Do you get repeats of Blackadder across the pond, the cult BBC TV sitcom starring our beloved Rowan Atkinson? It is set in various historical eras, and in his earliest manifestation Blackadder is the odious son of a medieval king, and his “stooge” a fawning fop called Lord Percy.
In one episode Blackadder learns of his pending arranged marriage to a Spanish princess whom he has never met. Percy speculates about her reputed pulchritude and goes off on a flight of fancy about the legendary blueness of the Infanta’s eyes; nearly as blue (hushed pause for effect) as the magical Blue Stone of Galveston.
“Percy,” asks an irritated Blackadder. “Have you ever seen the Infanta’s eyes? “No, my lord.” “And have you ever seen the Stone of Galveston?” “Er, no, my lord.” “Right, so you are telling me that something you have never seen is slightly less blue than something else you have never seen?” “Er, yes.” Percy would likely be boxed round the ears at this point, but for a more alarming sudden distraction….
This favourite scene romped back to my mind with the announcement, during the European jumping and dressage championships in Gothenburg, that Longines is to sponsor the jumping Nations Cup and extending its other lavish arrangements with the FEI. It was already halfway through a 10-year, Euros 120 million-ish deal as things stand.
The press release was entitled “Longines signs long-term title partnership of FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping and extends global agreement as FEI Top Partner.” No need to read on, as you are certainly not going to learn much more, despite the ample peppering of the text with assertions about “historic/landmark” agreements, the “most significant in the history of the FEI and possibly even in the history of equestrian sport” and providing the horse industry with a “previously unseen level of support.”
But it’s difficult to get even half-excited about this sort of “announcement” when no figures or even a hint of comparison whatsoever is provided.
Colleagues at Gothenburg tell me the media’s failure to extract any clues at all about the duration and value of this “milestone” was certainly not for want of trying. The nearest they got to the contract term was when, like Lord Percy, FEI president Ingmar De Vos answered the question by obliquely referring to something no one else could possibly know anything about. The deal would be live, it appeared, as long as he and Longines’ marketing chief Juan-Carlos Capelli remained friends and they hoped that would be right up to De Vos’s retirement.
One editor who thus enquired about Ingmar’s age was told to look it up on the FEI website. He’s 54, so a good way off yet. Ingmar will stand for re-election at the end of 2018 and, as he’s likely to win, in 2022 would be entitled to go for a third consecutive term. So the coded message is that Longines will be Top Partner until 2026. But that can’t be reported as fact and, sighs, we still don’t know what the enhanced Longines deal is worth.
Longines accrue godzillions of mentions in all types of media (19 in this article alone!) as title sponsor of just about everything already in horse sport. But in terms of actual coverage of what they do, Longines’ investment must be inversely proportional to the number of words it generates. Longines surely deserve quality exposure, rather than quantity, but I guess it’s their call. They’ve been involved in show jumping since 1926 and horseracing 30 years before that.
Longines’ most prominent news headline on Horse-Canada.com this week was, by the way, for the wrong reasons – Bromont and Calgary have been inexplicably dropped from the North American World Cup League.
It’s difficult to know whether this enhanced deal is unavoidable, and that we should all count our blessings that Longines have stepped in yet again because no other major corporation is interested in equestrianism any more. The jumping Nations Cup has not enjoyed an authentic commercial sponsor since Samsung dropped out in 2008. I don’t count the two-year Meydan backing or the Furusiyya deal as being the commercial decisions of a corporation. Those two were almost certainly the result of former FEI president Princess Haya leaning on her mega wealthy family members and friends to bail out the sport.
But, on the other hand, have other potential sponsors already been deterred/dismayed to find that the plum pickings in horse sport (apart from the eventing Nations Cup, which no one, not even Longines, has wanted from the outset) have long since been scooped up, or because they heard how abruptly Rolex’s long relationship with the FEI was severed, and have thus turned tail and put their money elsewhere? I have heard – entirely anecdotally, I should add – that other luxury brands have not progressed some newer interests in horse sport upon learning that the goods they produce and sell are in areas where Longines enjoys exclusivity.
To my mind either scenario is a tad unhealthy. So while it’s a huge relief that the Nations Cup is safe, and that the FEI really did mean it when they said the nations team jumping was their most important “product,” we are once again putting off the evil hour of working out how to court new revenue streams. If other major corporations are thinking of ring-fencing an investment for the next time an appealing equestrian opportunity arises, they surely need an inkling of when that might be, to the nearest five years at least?
The press release did tell us that Ingmar negotiated the latest deal, to distinguish it from the previous one also landed by Princess Haya, a personal friend of the Nayek family who own Swatch group, which own Longines.
The launch for that in January 2013 openly announced the 10 years and a nine-digit sum. The Furusiyya deal – about Euros 25 million for five years – was hardly top secret either. The FEI/Longines decision to delete the news-peg of their own event this week was indeed strange.
The day before, the International Jumping Riders Club held their general assembly where top riders emphasised the importance of the Nations Cup which, at the time, was still sponsor-less. Propped up by the FEI, the lower prize-money levels have dissuaded some riders from doing their bit for their country in recent seasons, especially when there is a Global Tour or other five-star the same weekend.
The Tour (a Longines sponsorship) was the elephant in the room on another topic debated by the IJRC. Not everyone mentioned it by name, but the Tour seemed to be the target of the IJRC’s latest proposal to reduce the number of world rankings points (table sponsor: Longines) that the rich riders can effectively “buy.” The meeting openly referred to pay cards, even though the FEI says pay cards are not allowed any more.
The IJRC – who own the rankings formula – want riders to count points from only one class per day; and at 5-star level, only from those shows who issue their rider invitations as follows – 60 per cent to riders in descending order of the FEI rankings (including home riders); 20 per cent by the organising committee; and 20 per cent by the home national federation.
The IJRC knows no more about the bespoke invitations system for the Tour that was secretly agreed by the FEI than Lord Percy knew about blue stones, but you can be pretty sure the IJRC doesn’t think the Tour is forced to observe 20 per cent organiser’s invitations.
It will be fascinating to follow how that one pans out. I find it very refreshing that in this cynical age, so many really big names in jumping are more concerned about the integrity of their sport than the chance to win hundreds of thousands week in and week out thanks to Longines and, er, Longines.
Meanwhile, if you ever get lost in the middle of nowhere, don’t phone the FEI for directions. Your understanding of landmarks and milestones is unlikely to be the same as theirs!