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Setting sights on 2010 — and beyond

It begins in 571 days.

Eight world championships in equestrian sports will be decided during 16 days of competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to attend the Games, which are held only every four years, and millions more around the world will watch on television.

The Games are being organized by a non-profit group, the World Games 2010 Foundation, and its new chief executive officer, Jamie Link.

At 46, Link is a veteran state government executive, with deep roots in tourism, who got his feet wet in big-event organizing at the 2008 Ryder Cup golf tournament in Louisville. He also has been involved in construction of the arena, stadium and other facilities at the Horse Park that will be the venues for Games competition as well as for future equestrian events.

The work still to be done for the Games will be challenging, Link says, but the long-range payoff for Kentucky goes well beyond the $150 million economic impact of the Games alone.

Question: You've been the chief executive of the World Games 2010 Foundation for only about six weeks now. What qualities have you acquired in your career that are helping you the most now?

Answer: I really feel like I have been blessed throughout my career to have experienced lots of different business, administrative and management areas (of state government).

Certainly my experience at the Kentucky Horse Park was invaluable for learning about the park and the tremendous staff that they have and what the park means to not only Lexington, but Kentucky, and what equestrian sport can mean to this area.

I also benefited from being at the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet and getting the overarching view of Kentucky tourism and how this event fits hand in glove with our goal to promote Kentucky as a tourist destination.

Q; The first CEO of the foundation was Jack Kelly, a professional sports events organizer. Is your state government background a disadvantage in this job?

A: I don't think so. I hope it's complementary, really. Jack did a great job of getting the foundation organized and started, and to the point where we are today. Hopefully my experience and my background will complement what Jack has already set in motion and we can build on that.

Q: What was your role at the Ryder Cup tournament last year?

A: I was the Tourism Cabinet's liaison to Ryder Cup. The commonwealth had a corporate chalet in which we hosted over 100 economic development and tourism guests, including foreign travel writers. We also hosted guests on behalf of the State Fair Board and the Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. The return on that investment is going to be significant.

I think this event (the Games) will give us a chance to really promote ourselves in the economic and tourism arenas.

I think there are some other similarities between Ryder Cup and the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The transportation, security and hospitality aspects are very similar.

The Ryder Cup folks were nice enough to allow the WEG staff to see the "back of the house," the behind-the-scenes set-up of the Ryder Cup, which was invaluable to us.

We also got to see the media center and how it was set up, which gives us a great foundation for how we are going to function here.

Q: Ryder Cup lasted about six days and the Games will be 16 days. Isn't that a huge difference?

A: Sixteen days is a logistical challenge. For example, you can get parking facilities for a week much easier than you can for almost three weeks. Obviously, we can't have a lot of vehicular traffic coming to the Horse Park, so we are going to have to have satellite parking and run shuttles, much like they did at the Ryder Cup.

The same holds true for security, food service, hospitality, general customer service, merchandising, the trade show. I think this is more along the lines of the Olympic Games, though maybe not on that scale, but the length of time is certainly similar.

Q: Can the foundation reach its $76.4 million fund-raising goal despite this deep economic recession?

A: I think so. Certainly, with the economy, we would like to be further ahead. You always want to be further ahead in fund-raising, but we feel good about where we are.

Our revenue estimates have been very realistic, very conservative. We certainly want to set an obtainable goal and we want to exceed that goal. We feel like we can attain it and exceed it if certain things fall our way.

Everyone hopes the economy will improve. A lot of potential corporate sponsors and others are waiting to see how the economy shakes out in the next few months. That might put them in a better position to make commitments.

Q: Corporate sponsorships is the main area that seems to be lagging due to the economy, is that correct?

A: I don't think I would say they are lagging, but we have changed our strategy somewhat.

When the economy was strong, there was the hope and goal that we would have a few large sponsors. Certainly, Alltech was a wonderful way to start with their ($10 million) title sponsorship, but now we are looking at perhaps smaller sponsorships dollarwise, but more of them.

We feel like by changing our strategy, we can still attain the goal we had set, but perhaps we will go a different route to get there.

Q: The foundation's situation is also a bit different because it is a non-profit organization, not a regular corporation. Is that correct?

A: Yes. We can accept value-in-kind contributions of, say, excess inventory that companies may have built up due to the recession. The donor can receive a tax benefit for the donation.

The unique quality of our event is also an advantage when it comes to the recession. I won't say it insulates us, but it puts us in a better situation.

Q: What kind of feedback are you getting from foreign horse people about their interest in being at the Games as competitors or spectators?

A: The word we are getting from various sources is that there is still a great deal of interest when it comes to ticket sales. People have been planning for months, if not years, to make this trip to Lexington. I think people want to come and see the Kentucky Horse Park and be part of the Games here.

If it's any indication, our volunteer database of over 9,000 people includes volunteers from over 40 countries.

We are hearing from tourism sources that foreign tour operators are very interested in booking tours so people can come see the Games and also Kentucky. So we are working closely with the Tourism Cabinet to make sure they have the whole experience of the Games and the things in Kentucky that they are most interested in experiencing, including Abraham Lincoln, bourbon, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mammoth Cave.

And of course the Games fall right between the Keeneland fall sale and the Keeneland fall (racing) meet, and the Breeder's Cup is in Louisville shortly after our event, so there are lots of things for visitors.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you've got ahead of you before the Games start?

A: Certainly, budget is first and foremost to make sure we stay on track with our revenues. I think of our budget as a living, breathing document. As the revenue situation builds and grows and our expenditure strategies change, we have got to keep a close handle on all of that.

And then there is all of the finest details of planning. We just want to make sure that when the gates open on Sept. 25, 2010, that everything is in place and that our guests have the best experience they could possibly have.