Council votes to move forward with quest for elite horse event

Dickies Arena (Photo courtesy Dickies Arena)

Fort Worth, a city with a historic reputation for horses and equestrian pursuits, is on a quest to secure one of the world’s leading equestrian events.

The City Council on March 29 authorized execution of an agreement with the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau (doing business as Visit Fort Worth) and the Split Rock Jumping Tour, LLC (SRJ) to pursue hosting the 2026 Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Cup Finals for Jumping and Dressage at Dickies Arena.

The official announcement of the host site won’t be made until June 1, said an optimistic Fort Worth Sports Commission Executive Director Jason Sands. With the exception of one year, the event has been hosted by a city in the United States or Europe every year since it began in 1979. It will also be outside those nations in 2024 when it goes to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. last hosted in 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska, which is also hosting in 2023. Las Vegas was a recent host with one of the highest total attendances for the event, drawing 86,000 in 2007.

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Fort Worth was encouraged by the FEI to make a bid to host following the success of the FEI World Cup Qualifier at Will Rogers Memorial Center in December.

“Booking this prestigious, international equestrian event would be a huge win for the city. We take great pride in our western culture and our great history of hosting equestrian events and being able to secure an event of this magnitude would be further proof that Fort Worth is a world class sports destination,” Sands said.

Sands noted that the city has hosted and is scheduled to host a wide range of high profile events, and he credits that to the city’s vision to build Dickies Arena. These events include music legend Paul McCartney coming to town in May for his first concert in Fort Worth since 1976; the recent first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament; and many more.

“We’ve always known Fort Worth was a fantastic city, but we now have a spectacular venue that can host a variety of different events, and we are leveraging this new asset to bring in major events,” Sands said. “These events are driving millions of visitors’ dollars into our local economy and our city is thriving as a result.”

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The 2019 event, held in Gothenburg, Sweden, was broadcast in 130 countries and generated 887 million impressions across all media platforms, according to a report from city staff. The estimated attendance and economic impact for the event, if held in Fort Worth, is 60,000 attendance and an estimated $21 million in direct spending.

The cost of hosting the event is currently estimated at $8.1 million, said Fort Worth Public Events Director Mike Crum.

“The host organization (SJR/Visit Fort Worth/City of Fort Worth) plans to recover that investment through a combination of revenues that include ticket sales, hospitality sales, and sponsorships,” he said.

City staff is forecasting $11.3 million in revenue and said the event must generate 72% of forecasted revenue to financially break even.

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The city’s public events department provided the council with a financial breakdown:

  • The city will cover the initial host fee of $110,000, along with promotion/production expenses estimated at $900,000. This includes marketing, equine transport, stall setup, venue rent, etc.
  • Visit Fort Worth will cover additional expenses associated with promotion/production estimated at $500,000.
  • The city and Visit Fort Worth  will be repaid from the Event Trust Fund, currently estimated at $1.6 million.
  • SJR will cover remaining event expenses.
  • The parties agreed to a three-way split of profit or loss, with the city’s share capped at $1 million profit or loss and Visit Fort Worth’s share capped at $500,000.

Mayor Mattie Parker said the invitation to bid is yet another exciting example of how Fort Worth is gaining international recognition.

“World-class events like the FEI showcase our outstanding Cultural District and its premier event venues, especially the state-of-the-art Dickies Arena, as well as Fort Worth’s strong reputation as a leading destination for equestrian events,” Parker said. “The FEI opportunity and the many other significant sporting events landing in Fort Worth are all examples of how our Fort Worth Sports Commission is propelling the sports tourism industry in this city.”