By ALAN SNEL
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
A world-class equestrian event that draws affluent visitors is returning to Las Vegas in April for the first time since 2009.
The FEI World Cup is staging its jumping and “dressage” or horse dancing finals April 15-19 at the Thomas &Mack Center with Las Vegas Events assuming the role of World Cup event producer for the first time in six years. That was also the last time the FEI World Cup was held in the United States.
The FEI World Cup was staged in France last year. The FEI, Fédération Équestre Internationale, is the international governing body of equestrian sports.
Las Vegas Events has an $8 million budget to stage the World Cup equestrian event, with $2 million coming from the jumping and dressage event title sponsors, Longines and Reem Acra. Las Vegas Events secured the 2015 World Cup in February 2013.
At this year’s event, attendance is expected to hit at least 80,000, which will generate revenue to help Las Vegas Events, the promotional nonprofit arm of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, make a seven-figure profit on the event, its president, Pat Christenson, said.
The profit from producing the FEI World Cup helps cover the cost of Las Vegas Events’ annual $7.5 million budget, Christenson said. It’s the second-biggest event profit maker behind NFR for Las Vegas Events and its 15-person staff, he said.
Attendance dropped to 60,175 in 2009, and Las Vegas Events lost money on the event. That and the recession prompted Las Vegas Events to pass on producing the FEI World Cup in 2011, Christenson said. The event’s attendance in Las Vegas peaked at 86,575 in 2007.
Visitors attending the FEI World Cup spend about $1,700 each in Las Vegas, not including gambling.
In 2000 and 2003, Las Vegas Events produced only the World Cup jumping finals. But starting in 2005, it added the dressage event as a second, separate competition to increase attendance.
“Now, double (combining the two events) is the in thing,” said Tim Keener, Las Vegas Events vice president of event and ticket operations and the FEI World Cup event director.
As World Cup producer, Las Vegas pays for transporting 45 elite horses from Europe, which alone costs $1 million, rents Thomas &Mack Center, sets up a quarantine stable at the arena on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus, and covers the competitors’ hotel and food costs.
The horses that are transported by jet leave from Amsterdam.
At the 2009 event, the visitors’ mean annual income was $113,182, with 38 percent of the visitors reporting annual incomes of more than $140,000. Visitors will be coming from all 50 states and 30 countries. The horses are owned by well-known people such as Bill Gates.
The Thomas &Mack Center serves as an intimate venue for the equestrian event because most jumping and dressage competitions have fans sitting in seats on the ground instead of a bowl-like setting.
“It’s like a Wrigley Field feel,” Keener said.
The arena will double the square footage for the VIP club, hire Bellagio chefs to prepare food and enlist four violinists to serenade the fans, Keener said.
And about 120 vendors will peddle everything from saddles to stable equipment at the Thomas &Mack concourse and its connecting Cox Pavilion.
All-session tickets cost $1,500 for VIP, $350 for plaza and $200 for balcony for either the jumping or dressage events.
The FEI World Cup has spinoff equestrian events, including the Ma’Ceo acrobatic equestrian experience at South Point from April 9-12 and the Arabian Breeders World Cup from April 16-19, which also will be at South Point’s equestrian center.
Las Vegas Events has hired NFR General Manager Shawn Davis to be the FEI World Cup general manager.