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Thu, 2015-04-02 11:04

Podcast: Entry Fee Breakdown with Rob Burk and Sundance Farm Horse Trials with Kelly Mahloch

Authored By: Chris Stafford Radio
Ali Mahloch jumps the wheelbarrow jump at Sundance Farm. Photo by Leslie Faye.

On the show this week Kelly Mahloch from Area IV describes her experience of hosting their first recognized event at Sundance Farm, Plymouth, WI and shares their enthusiasm for this year's event. USEA Chief Operating Officer Rob Burk explains how entry fees are spent with a breakdown of event expenses. Click here for MP3, Click here to go to the podcast site, or listen on the podcast player below.


Chris Stafford:                      This is the United States Eventing Association's official podcast.

                                           Hello and welcome to the program. I am Chris Stafford. On the show this week, as Kelly Mahloch from Area 4 in Wisconsin thinks about this year’s event in September, she talks about what it's been like to host their first event last year at Sundance Farm, but first Rob Burk, the Chief Operating Officer at the USEA joins us to explain how the entry fees are spent.

                                           Rob, welcome back to the program.

Rob Burk:                        Thanks Chris.

Chris Stafford:               I'm sure there isn't a member that doesn't ask that question. Where do the entry fees go?

Rob Burk:                        You know, I've been asking the same question myself since I began competing, I don't want to say exactly how many years ago, but it was a long time ago and I think everybody always asks, "Why are the prices this high?" and they've been asking that in perpetuity, I think, since the beginning. It's really interesting to take a look at it and compare the numbers to the way they were, say 20 or more years ago.

Stafford:                          Why you don't you unpack the myths of entry fees, Rob?

Rob Burk:                        Sure. What an entry costs, as we all know, varies from competition to competition from the level that you're competing at on and there's also a couple of other fees that you'll typically see in addition to just the simple entry fee. You will see both an entry fee, if you're going to be stabling and staying on for more than one day and then you have that stabling fee, but those are typically the two main fees that we see on any omnibus listing for an event. When you register, you pay those associated fees.

                                           Actually breaking those down, we've been able to take a look at what each organizer actually has to pay to run that event. There's a disparity. It costs a lot of money to run these events, but people from the outside seldom do you think about all the intricacies and what those costs are. We know, because of a good Lloyd's of London study that was done for the years 2009-2014, that the average entry fee and that is not stabling, just an entry fee in the US was about $158 for those years and just out of interest, I took a look at the what the average entry fee for all the events running this upcoming weekend were and it looked like the average was somewhere around $200, so a little more than the average over the last five years, but still in the general range of cost. At the same time while the Loyd's of London study didn't look at the stabling costs, the stabling costs this upcoming week range somewhere from $45 up for the weekend.

                                           I mentioned earlier that it's interesting to look at 20 years ago and that's about the last time I was really actively competing, Chris and I looked at an event that I went to in 1995 and interestingly the cost to compete at that event in Area 6 was only about $40 less than it is today, 20 years later. If you think in terms of what the cost of anything from gas, which has doubled over the last 20 years to household incomes which have actually gone up by at least 1/3, the cost of actually competing in that event haven't kept pace. They've actually stayed relatively low in the grand scheme of things.

                                           Margie Malloy and Ken Sexton developed a really good study of this back in 2011 that they presented at the USEA Annual Convention and Christina Gray did a follow up, so where does that $150 average fee go and stabling? It is across the board. You can think about the big cost that you won't necessary see on that entry fee necessarily, like the cost of the land to purchase. The people who run these events, whether the organizer owns the land, whether the organizer is leasing the land, there is always a cost associated with having that land. Seldom do you have a piece of land that was just turned over for free. I can look at it personally from when the USEA runs the American Eventing Championships, we have paid a fee to utilize the property on which that event is held. That's one of the very first and probably the biggest expenses you have to fold in to what the cost is as an organizer to run that event.

