Badminton Horse Trials, Burghley Horse Trials, Blenheim
Horse Trials. Familiar names in UK eventing with a combined history of over 150
years and a cultural heritage almost unmatched at any other sporting occasion.

However, those same names are also synonymous with a sport
that some accuse of being dated and in desperate need of a makeover.

Eventing is a sport so entrenched in tradition that any
remodelling has to be subtle; yet however subtle, it still carries great
financial risk. It is a daunting task for anyone to take on.

The brainchild of its founders, horse owners Christopher and
Lisa Stone, Event Rider Masters has just entered its second season after a relatively
successful debut in 2016. 

The launch of the series was a leap of faith for the Stones,
who privately funded its creation with the help of several other investors,
including rider and businesswoman Tara Glen.

The Stones and their team believed they saw a gap in the
market, room for a season-long series that could be commercially driven and
attract prolonged interest in a sport that often peaks with the four-year
Olympic cycle.

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The idea was to move away from the tradition of grand,
individual events and one-off exhibitions and create a sustainable, modern and
global event series.

France’s Astier Nicolas at the inaugural ERM event at Chatsworth House

The series comprises existing meetings at existing venues
but brands them under one umbrella competition, adding a much-needed storyline
to the established eventing season.

Jon Wyatt, commercial director at Event Rider Masters, tells
Sportcal Insight that such a series had been a long time coming as the era of “shorter
versions of sport” has led plenty of governing bodyies to consider looking “for
their answer to Twenty20 cricket.” Wyatt adds that it seemed “now was the right

The main revenue stream for the series is sponsorship, and
it predictably counts luxury brands such as Pol Roger champagne and wealth
management firm St. James’s Place among its supporters, while it also has hopes
of eventually securing a title partner.

This year, Wiesbaden in Germany and Haras de Jardy in France
have been added to the schedule, becoming the series’ first international stops
outside the UK.

Wyatt’s ambitious plans include taking the series to Japan
by 2019, in the lead-up to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic Games. 

However, it’s early days, and after a first year in which the
series was completely privately funded, it is being partly commercially funded
its second season, with the aim of being entirely commercially sustainable by
the third edition next year.

Strong hospitality sales have helped prop up some of the
series’ costs but it isn’t a secret that equestrianism is an expensive hobby.

This year, every session will be live-streamed on the Event
Rider Masters website, while eight international broadcasters have picked up
rights to show highlights of the second season.

The experienced Red Handed TV, the UK-based production firm
which is the host broadcaster for the Extreme Sailing Series, has been
appointed to produce this year’s coverage, requiring the largest outlay of
funds for the series, according to Wyatt.

But the former managing director of UK-based agency
FastTrack is confident that the investment will pay off, as around 100,000
people tuned into each live stream last year and the series has secured a loyal
following that is “85-per-cent female.”

The series also has the much-needed backing of the FEI,
equestrianism’s governing body, which has allowed the addition of reverse ordering
and rolling podiums, previously taboo in the sport’s competitions, to add a bit
more excitement to the coverage.

Sanctioning support from the FEI was facilitated by the fact
that Event Rider Masters wasn’t regarded as a rival to the body’s pre-existing
events, but simply as a re-packing and re-styling of what was already there.

Wyatt says that the FEI and ERM “both want to grow the
sport. We are coming at it from a commercial point of view but they are coming
at it from a participation point of view.”

British rider Oliver Townend is crowned champion of the inaugural Event Rider Masters series

Conversely, show-jumping’s Global Champions League, which
also launched last year, clashed instantly with the FEI, which initially
refused to sanction any of organiser Global Champions Tour’s events because it
feared that the rival competition would take riders away from its own events.

The issue went to the Belgian competition authority, which eventually
ruled that the FEI could not implement its so-called ‘unsanctioned event’ rule
against the GCL.

The rule would have enabled the FEI to prevent athletes and
horses from competing in an international or national event if they had
participated in the GCL in the previous six months.

The two parties finally reached an agreement and signed a memorandum
of understanding in January, but the European Equestrian Federation and the
International Jumping Riders Club have continued to criticise the new GCL’s
invitation system.

The concession that was agreed under the MOU resulted in a
significant cut in the number of top-30 riders that could take part in the GCL,
but the lucrative second season nevertheless includes 18 teams, at a cost of €2
million ($2.2 million) per team, and offers total prize money of €22 million.

With the FEI fighting to control the balance of power,
participation and interest in the sport, Wyatt says of Event Rider Masters: “The
individual events themselves have always been there but they’ve never moved
onto a global scale. There’s not been any global media coverage of eventing
outside of the Olympics. What we’ve tried to do is package up the sport and
take the best of it and bring it forward to the 21st century.

“We created a series, it’s no longer individual events. The
narrative finally makes it attractive to TV broadcasters. It was a simple fit.”

So, if it’s that easy, why has it not been done before? “Money,”
is the short answer, according to Wyatt.

If ERM can ride out an expensive initial few years, it might
just emerge as eventing’s answer to Twenty20 cricket.