Much of the competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won't be among the equine and human athletes on the field.
In the stands, in the hospitality tents, across the grounds and even throughout the state, Kentucky business executives and economic development officials will be busy trying to figure out how to make the Games pay dividends for years.
"This will be huge," Commerce Lexington president Robert Quick said. After all, for two weeks, an international spotlight will be trained on some of Central Kentucky's most positive aspects during its most beautiful time of year.
"The rolling, green hills and smiling faces will be our biggest advertisement," he said.
Commerce Lexington, which is part of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership that also includes Lexington's city government and the University of Kentucky, has invited some business prospects and site-selection consultants to the Games, but Quick said he doesn't know yet how many will attend.
The group is partnering with chambers of commerce in Louisville and Northern Kentucky on business- recruiting efforts, and with the Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau to reach out to national, international and niche media.
At the Kentucky Horse Park, Commerce Lexington's most visible role will be staffing 58 shifts at the information desk in the VIP hospitality tent. "We're not going to do a hard sell," Quick said. "But we want to be the go-to information source to guide them."
Kentucky's Cabinet for Economic Development will play host to about 50 guests, said Mandy Lambert, director of marketing and communications. Plans are similar to what the cabinet does each year when it brings prospects to attend the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.
"They'll be attending the Games, as well as enjoying other outside activities during their stay," Lambert said. "Our goal is to showcase the state's business and quality of life advantages and encourage future economic development opportunities for Kentucky."
Individual companies will be using the Games to entertain clients, reward partners and build business. And none will work harder at it than Alltech, the Games' title sponsor.
Alltech is investing more than $30 million to make the Games a success and leverage them for its own business development, president Pearse Lyons has said. In fact, in recent months, the line between the Games organization and Alltech has seemed increasingly blurred.
Alltech is using the Games to launch two animal feed products, a malt whiskey, a brand of Haitian coffee and an after-dinner drink, spokesman Billy Frey said. The company's Bourbon Barrel Ale is the official beer of the Games, and its Alltech Angus beef will be served frequently and promoted heavily.
The company also is sponsoring the Alltech Fortnight Festival, two weeks of concerts and other entertainment during the Games that gives it a way to reach out to a wider audience and forge stronger ties with more than 60 Central Kentucky restaurants and bars.
Alltech has used the Games as a marketing engine to build relationships with 67 customer companies. And, in an effort to boost ticket sales and attendance, Lyons created the Commonwealth Club, which provides ticket and hospitality packages that other companies can use to entertain guests. So far, 115 companies have joined the club.
Lexmark International plans to host customers from Canada and Europe at the Games, said Denis Giuliani, vice president of U.S. marketing and supply sales for the company's laser printer division.
"WEG could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just like the Ryder Cup," Giuliani said, referring to the golf tournament at Louisville's Valhalla course in 2008, where Lexmark was a sponsor. "They're great customer-hosting events."
While some deals might get done amid all the vaulting, jumping and reining, the real payoff, at least for Lexington and Kentucky, will be long-term. "We learned from Aachen (the German city that was host to the 2006 World Equestrian Games) that a lot of what happened with the Games happened later," Quick said.
"It will be all about image and impression that people have as they go around the region and how they might see economic connections, business connections," Quick said. "I think we're going to have the benefits of this for decades to come. People will be talking about this."
Business writer Scott Sloan contributed to this column. Reach Tom Eblen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.