                                           Beyond that, you think about everything from building the cross country course and in their study, they actually found that the average jump from design to construction can run about $1,500 each, so if you're talking about running an event, say beginner novice through preliminary, you're talking about 100 fences, so it's about $150,000 to build the cross country courses associated with those events. On top of that, you have everything from the cost to pay your officials, which is somewhere in the neighborhood with travel costs and everything else about $2,500 per official and I think a base minimum, they're about five officials that every event needs to have per the rules to be able to operate from the TD to the President of the Ground Jury to the dressage Judge, you name it and that doesn't really even take into account the safety coordinator or the scorer. You will also need a course designer, so with $2,500 per official, it adds up really quick if you've got a base minimum of five officials. Right there, you're over $10,000 pretty quickly.

                                           There are all sorts of other expenses from paying for an EMT to be on site which can run somewhere between $250-$400 per day. You have to have a vet on grounds during the jumping section and those prices vary too, and farriers. In all, when all of these costs were taken into account, they found that really conservatively speaking, not including costs with stabling or equipment or facility fields, fees, utilities or repairs, that the cost per organizer per rider, so for that organizer just to put on that competition for one rider is about $235. Pretty quickly, you can see the disparity when you've got an average of $150 entry fee and the organizer needs to come up with $230 just to pay to put on that event for that rider. There's this huge disparity, so where do we make it up with? Our organizers have done a great job of doing things like bringing in sponsors, getting grants, you name it, anything they could do to come up with this extra money, so that they could keep those prices low, but in all Chris, seldom do I hear anybody say that keeping horses is cheap and if they do, they haven't done it for very long, but in the end, I think a lot of credit goes to our organizers for having kept the prices as low as they've have over the last 20 or more years.

Chis Stafford:                 Those are the overhead costs will always be there depending on the level of competition, as to how much is invested in jumps for example, Rob. I mean it goes without saying, doesn't it with the increase of divisions and the level of those divisions.

Rob Burk:                        It does, it really does. You think from a course perspective, it's never a case of you build the course and it just stays put and it'll be there for a number of years. No, we all know that there's change out. You have to put in new jumps. You have to repair old jumps, so it is constant cost associated with it and you know, one of the things that I've always preached to people who are keeping stables which there are some similarities, is that there's a way that you can run your stable, if it's like a boarding operation or an instructional facility. There is a way that you can run your facility that you could stay just above water and yet the facility is crumbling around you. The same goes to be said for these events.

                                           A competition organizer property owner could run the event at base minimum and have the event go off, but at the same time, the facilities could be breaking down. These costs never go away. They're always there. They keep increasing over time unfortunately.

Stafford:                          And the challenge remains, of course, of finding sponsorship dollars and grants to under write some of those expenses.

Rob Burk:                        It is. There are some really good organizers out there who have been trying to look outside the box to bring in new sponsors and gauge new interest. I think of a couple of events that, like Carolina does a good job of it, obviously Rolex is kind of the granddaddy of them all. We've tried to do it with the AC and others, Rebecca. We've tried to create atmosphere where spectators would be interested in coming, people who might never want to event themselves, but they want to come and have a good time and in doing that, they've been able to bring in a new set of sponsors. We've got some amazing sponsors. I could run through the list of some of our USEA sponsors and some of our event sponsors that have gone above and beyond to support the sport and they are also at the same time, they are marketing their products to our sport, but they only have so much money and at the end of the day, we need to attract new sponsorship dollars. For the little tiny events that isn't necessarily trying to bring in the spectators, that's a whole other ball game. For them, it's even harder when they're not necessarily looking to put on a world beating international level event, attracting the spectators is a little harder and then attracting sponsorship dollars is a little harder.

Stafford:                          We've heard on recent podcast, Rob too, about some of the creative ways that you can involve the whole family and therefore, you've got a volunteer base that is building continually on which so many rely on within the local community.

Rob Burk:                        Yes, if volunteers did not exist. If you think of all the people it takes to judge a cross country course, if we did not have those volunteers, I don't know of many events in the world, let alone our country, that would still be able to run, because if you think of having to pay and instruct and educate folks on how to do that job for every one of those fences, it's cost prohibited. Beyond that, you think of the ring steward, the bit checks, the scribes. We have gotten to a point where we couldn't function without our volunteers and it's been that way for years, but it's also getting harder and harder to find volunteers that are interested. Attracting families and having the husband or having the son or having the daughter that isn't necessarily involved in the sport, having them come along and assist is really central to our success. Again, we wouldn't survive without them.

