Not to worry, today’s headline is not in reference to me. I have not been hauled off and beaten behind the barn by any of the several parties who might feel tempted to knock my teeth out. No, I’m talking about the sport of Eventing, which has taken a couple of power punches these past ten days.
On March 11, in trademark sugar-coated style, the FEI issued an announcement that HSBC will be ending its sponsorship of FEI Eventing at the end of this year. If you wonder what I mean by sugar-coated, here are a couple of quotes, with my interpretation beneath:
From HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan: “We have had five wonderful years with the HSBC FEI Classics, and still have another one to go, and the series has proved hugely successful. We would like to think that the series has now come of age and, as a result of its phenomenal success since we came in as title sponsors in 2008, that it will be snapped up by another sponsor keen to get global visibility in the equestrian world.”
I have a confession to make. I didn’t even know what the HSBC Classics series was until two minutes ago. That’s how phenomenally successful it is. You see, between that and the ill-fated World Cup of Eventing that was scrapped at the 2012 FEI GA, I wasn’t clear about anything except that the Eventing World Cup had somehow failed to capture my interest in the same way the World Cup in Jumping and Dressage have. I actually thought HSBC was the sponsor of the Eventing World Cup series. And now that I think about it, why weren’t they? The two series effectively cannibalized one another, and the FEI World Cup didn’t have a sponsor. I suspect it may be because HSBC looked at the numbers and could see that the only things the world watches in eventing are the four stars, which are not part of the WC series.
Here is another quote from Mr. Morgan that identifies one possible reason for HSBC’s exit:
“The decision to end our partnership with the FEI was a very difficult one to make, but the banking sector has gone through some tough times recently and we are refocusing our entire sports sponsorship portfolio and sadly that will not include international Eventing after 2013.”
Tough times, indeed. HSBC has 1.9 billion in fines to pay out for their little money laundering spree which came to an abrupt end in 2012 after they got caught with their compliance-pants down. But let’s just put this in a bit of perspective, shall we? According to the FEI website, HSBC was contributing $1 million USD over three years. That works out to just over $300k per year, which is pocket change compared to the $11.1 million HSBC’s CEO earned last year. It’s 3%, in fact. The million bucks HSBC contributed to Eventing is 0.05% of the amount of the fine they have to pay back for their misdemeanors. Sadly, the numbers suggest that HSBC’s pull-out has more to do with their conclusion that the series was not worth supporting than with the mad money they owe the regulators.
But the real sucker punch to Eventing has been the reappearance of that perennially lurking evil, the rotational fall. On March 2nd, French rider Bruno Bouvier was killed at a two star event in Portugal. A week later, British/Australian Olympian Lucinda Fredericks broke a handful of ribs (the number varies according to news report) and her collar bone in a rotational fall on cross country in the UK. It’s interesting to note that in neither fall was the horse injured. Apparently horses are made to flip when they trip, they just aren’t meant to be carrying a fragile load at the time.
These two accidents are coincidental to the HSBC decision, I’m sure. Plenty of sports with risk-of-death continue to reap big sums in corporate sponsorship, including fake sports like car racing. It’s an ill-kept secret that Eventing is the only FEI discipline that has a measurable mortality rate. And while stakeholders continually pour admirable amounts of time, money and effort into reducing the risk of serious accidents, you can’t make everything frangible. A bank is a bank is a bank. Heck, accidents happen BETWEEN fences. A good friend of mine from my brave young eventing days suffered a catastrophic head injury when her horse stepped in a hole galloping between fences. As they say, it comes with the territory.
If Eventing needs to reassess anything right now, it’s the failure to keep a corporate sponsorship alive. If only Arab horses made good eventers (hold your hate mail Arab owners, I know there are a few notable exceptions).
Tune in tomorrow if you are ready for a good Welly World fix. I’ll be posting the entire interview I conducted with Mark Bellissimo in early February, an abridged version of which appears in the current issue of Horse Sport International.