July 8, 2011 -- Alltech, which gained international publicity as the title sponsor of the FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games, effectively has laid claim to the WEG concept.
Today it was formally announced that Alltech also will be the title sponsor of the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
The $10 million it originally pledged to Kentucky has become 10 million Euro, which is worth more than $14 million -- and that's just for starters. Alltech wound up spending about $32 million total while activating its sponsorship in Lexington; Normandy also can count on the support of Alltech where it is needed.
Explaining why Alltech has come forward again, its founder and CEO Dr. Pearse Lyons told me, "The idea of doing it once and only once never crossed our minds."
As he noted this morning, "It's crazy to step out after your first sponsorship and not continue what was the strategic plan."
And when he says continue, he means continue. In a conversation last week, Dr. Lyons told me that Alltech wants to bid for the 2018 WEG and bring it back to Kentucky.
He'll have some competition for that Games. Among those also planning to bid is Equestrian Sport Productions, which runs the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla.
Michael Stone, ESP's president, was on hand at the 2010 WEG to size up the concept, and we talked at that time about why ESP would bid.
Seated next to Dr. Lyons during the internet feed of today's announcement was Fabien Grobon, the Normandy WEG's executive director, who formerly was involved with sponsorship, among other positions, for the French tennis federation.
When I interviewed him at the 2010 WEG, where members of the Normandy crew were keen observers, we talked about the pluses of having a WEG in his region.
He outlined the vision of Normandy 2014, which will be as important to the region as it is to the global equestrian community.
"I think horse sports in general are undersold," said Grobon, who would like to see increased media interest. "To me, it's more than sport; it's horse culture. The WEG is a nice platform to bring the countries and disciplines together. I think there's a huge potential." With its racing and horse-breeding, Normandy, he pointed out, "is in the horse industry. Sport today is an accelerator of development for regions. It creates jobs and brings momentum."
Much of the infrastructure is in place, including a soccer stadium that seats 22,500, which cuts down on costs.
"We are starting with a $69 million budget from the region, the city of Caen, the state of France" and others," Fabien said during our 2010 interview, when he vowed the money will be "well-spent." And then Alltech stepped in to provide the further backing that was needed.
The announcement took place in Paris. That's Paris, France, not Paris, Ky., though Dr. Lyons emphasized the connection between France and Kentucky. While going down a whole list of links (the French settled Louisville, Kentucky has cities named Paris and Versailles) he stated, "Sometimes I wonder why in Kentucky we don't speak French."
The dates for the 15-day WEG (one day shorter than Kentucky 2010) originally were Aug. 17-31, 2014, but a switch to Aug. 23-Sept. 7 is under consideration to avoid conflicts, including one with swimming's European Championships in Berlin. What's optimum for TV is, of course a prime consideration. It's also a better time to fill hotels, Fabien said.
There have been whispers that housing could be a problem during the Normandy Games.
As Fabien told me, "Like always, rumors are part true and part false. As far as hotels are concerned, our concern at the moment are 4- and 5-star hotels."
Calling the issue "minor," he said the organization is working on solving it.
Part of the answer is two cruise ships with 600 rooms total in Caen Harbor during the WEG, an approach that has been tested on anniversaries of the World War II Normandy invasion.
The organization also has optioned more than 600 other rooms in "good to great quality chains."
When it comes to lower-rated hotels, he said, there are 10,000 rooms with an hour drive of Caen. Bed and breakfast opportunities are available, as is camping, and house-swapping is another possibility. Free housing will be available in military and school facilities.
Meanwhile, he pointed out, 40 to 50 percent of tickets will be allocated for area residents, who will stay in their own homes.
Considering everything involved in running a WEG, from complicated logistics to enormous costs, there always are questions about the concept's future. At the 2010 WEG, I spoke about that with Frank Kemperman, who ran the very successful 2006 WEG at Aachen.
All the WEGs have been very different from each other; that's natural, considering they each have been in different countries. And the Normandy WEG promises to have its own user-friendly personality, with so much based in a city with great food that it takes just 15 minutes to walk across.
The organizers also have to look forward to how things will be in 2014, the future -- how will people want to spend their money, what will they want to see? It's geared to be a project that is economically, socially and environmentally friendly, with a legacy that goes beyond the Games themselves.
Aside from the VIP area that cost $600, there was no central place at the 2010 WEG where people could really gather, relax and have a good meal. That will not be the case at Normandy, Fabien promised.
Considering how to make WEG 2014 work, Fabien said, "There's a family of athletes, what do you do for them, how do you make them happy?
"Then there's a family of media, what do you do for them? There are commercial partners, again, what is it they want? The general public needs a place to rest, to eat. What's happening in the stadium?"
Normandy is putting a lot of thought into the logistics of what it can do for these groups, and it seems certain they will be well-informed about all the possibilities at the 2014 WEG.
There will be maps and easily accessible schedules, but you can also bet there will an app for that.