The Fédération Équestre Internationale, the global governing body of equestrian sport, has long focused on bringing fans to the heart of the action.
In October 2018, the international federation expanded on this strategy with the launch of the new FEI eLeague Dressage, an innovative tool designed to bring followers closer to the discipline than ever before.
For the first time, spectators are able to grade competitors’ performances on a virtual basis, comparing their scores with the judges whilst simultaneously competing against fellow fans.
Following on from the successful launch of the Spectator Judging app, the state-of-the-art mobile application that enables fans to get in the judge’s seat, the FEI eLeague Dressage was the next logical step in the FEI’s quest to drive digital engagement in equestrian sport.
The new initiative has offered fans an added incentive to engage with the action, with real-time scores and rankings providing a competitive twist on the traditional viewing experience.
There is something for fans young and old, whether they are new to equestrian sports or not. For established followers, they may prefer to score each movement during individual dressage tests, while more casual fans – or perhaps children being introduced to the sport for the first time – can simply submit their score following the end of the test.
The FEI eLeague Dressage debuted at the opening leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup series 2018-19 in Herning, Denmark back in October. Since then, fans have been collecting points using new gamified ranking functionality, with the platform available both at home and on site. Live leaderboards on the app and the FEI website allow fans to see how they rank against their friends and competitors around the world.
Points mean prizes
The first-ever winner of the FEI eLeague Dressage was mum-of-two Claudia Meyer, who lives in Peru. Meyer received an all-expenses-paid VIP package to the recent FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she was one of 76,094 people in attendance over the four days.
Amassing a total of 16,116 points, Meyer raced her way to the inaugural winner’s medal, picking up 4,000 more points than second place. “I read about the eLeague game on the internet and decided already before the first World Cup leg to be part of this fantastic experience,” she says.
“Because of my interest in judging I considered it an excellent opportunity to train my judging abilities. I really appreciate the opportunity to compare my results to the official results of the [top] judges.”
Meyer was given the chance to meet the judges she had been virtually measuring herself against as part of the prize, which also included behind-the-scenes access and introductions to riders.
Bridging the gap
The company tasked with creating this cutting-edge technology was enterprise application software company SAP, the Official Analytics Sponsor of the FEI Dressage World Cup Series.
With the FEI keen to work with its partners on innovative activations and projects, SAP’s task was to create an experience that is not only engaging for fans, but shareable among friends and fellow enthusiasts.
“Our aim as a partner is to bring innovation,” says Henrike Paetz, global head of the equestrian program at SAP. “Together with the FEI we set out to provide fans with a distinct new event experience leveraging our technology to open new ways for the audience to receive relevant insights and become more closely involved.”
“The FEI eLeague Dressage is a perfect example of how our cooperation is bridging the gap between the physical and digital world, adding a new dimension for the fans and allowing them to enjoy their sport even more.”
SAP first created and launched the free-to-download Spectator Judging app, which was followed last year by the FEI eLeague Dressage. SAP’s initiatives have been a hit, with around 20,000 overall participants on the Spectator Judging app during the 2018-19 FEI Dressage World Cup season.
It is not just fans who have been impressed by the innovations. The FEI has received positive feedback from riders and judges, too, who feel the Spectator Judging app and the FEI eLeague Dressage provide an insight into judging and educate spectators on riders and horses.
The next level
The technology has significantly enhanced fan engagement in the FEI Dressage World Cup circuit and its versatility – which enables users to participate whether watching on television or in the seats just yards from the action – is key.
“The SAP Spectator Judging App has fulfilled its brief to enrich the sports experience for dressage fans and we are pleased with the level of success that it has experienced this first season,” says FEI commercial director Ralph Straus.
“The feedback we have received from fans around the world has been very positive and this first season has set the foundation for subsequent seasons. The Judging App has been a key fan engagement tool and provides a unique way of allowing people to participate in the sport. We look forward to taking our collaboration with SAP to the next level in the years to come.”
Having been downloaded some 65,000 times since it was launched, the app has certainly proved a hit, with 25,000 of these fans using the app on a regular basis across the season, demonstrating the depth of the active community of fans with an appetite for ‘competitive viewing’.
Women have proved to be especially interested in the app, accounting for 70.5 per cent of the users. The most popular markets so far have been Sweden, Germany and the USA.
From screen to saddle
The FEI recognizes that it is vital to stay relevant in the digital age, and the opportunity to work closely with a partner to stay ahead of the curve has been hugely rewarding.
The FEI may have been established nearly a century ago, in 1921, but its latest initiatives, such as those with SAP and the FEI eLeague Dressage, demonstrate its desire to engage future generations of followers.
With equestrian sports engagement for many youngsters set to begin on a digital platform, where they are comfortable and confident, there is no reason why a journey that begins with the screen cannot one day end up in the saddle.