).Marketing of elite equestrian sport in Australia (and beyond) could do with improvement in general. How many millions of people across the world enjoy horses, whether it be as a profession or hobby? And yet, proportionately, how LITTLE mainstream media coverage do we get?!
- Number of international riders: You know you’re at a truly international event when almost every rider coming through is from a different country to the previous rider. Our ‘international’ competitions in Australia usually feature 90% Australians, and 10% Kiwis… Yes, Australia is clearly at a geographical disadvantage on this one. Our isolation as well as our strict Quarantine means that it’s simply not convenient for riders to travel here to compete. But perhaps a day will come when these barriers will be reduced? Surely, as technology becomes better and the world becomes even more globalised, we can work to overcome this? Or perhaps we just need to create better incentives for riders in the northern hemisphere to make the journey ‘down under’?
- High profile sponsors: As the name suggests, the ‘Longines’ Global Champions Tour is sponsored by internationally renowned Swiss watchmaker Longines. Not only this, but the Monaco leg of the tour played host to an array of high profile sponsors – both international as well as more local brands.How do we attract the best riders? How do we attract media coverage? Prize money. How do we attract prize money? Good sponsors. How do we get sponsors? All of the above… More people interested in the sport, more demand for coverage of the sport, more competitors. We also make sure that the sponsors are getting good ‘bang for their buck’ – that they have high visibility throughout the event and are showcased to members of their target market.
- New, crowd-friendly class: This year, the LGCT have introduced a new initiative – the Global Champions League. This competition, held on the last day of each tour, involves top riders from different countries coming together in teams, with each team having a mix of younger riders and seasoned pros.As well as providing more opportunities for riders to compete at the highest levels, its unique format and electric atmosphere (each team had ‘theme’ music that was played during their round, with promo videos for each team playing on a large screen prior to them starting their round) drew enthusiastic crowds. Each competitor was decked out in polo shirts of their team colours, breaking the tradition of wearing riding jackets, and overall I felt there was a lot of excitement for this new initiative.
And so, as the world becomes more globalised and we are able to travel/import products easier than ever (indeed, I was highly excited every time I saw a horse/rider decked out in one of the brands we stock here at Kentaur Australia– almost everyone was wearing something from either Animo, Cavalleria Toscana, KEP Italia, Lorenzini or KenTaur… Nice to think we are just as well dressed over here as they are over there!!), I believe we should be trying to emulate something like the Global Champions Tour in Australia.
Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will take effort. Yes, it will take money. But as riders and supporters of the sport, shouldn’t we be working toward a future where it’s more feasible to live/train in Australia and still be globally competitive?