Organizers of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games have long predicted that there will be about 900 horses and 800 athletes from 60 countries coming to Lexington next year. Yet for a few weeks this summer on the official WEG Web site, those numbers were downgraded to 600 horses and 500 athletes.
WEG officials now say that was a mistake, stemming from an effort to stop talking about projected numbers of participants and spectators until actual numbers are available. The marketing department "thought we needed to lower our projections, which was a total misinterpretation," WEG spokeswoman Amy Walker said.
Walker said she had no idea where the marketing department got the lower numbers, which remained on the official Web site Monday morning. By noon, the site didn't list any projected numbers of participants.
The original number of horses was based on the most recent Games, in 2006 in Aachen, Germany. At that event, 773 athletes and 852 horses competed. That's what WEG organizers are roughly expecting here, Walker said.
The 2002 Games were held in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, bringing together 700 horses and 800 athletes.
But projected numbers have fluctuated ever since Lexington was chosen in 2005 for the 2010 Games. Originally, organizers said, 600,000 people would descend on Lexington. Now they say they expect to sell that many tickets, knowing that most people buy more than one ticket for the qualifying rounds and finals of their favorite events. So even if each person bought just two tickets, that would mean 300,000 visitors over 16 days.
The World Games in Aachen sold about 570,000 tickets, and officials there estimated that about 278,000 people attended. For the Jerez Games, about 300,000 tickets were sold, but actual spectators were not counted.
Regular ticket sales for the 2010 Games begin Sept. 25, a year before the event, and so organizers hope to have a better idea of attendance numbers soon after. The Games will be held Sept. 25-Oct. 10, featuring eight Olympic-level equestrian disciplines.
Walker said that some equestrian teams are already holding events to qualify within their own countries but that others might wait much longer to decide whether they will travel to Lexington.
The global economic downturn has made projections more difficult. Two years ago, when the dollar was weak compared with other currencies, organizers said they expected a huge influx of international visitors for the Games. Now that the downturn has affected other countries, foreign tourists might decide not to come.
"You try and put as much education and past statistics (as possible) behind those projections to come up with the numbers," said Bryan Pettigrew of Affinity Sports Marketing in Dallas. "But the economy has a lot to do with it, especially within the equine industry. You're transporting horses, making sure they're ready. There are a lot of challenges with projections."
Amy Borgman, vice-president of Equestrian Sports Promotions in Parker, Colo., said the economy has certainly affected all facets of the sport horse industry.
"Marketing this product will be very difficult," she said of the World Games, in part because they've never been held in the United States before, and in part because equestrian sport doesn't have as large a spectator following here as in Europe.
"It means they have a lot more work to do, but it doesn't mean they can't be successful," Borgman said.