From the perspective of an industry where the word ‘celebrity’ means pop stars, Oscar winners and zany billionaires, it’s been fascinating to watch the rise of the celebrity rider. It’s an Equine PR dream.
The sporting world in general has always produced big names, and with that big sponsorship deals. Modern day athletes have enormous value of association, and with huge sports brands able to offer lucrative sponsorship packages, this is being echoed more and more within the equestrian world. As a result it is becoming the case that smaller brands simply can’t offer the types of sponsorship deals that meet most equestrian brands budgets, leaving many opportunities open only to the bigger brands.
Of course the riders want to earn a living and why shouldn’t they cash in on their talent and reputation? We see it from both sides of the fence and are always quick to manage a brand’s expectations when it comes to the riders value of association. Knowing your worth as a rider is important, but getting a reputation for ‘selling your soul for a few quid’ can be an Equine PR nightmare.
We are often approached by riders enquiring about equine PR, only to quickly discover that what they are really after is an agent. The two are not the same. Yes, with good PR you do attract the attention of brands but there may also be opportunities that come via the agent’s contacts – having a good sports agent is essential.
Finding an agent who works with brands to negotiate a great deal is tricky, and a good agents know how to ensure that both sponsor and rider are getting a great opportunity. Equally, bad agents cast a shadow over the riders reputation in their attempt to barge through the negotiation process like a bull in a china shop. So, it’s important to do your research when it comes to whom you choose to represent you as a rider.
Compared with the majority of mainstream sports, equestrians are lucky in that their careers can literally span a lifetime (demonstrated by Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu who qualified for the London Olympics at age 70), and after they cast aside their (Designer) riding hats they retire to roles as ‘trainers/mentors/experts’. They still retain their worth and value to brands, looking for an association with key influencers within the equestrian world.
The rise of the celebrity rider isn’t a bad thing, but the individuals that retain their credibility will always be the ones who choose to align themselves with the brands which they are truly passionate about (as oppose to just handsome wads of cash). Being choosy about who you associate yourself with is a wise strategy long term and that benefits both brand and celebrity rider.