Punchestown report verifies external funding vital for success

A REPORT published yesterday on the International Sport Horse Show (ISHS) at Punchestown for the years 2002-2004 gives a rare insight into the running of a major equestrian event.

In essence, it looks at the travails of financing such an undertaking in Ireland and what it takes to break even.

The bottom line, it notes, is that “there is not the population base necessary to run a financially viable international three-day event of real quality without external support”.

The company set up to run the event — International Sport Horse Show Ltd — emerged in 2000 in the wake of the debacle that was the failed attempt to run the World Equestrian Games in 1998 and the subsequent allocation by the FEI of the 2003 European Championships to Punchestown.

MEP and then Eventing Ireland chairwoman Avril Doyle, IFG Group CEO Richard Hayes and businessman and management consultant Tim Philips were its directors.

Initially, the company focussed on resolving a dispute that saw the FEI demanding the payment of a €1.5m bond promised by the Department of Tourism should the games not take place. Importantly, the directors quickly came to the realisation that the show would only be a success if a far wider range of equestrian disciplines, including, endurance, show jumping, dressage and a hunt chase, were incorporated.

Highlighted also was the involvement of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, — who through the persuasion of Doyle, became a sponsor — and the inclusion of the endurance championships in the schedule. “It was this sponsorship which formed one of the key ingredients in the ultimately successful financial outturn for the ISHS,” the report said.

Yesterday’s report was issued following the official winding up of ISHS Ltd in autumn of last year.

It notes the success of attracting riders from 27 nations in the two main disciplines of eventing and endurance, the a simultaneous staging of a double European Championships and the “wide international acclaim for the organisational and marketing skills” associated with the show.

It also touches on failure. While hopes were high that the foundation had been laid for further successes, no event ran in 2005, though 2006 saw a revival. Accordingly, the report acknowledges that the long-term aspirations of successfully establishing world-class eventing and endurance at Punchestown were “probably” always destined for failure.

The report also gives a detailed breakdown of income and expenditure. Both amounted to €3,610,000 over the three years, meaning the event was run without loss. The former comprised of €1,285,000 — or 36% of the total — in public funding, with over €1m coming from Fáilte Ireland, €217,000 from the Irish Sports Council, €18,000 from Eventing Ireland and €10,000 from the Irish Horse Board.

Commercial revenue amounted to €1,667,000 — or 46% of the total — while the remaining 18% was derived from spectators (€290,000) competitors’ entry fees (€172,000), retail rental (€98,000), food and beverage fees (€70,000) and sundry revenue (€28,000).

The report puts the €3.61m expenditure figure into perspective, saying that it “equates to more than 10 times Eventing Ireland’s current annual budget”.

Horse trials expenses totalled over €1m, with endurance expenses at a little under €300,000. General expenses came to €1.43m

It is noted that the €0.784m spent on the design, construction and operation of the cross-country course was the single biggest cost, amounting to 21% of the total, while 11% — €412,000 — of expenditure was accounted for by administration and 10% — €377,000 went on promotional activities.

While Phillips, in his role as chief executive, was reimbursed with a part of his expenses, “there were no expenses paid to Doyle and Hayes and none of the three directors received remuneration.” The report states that, “had it been necessary to pay for the management and fund-raising skills provided by the three directors, the successful break-even of the ISHS could not have been achieved”.

The directors also noted that “on a number of occasions, they felt they were in a position where, whilst certainly not legally liable, they might face a personal moral liability — an unacceptable situation for people voluntarily seeking to develop the sport horse industry for the benefit of their country”.

The report also warns that “the income developed from commercial sponsorship of €1.66m will be very difficult to repeat”.

The directors conclude that “for too long, the financial data associated with the running of international three-day events has been clouded in mystery, giving fodder to rumour and innuendo. The sport horse industry needs to take a decision as to whether or not it is important to have an international showcase ... and, if so, to recognise that enthusiastic volunteers, essential though they are to making the showcase a success, are but only one part of what is needed. Government funding is and, will remain, an essential pre-requisite to viability.”

Doyle yesterday said the report had a clear message: “Ireland is a small country and the number of eventing enthusiasts is small, so, it will always need substantial money.”

*Punchestown International Three Day Event & Horse Show takes place on May 17-20.

* JESSICA KÜRTEN and Cameron Hanley are finding it difficult to make an impression in the World Cup, with both going out in the first round at Mechelen, Belgium, last Saturday.

Four faults, offset by a fast time, from Mayo man Hanley on SIEC Hippica Kerman ensured he placed 10th in what was his fourth World Cup class of the season.

Kürten finished out of the points for the third time in five attempts, this time posting eight faults with Castle Forbes Libertina in the opening round to place 18th.

Hanley’s performance has seen him join Kürten in equal 27th place on 13 points.

However, precedent has shown that in excess of 40 points is necessary to book a place in the finals, which take place at Las Vegas in April. On the positive side, there are six rounds remaining before the US decider, meaning Kürten has ample opportunity to set up a chance of going one better than her runner-up placing in last year’s World Cup final.

Both Kürten, up one place to third in the latest world rankings, and Hanley up from 60th to 45th, can also take plusses from their results in the days leading up to last weekend’s Belgian World Cup class

Hanley, who rides out of a yard near Frankfurt, opened his account on Wednesday with a third on the eight-year-old grey gelding SIEC Concept in a 1.40m two-phase class. He later finished three-tenths of a second off the pace when runner-up on the 12-year-old chestnut gelding Kerman to Swiss rider Daniel Etter (Fromer’s Harmine D’Auray) in the day’s feature class.

Kürten’s best result came when she and the 10-year-old mare Libertina finished runner-up in the show’s second World Cup qualifying class, set at 1.50m, crossing the finish line just over a tenth of a second behind winner Kristoff Cleeren of Belgium on Sea Coast Conan.

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