Show jumping targets new audience
New initiative aims to bring in Friday night crowd, writes James Donoghue
Who watches show jumping in Ireland? Not enough people, the sport's authorities have accepted, and they are taking steps to address the problem, targeting a new audience beyond the genteel crowd associated with equestrian events.
Show jumping, it is fair to say, does not capture the imagination of the wider sporting public in this country. Bertram Allen, a 19-year-old from Wexford, is one of the biggest names in the sport worldwide, but is little known here outside the equestrian cognoscenti.
It was not always this way. In the '70s and '80s, Eddie Macken and Paul Darragh were household names in Ireland. And at next year's Olympics, show jumping perhaps offers Ireland's best chance of medals behind boxing.
Horse Sport Ireland and Show Jumping Ireland are confident that there is a market to be tapped.
"It's time to put the 'show' back in show jumping," says Damian McDonald, chief executive of HSI.
HSI and SJI have teamed up with greyhound tracks in Limerick, Cork and Shelbourne to launch three Friday night events, under the umbrella 'Jumping in the City' - sponsored by the Underwriting Exchange Limited.
Essentially, they are looking to follow the example of cricket, which has been able to attract a whole new demographic by devising a shortened form of the game, Twenty20, and playing fixtures under lights in the evening, generally in big cities.
For spectators, Twenty20 is a livelier, rowdier version of the longer formats, and crowds have flocked to it wherever the game is played.
Similarly, McDonald believes that Jumping in the City will appeal to people who might never have been to a show jumping event before. "We're trying to attract a new audience to show jumping," he says. "We are looking to attract the typical after-work crowd on a Friday evening. We feel we can create much the same atmosphere as a night out.
"Jumping in the City will see some of Ireland's top show jumping horses and riders competing against each other in what is set to be a hugely entertaining night out. This event is not only for seasoned show jumping fans but those who are less familiar with this sport, but are looking for something different on their Friday night."
A night at the dogs will always have an appeal for those in search of excitement on a Friday night, and McDonald might just be on to something with a night at the horses.
The series begins in Limerick on Friday June 5, moves to Cork on Friday June 12, and reaching its finale in Shelbourne Park, Dublin on Friday June 26. The three events start at 6.30pm and will run to 11pm.
They will involve three different classes of competition: a Grand Prix with a jump-off against the clock for some of Ireland's top riders, an amateur series for grassroots riders, and a big crowd favourite, the Devenish Puissance, where riders aim to jump a huge red wall, which is built progressively higher after each round; the horse that can jump the highest is deemed the winner.
Paddy Power is jumping on the bandwagon and providing betting for punters.
"We're delighted to be involved in the inaugural Jumping in the City Series, as it looks to bring top-class show jumping to a whole new audience," said the bookmakers.
"We're always looking for ways to broaden our offering to our customers and this series is the perfect opportunity to cater to our show jumping punters outside of the Aga Khan Cup ."
Ticket for the series can be purchased by phoning the IGB ticket line at 1890 269 969 or by visiting horsesportireland.ie
Sunday Indo Sport