Name a sport that requires strong nerves, great balance and a whole lot of equine psychology, and you’ve got show jumping. Though it’s an Olympic event, it’s generally considered to be akin to polo: watched periodically by many but actually understood by only a few. If the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has its way, however, more Americans could start paying attention.
“We want to make the sport more accessible,” Chris Welton, CEO of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) told Fidelman. “We need to create interest for people even though they may not participate directly in the sport. Just look at how horse racing is doing with fans. We haven’t done a great job of exposing our riders or horses in the sport, and we’re going to change that.”
Looking deeper into the world of show jumping, Fidelman found that, despite the sport’s reputation, not all participants are wealthy. Many individuals participate at local, state and national levels, often on borrowed horses. According to USEF, show jumping needs to do a few things to expand its audience. For starters, it needs to make the sport more television-friendly.
“Currently the amount of time it takes to complete events is well over five hours,” wrote Fidelman. “They need to shorten the format if they are to make inroads in the United States.”
In addition, the organization is hoping to induce its superstars – names like Beezie Madden, Quentin Judge and Georgina Bloomberg that pretty much no one outside the sport recognizes – to engage with fans better on social media by Tweeting and Facebooking their way to greater prominence (or do it on behalf of their horses…social media can’t resist animals.) Finally, the sport needs mega-sponsors. (As Fidelman puts it, show jumping needs to find its Red Bull.) While there might not be a lot of crossover for sponsors with…say, NASCAR events…there are a lot of companies that would be suitable for sponsorship (think Coach, BMW or Moet champagne).
With an organized effort on the part of the USEF and prominent show jumpers, the sport can widen its appeal. If golf can be a popular spectator sport, surely a well-dressed rider coaxing a temperamental 1,200 pound animal over a seven-foot fence would make for great watching.