Stafford:                          Absolutely, make a day of it and all the while striving to keep those entry fees down, but I think this has been very helpful Rob in explaining just how it's broken down and where the money goes.

                                           Thank you very much indeed for coming on the program. I know that you are going to come on possibly next week again, because you have some news on the Hall of Fame inductees this year, which we're going to be breaking soon, aren't we?

Rob Burk:                        Yes, we are. I think there's going to be a lot of familiar faces and both horse and human that we're all very excited to see going at the end of the year. I'm hoping that news comes down the pike soon and maybe we'll get someone else who is even better on the radio than myself to come and speak to you, in any case, that'll be a very exciting announcement.

Stafford:                          In addition to the news, we'll also be featuring another Rolex Rookie on the program next week, as they prepare for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event which takes place at the end of this month, but now for an event on a smaller scale, we hear from Kelly Mahloch from Sundance Farm in Wisconsin. Kelly organized her first event last year and she joins us to tell us what that involved.

                                           Kelly, welcome to the program.

Kelly Mahloch:              Thank you for having me.

Stafford:                          Here you are getting ready for the spring season up there in frozen north which hopefully, is not too frozen now, but I'm sure you can't wait for spring.

Kelly Mahloch:              We are counting the days and every day that it gets above 40, we are pretty excited.

Stafford:                          Well let's talk about what you do there at Sundance Farm, because you own that with your husband. It's quite a large operation and you took it upon yourselves to host the first affiliated event there last year.

                                           Tell us a little bit about the background of the farm and what you do there.

Kelly Mahloch:              I have been eventing for 25 years and my daughters both event with me. We had just felt that there was a great need in Wisconsin here for another horse trial and we ended up purchasing another 40 acres for the farm, so it gave us 100 acres and it was an old campground and it just really offered some great terrain and we felt that we could think about trying to offer something for the people in the area. We just started pursuing getting Eric Bull to come in and work on where the water hazard would be, where the banks would be, all that sort of stuff and starting getting a rough track going and then it was a matter of getting to it.

Stafford:                          Well obviously you are well established there as a business. You're known in the local community, but building that family of volunteers and all that it takes with sponsors and the media and all the organizational bits and pieces that you have to put together, it's quite an undertaking, so what made you decide that you would really give it a go. That this was something that you wanted to do to promote the farm and get involved with the sport at that level?

Kelly Mahloch:              I had been talking about it for a number of years and I had everyone from my daughters to clients to friends and just people in the industry saying, "Do it. You can do this. You're organized. You can do this". I bit the bullet and said, "All right". I had great support from my husband and the boarders and everyone when it came to constructing jumps. We had big days of just jump building after my husband designed the fences and that sort of thing. We just had so much support from everyone I knew and then people starting coming out of the woodwork, hearing about it on Facebook or whatever and offering to come up and be jump judges or donate flowers for the courses or whatever. We just had lots of people say, "Yeah, do this. This is a great idea". I could not have done it without all the people that helped with that sort of thing.

Stafford:                          Of course, there's the cost implications, as well, Kelly. There's raising the sponsorship as much as you can to underwrite the event. How did you go about all that?

Kelly Mahloch:              We have a couple of clients here that backed me financially and we also have a couple of industries that also backed us. Sargento Foods which is big in Wisconsin, it's cheese, it's Wisconsin and they backed us. Our bank offered to sponsor a jump, actually the picture frame jump that people see on a lot of our promotional materials was sponsored by the bank. Local businesses, past clients came for us and just said, "Yes, we would do that". I actually had people come up to me after the fact and say, "Why didn't you ask me?", so obviously, I'll be asking them this year to sponsor. Granted, we could've used even more sponsors and all that, but we just really had a lot of support from the people of the area.

Stafford:                          In terms of the divisions that you were going to run, did you have any guidance there or did you come up with the ideas of what you would start with? I'm sure you didn't want to run before you could walk, so how did you put it all together in your own mind?

