COVID-19 has presented both short and long-term challenges for the Fédération Equestre International (FEI) as it has with other International Federations (IFs).


We caught up with FEI’s Head of Digital Stéphane Schwander to see how the IF is managing during this time of uncertainty.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the FEI?

Stéphane: COVID-19 has had a major impact on equestrian just like it has on other sports. More than 700 international equestrian events around the world have been cancelled since March 2020 which has resulted in a reduction of revenue for the FEI and Organising Committees, and fewer brand building opportunities for the FEI’s Commercial Partners.

Without content to feed our social media channels, website, FEI Media Rights Licensees worldwide or FEI.TV (the Federation’s OTT platform), we’ve had to look at new ways of engaging with our fan base to expand our reach.

Have you had to change your digital strategy?

Stéphane: Equestrian is not just a sport, but also a lifestyle, so our digital content strategy has been created to develop the unique characteristics of each of the seven disciplines as well as to celebrate and explore the community’s love for the horse more generally.

With this approach we have created bespoke digital plans for each equestrian discipline, with a parallel strategy focusing on content related to the horse and different aspects of horsemanship.

The pandemic did not necessitate an overhaul or a rethink of our overall digital strategy, rather it gave us the flexibility to simply shift our focus to developing online initiatives that engage with our fan base on non-sport related topics while there are no live events. It’s also given us the space to innovate and work with new tools and services that will improve our content production in the long run.

What initiatives have you taken to keep your digital community engaged?

Stéphane: Since mid-April, we’ve made FEI.TV free to subscribers and non-subscribers providing all coverage of past events and special equestrian features free of charge to everyone while live sport is on hold.

We have worked with RedTorch to devise unique campaigns like #ForTheLoveOfEquestrian to encourage fans to take part in the content creation process. American actress and avid equestrian Kaley Cuoco lent her voice and star power to this digital campaign which was created to celebrate our fans’ love of all things horse-related and the passion that underpins the equestrian sport lifestyle.

This has been a fantastic initiative which has brought our community together under a clear and positive campaign. It doesn’t focus on medals, prize money and sporting victories, it simply encourages people to tell us about the unique bond they have with their horse and their dedication to the sport.

We have also opened our library of moving images to our broadcast partners, which has resulted in new content features including a new original series called Icons.

Icons is a new six-part series that takes a look back at the careers of some of the most successful and influential equestrian athletes in recent years. Each 26-minute episode focuses on a specific athlete and the moments that have defined their career and cemented their names in the history books. The series is intended to fully immerse the equestrian audience in some of the most exciting moments of equestrian action from past FEI Championships and Series.

We have also been working closely with our commercial partners to create complementary brand awareness and digital growth strategies to offer alternate outlets for brand visibility. One result has been the creation of #HorseOClock with Longines, the FEI’s Top Partner. This is a consumer engagement campaign run on the FEI’s digital channels where fans answer equestrian related questions to determine the watch that matches their personality.

Which changes have been most successful?

Stéphane: The FEI had a great year of digital exposure in 2019 with over 220 million video views on the Federation’s channels alone, a massive growth from the figure of four million in 2015. We have also witnessed a noteworthy increase in our digital numbers across all our channels over the last few months and our new digital offerings are probably the reason.

We also had a lot of success with Instagram takeovers, like the one done recently by Australian Eventer Andrew Hoy, which gave fans an insight into the triple Olympic gold medallist’s day and life, resulting in more than 2.6 million impressions for this takeover alone.

If you could give one bit of advice to other sports, what would it be?

Stéphane: Each sport needs to capitalise on its unique characteristics and listen carefully to what its community is saying. Digital and social media platforms are making it easier to know what your community wants so you can refocus quickly on top-quality content and fan engagement.

Now, more than ever, it is necessary to keep messaging and storytelling meaningful, keep an open mind and be flexible and ready to adapt at a moment’s notice.