WEG organizers raise economic impact projections

The tickets are selling, the vendors are booking booths, the hotel reservations are filling up, and the portable toilets will be ordered soon.

Six months out, organizers said Tuesday, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are projected to have an economic impact of $167 million.

That's up from a 2007 estimate of $150 million, which planners said was based on guesswork.

The new figure, from a study done by University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes, is based on ticket sales, hotel room bookings, vendor bookings and sponsorship contracts.

That estimate includes $96.5 million in direct spending as well as increased taxes and the multiplied effects of various industries.

The Games will be Sept. 25 to Oct. 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington; competitors from as many as 60 countries are expected to participate in eight disciplines: jumping, dressage, eventing, reining, vaulting, driving, endurance and para-equestrian riding.

Ticket prices for the different equestrian events range from $25 to $150; the average ticket purchase so far is $88, and attendees are buying an average of five days of tickets.

Based on sales so far, 87 percent of spectators will be from out-of-state. That means lots of hotel rooms, at triple the normal rates — more in some cases. The average stay booked through the WEG housing bureau is 6.2 nights, at an average room rate of $273 per attendee.

"Hotel prices really surprised me," Coomes said.

Lodging expenditures are estimated at more than $27 million; Coomes subtracted $7 million from the economic impact to account for the normal Lexington occupancy rate in late September and early October at normal prices.

Coomes pointed out that not all of the $167 million will "stick on the ground" in Kentucky; some of it will go out of state in turnaround spending.

WEG board chairman Jamie Link said he isn't surprised at the $167 million estimate and thinks ticket sales could top the currently projected 460,000 individual tickets.

"We're about halfway to our goal ... and halfway to the games," Link said. "We're now reaching the period when I think ticket sales are really going to track upward. I feel we'll be right around a half-million."

He said only 70 out of 260 trade fair spots remain and the Games are within 90 percent of their sponsorship goal of $25,358,000.

Link said he wants to continue to be careful not to overestimate the economic impact, but it's also important not to underestimate the Games' needs. The WEG board will be putting out a request for proposals for the Games' portable toilet contract in a week or so.

"That's the stuff that's not really glamorous," he said, but you have to get it right.

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