Raising Freestyle Visibility on Television

Sun, 02/06/2005 - 00:00
2005 FEI Freestyle Forum

Two critical issues on the agenda of the Freestyle Forum concerned tv-recording and kur broadcasting on television. One of the major weaknesses of dressage is that the sport is not accessible enough to a large tv crowd.

Television stations are not interested in showing dressage because it is an insider sport; only a small group of people know and understand its rules.

Hubert Schulze Hobeling, a German tv-expert (pictured right), and Carsten Sostmeier, a German award winning sport commentator, discussed the current problems concerning broadcasting dressage with verve and made several suggestions how the sport can became more transparent and attractive for television.

Sostmeier stated that one of the thorny problems was the judges' panel. "They are a mysterious group of people," he said. Who are they, and how to do they score? This is all unclear to the layman in front of the tv. Another problem are the lack of information and transparency between the riders and media. "For instance Farbenfroh, nobody knew what was wrong with him, what did he have. There was no communication about the horse," Sostmeier criticized."People are interested in the ones that are winning," Hobeling added, "especially at the Olympic Games, people love to join the competitors in their chase for the gold medal."

Not only is the deficient in communication between riders and press one of the weakest links in the popularity of the sport, the attitude of many riders towards the press is also very disappointing. "Riders should be congratulating the winner and not start blaming the judges on television," Sostmeier stated. Furthermore, it is Eurodressage's opinion that many riders are very inaccessible. They are difficult to reach (no email, not picking up the telephone), some are secretive about explaining or conforming news and most of them do not realize the importance of nurturing the press with news for marketing purposes.

According to judge Stephen Clarke, one of the inadequacies in equestrian coverage on television is the tv-commentators' poor knowledge of the sport. "It turns people away from itt. They think it's totally irrelevant," said Clarke. It is essential that knowledgeable commentators are used in a broadcast. The best 2004 Olympic Games equestrian coverage was produced in Canada, where judge Cara Whitam worked as commentator for dressage. Horse magazines are deep into the topics and usually know what they write about. The big newspapers, who reach an audience of millions of people, send writers to the horse shows who have no clue of the sport. Maybe it could be the responsibility of the FEI Media Advisory Committee and the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists that the world's biggest news papers can tap into a database of professional equestrian journalists and photographers and use their services for writing quality reports and photos on horse shows?

Sostmeier was not only focusing on the negative aspects, he also made several suggestions to improve the attractiveness of the sport for television. Open scoring and running scores on the tv-screen have already done much for the popularity and understandability of the sport. Sostmeier suggested analyses with parallel pictures on screen, commented on by professionals, or experts or even by the judges themselves. He also proposed a comparative study on tv with three shots showing a piaffe and their score, explaining why one is better than the other. Furthermore, Sostmeier said that tv-crews need to be informed about the best video angles for dressage.

An absolutely valuable suggestion was the installment of a "Kiss and Cry Corner" near the dressage ring. This idea is based on figure skating and it entails a special media corner, where figure skaters wait for their score with their trainer. At the same time they talk to a tv host about their ride, their feelings, and expectations for the show.

Mariette Withages was well aware of the current problems concerning media implementation for dressage and replied in the following way. "The judges are not secretive about their scoring. We are actually the most of open of all. We battled for 'open' scoring and it was the riders who didn't like it." The abolishment of elimination of riders in the kur has been instated to promote the sport. There will no longer be any time gaps on television in case an elimination occurs as riders will just get marked down. Withages liked Sostmeier's ideas on comparative studies and scores on the tv-screen, but she mentioned that the lack of a big budget is the critical problem that prevent tv stations from doing top coverage.

One of the steps Withages has taken towards transparency of dressage in the media is by instating a new rule that all judges have to be present at the press conference. "We cannot be more open than that," she concluded, adding that it would be a good idea to host an FEI Media Forum in the future, where these topics can be discussed in more detail.

Text and Images Copyrighted Astrid Appels/Eurodressage.com - No Reproduction allowed without explicit permission

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