Kelly Mahloch:              We already had probably half the fences here, just from us schooling and building jumps over the years and since a lot of my clients were lower level, we obviously started out at the lower levels. I started just with the beginner novice, the novice and the training, because that's what we had the most fences for. That was enough to bite off. In order for me to be the course designer that was as high as I could go with training, anyway with the certification through the USEA and the course that I had to take through them. That was enough anyway. In Area 4, that's the divisions that fill. That was just the wisest route for us to go.

Stafford:                          In terms of entries, did you have obviously an idea locally of what kind of response there would be and how many entries that you could come away with? Was there an overfill there or did you meet what your expectations were for that first year?

Kelly Mahloch:              The expectations versus what the hopes were, were of course two different things. We were available to take on 110 horses and we were told by other people, I had talked to a lot of other horse trials in the area, and they said, basically, your first year, you will get 50. I said, "Okay, I'll take 50, if that's what I have to start with". It is exactly what we got. We got 50 riders. I was a little concerned, because our date that we were given of what we could pick from is during the AECs and so that's always going to be a problem with the people who go down to the AECs or East or West or wherever it always turns up to be, so we knew we weren't going to have a huge amount, but for our first year in running it, 5o was the perfect amount, because now we learned more things and we really are set to go next year. We got such a great response from the competitors and even the officials that day that told us it is going to grow probably at least double next year and that's good, because I don't really want to jump up to suddenly 200 horses.

Stafford:                          How did it go then? How was that first event for you? Did it meet your expectations? Did you come away at the end of it and collapse in a comfortable chair with a glass of adult beverage and say, "What did I just do? Can we do it again?"

Kelly Mahloch:              Absolutely. We were thrilled to death. I was so pleased with my workers, all my coordinators, all my stewards, everyone that helped run it. The little glitches that we had were minor. I mean you are never going to have the perfect horse trial. We were blessed with 70 degree weather which is just perfect. The colors are beautiful, so that automatically makes all of your competitors in just a better, happy frame of mind, even if they have a bad day. We came off there feeling like, "Oh my Gosh, we really did it. This was awesome. Let's do it again." Not one of my coordinators or volunteers backed out and said, "Oh my Gosh." They all said, "Yes, now we really know what we have to do." It should be even more amazing next year.

Stafford:                          How was it received in the local community, Kelly, because we all know that we'd love to expand the sport across the community to bring new people into the sport, not just to participate, but also to increase the fan base, as well. Did you find you were reaching areas of the community that has otherwise not paid attention to what you are doing at Sundance Farm?

Kelly Mahloch:              If your talking equestrian community, we had a good showing and a good support, about what I expected. We drew a number of people down from the north. The upper peninsula of Michigan is really stuck with where they can go for the horse trials, because of all the Great Lakes around there traveling with horses, they can only go south. We're one of the more northern horse trials for them, so they were really appreciating that, to have that so much closer. We have more work to do with just the regular spectators and non-horse people that we would like to come out and spectate and possibly to sit in the horses or the eventing or just supporting this sport in the area. That's one of our big goals, is to reach out to spectators now.

Stafford:                          Have you had any interest from the local media? Have they paid attention to what you're doing? Is that an area where you will focus in order to broaden the audience?

Kelly Mahloch:              Exactly what our plan is. We've gotten much more involved with the local Chamber of Commerce in the two communities. We sit between Plymouth and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and we've now gotten involved with the Chamber of Commerce and are getting more exposure with the businesses, so that they realize this is going on and yes, attempting to get more articles in local newspapers and that sort of thing, so that people know we are here, because unfortunately for eventing, it's kind of a hidden sport. It's not at the local colliseum or something where people see it as they're driving by. All the horse trials are always kind of tucked in somewhere, so you don't get many unplanned spectators.

Stafford:                          What were the biggest challenges for you of hosting your first event?

Kelly Mahloch:              There were a few times I wondered if I was insane and I lost sleep thinking, "Oh my gosh, we've gotta do this and we've gotta take care of that and we've gotta do this". That was expected, but still I needed my sleep. There's always little things that come up. It's like you try to have everything organized as you can and there's always something that comes up suddenly. You know, the porta potties went to the wrong place or luckily, all our judges got here, the flights all came fine, all those really crucial things found a place, but I really had everything organized as if we were going to start running it on Thursday, so that Friday, we could handle any crisis or anything that President of the Ground Jury or the TD felt needed to be changed. I kept that whole day to fix anything, because we figured since it was our first time, there was probably all kinds of things that we were going to fix. We ended up moving one jump, due to the way the sun was hitting it that time of day and that was the biggest thing we really had to do at the last minute.

Stafford:                          What was the most fun about doing this when you reviewed it with your family and took a look at the weekend and how it all went, what did you get the biggest satisfaction out of?

Kelly Mahloch:              There is nothing like watching people come across your cross country course. There's just nothing like it. I could've cried when I watched the first horse come galloping up to where all the spectators were sitting and of course, was at the water, but the fence before the water and just the whole thing was like, "Oh my gosh, this is really it. We've really done it. It's really happening". That was a big one for us. The other one that was really a fond memory is in the mid-west here, because horse trials tend to be two days, because of the traveling distance, we had the competitors party at the top of the banks and it was beautiful weather and we just had wine, cheese and fruit and that sort of thing and hosted all the volunteers and all the competitors and what people did was the course walk and as they come up the banks, they are on a hill, so they are very inspiring, awesome, intimidating, any one of those and they come hiking up the hill ready for their soda, water or whatever they were going to have and they would come up and say, "Oh my gosh, this is an awesome course. This is beautiful. It is so going to be so much fun". That was good enough for me. The volunteers were all just like, "Oh my gosh, this is so cool".

Stafford:                          Did you call on the local Pony Club as well, Kelly?

Kelly Mahloch:              I did to a point, although I called them more to get them to come and compete, more so than to work or do things. Actually 4-H is a big thing up here and the horse program and the 4-H is pretty big. We actually hit them up more, because they wouldn't be competing. They would be more interested in helping out. We used the 4-H for some of our background work and tried to get the Pony Club to come and actually play the game, but that's not how it works around the country. That just happened to work here.

Stafford:                          The biggest lessons takeaways, the biggest lessons learned for you as you get ready for this years event?

Kelly Mahloch:              Oh boy. That's a hard one. The biggest lessons? I guess just keep remaining calm, do what you do best and let it happen and let's see how we handle it and if it's not so good, then we will fix it for next year, I guess. I guess that's what I'm going to say. The biggest lesson was get yourself all set and then just let it happen and hopefully, everything is going to fall in place which it did.

Stafford:                          Stay calm and kick on.

Kelly Mahloch:              Yes exactly.

Stafford:                          Remind us all of dates for this years events, Kelly and which divisions you'll be running.

Kelly Mahloch:              Another thing I should tell you about is Area 4 does not hold a young event horse qualifier and we have decided, Tim Holekamp has talked me into offering a young event horse qualifier, so that's actually going to be on Friday, September 25 and then the 26 and 27 of September, will be the regular horse trial. We are also going to try offering the New Event Horse which is sort of for and hoping to hit up some of those pony clubbers that aren't quite ready to do a whole horse trial, but they're ready to try a basic dressage test, five or six stadium jumps and five or six cross country jumps. We're hoping to try to get more people to try it. It's a little cheaper for them to do it that way and it's not quite so involved. It's just one day and they can get their feet wet without really immersing themselves so deeply that they overwhelm themself, so that's the new thing we're offering there. We are also going to offer a starter novice, because we do have the fences for that. We have the water. We have ditches. We have banks. We have all those required, so to add that smaller lower level to try to draw in more of those people is our goal. We had various trainers in the area asking if we were going to offer prelim and we don't have enough fences for prelim, but I said, "I would offer a prelim training, so that they can at least work their way to get up there, because it was so late in the season, if someone wants to dabble in that a little bit at the end of the year to get ready for next year as prelim, so that's another one of our big goals.

Stafford:                          Let's hope you have the perfect weather that you did last year for the event. The very best of luck with it.

Kelly Mahloch:              Thanks for having me.

Stafford:                          That is the show for this week. Be sure to join us next week when we continue the count down to this years Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event. Don't forget that this podcast is available for download from the itunes podcast store to your Smartphone or Tablet app and you can then listen to the show on the go. Until next time, thanks for your company and enjoy your eventing.

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