Exclusive: Vegas Could Be Out As 2018 FEI World Cup™ Venue

The FEI seeks new bids for the 2018 World Cup™ Jumping and Dressage finals, as Las Vegas suffers a major setback in its quest to stage the finals for the seventh time.

August 19, 2015–It seemed like a sure bet: After a successful joint presentation of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™Dressage and Longines FEI World Cup™Jumping finals that drew more than 73,000 spectators in April, it appeared Las Vegas Events would be announced shortly thereafter as the host of the 2018 finals.

There was a packed house at the Thomas & Mack arena in April when Charlotte Dujardin won the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage final on Valegro | Photo © Nancy Jaffer

But a problem with the footprint of the Thomas & Mack Center’s arena floor,among other things, has made it impossible to hold a dressage Cup final there, as the whole situation boiled down to a question of just 25 to 30 feet of floorspace.

The FEI has reopened bids for the 2018 finals, setting an Oct. 1 deadline for national federations that are interested in applying, with a decision expected Nov. 10.

“We have been completely open with Las Vegas Events and explained that the evolution of our sport over recent years has meant that the Finals have sadly outgrown the Thomas & Mack venue. We are aware that the venue is undergoing an extensive refurbishment, but feel that there would be not be sufficient changes in terms of the size and shape of the competition arena nor in the upgrade of the internal facilities,” said Grania Willis, a spokeswoman for the FEI.

The internal facilities reference is to VIP accommodations inside the arena (the VIP tent was outside the front entrance this year) and also includes stabling and warm-up, which were behind the arena.

She emphasized, “The decision to reopen the bid process has nothing to do with the professionalism of the organizing committee, nor is it a reflection on the city, as we would love to be back in Las Vegas, but it is clear that a state-of-the-art venue is needed if we are to provide the standard of event that is required in the modern sporting arena.”

Placement of dressage judges at the Thomas & Mack Center is an issue in Las Vegas’ bid for the 2018 FEI World Cup™finals | Photo © Nancy Jaffer

The disappointed Las Vegas Events management team also was invited to resubmit its bid, using a different arena. But as LVE President Pat Christenson noted, even with five arenas in the city, it hasn’t yet been possible to find one with the 2018 dates open and a set-up “that worked for the World Cup™.”

One of the stumbling blocks on the way to the finish line for Las Vegas 2018 was an objection from the FEI dressage committee.

“The issue was the location of the dressage judges on both short ends (of the arena,) said Tim Keener, vice president of operations and ticketing for LVE. This year, there were more dressage judges than in 2009, the last time the finals were in Vegas.

“They were tucked under bleachers for this past event. There was a plan out there to permanently remove six rows of seating down on the end of the arena that would allow 25-30 feet being freed up on the arena floor,” he explained.

“Thereby, the dressage judges on both short ends would be out in the open and according to the FEI, transparent, so everyone could see them. We submitted that floor plan to the FEI and never got feedback from them on whether this proposed construction plan would be acceptable,” he continued.

However, “in the interim, Thomas & Mack came back and said it’s too expensive to do anyway,” Tim concluded.

“There were too many unknowns,” said Pat. “I don’t really blame T&M for not doing it.”

But don’t count out LVE yet. The MGM Grand Hotel has an arena called the Grand Garden that would seat about 11,000 or 12,000 in its configuration for the finals, which is a perfect number (there were nearly 11,000 spectators for the dressage freestyle this year) and there’s plenty of floor space. At the moment, it is not available for the 2018 dates, but LVE is hoping that will change.

“Right now, we’re not in a position to submit any bid. What we are going to do is check on whether MGM has worked out the availability of the Grand Garden,” Pat said.

“Maybe it works out, maybe not; but if not, then we can’t bid for ’18.” He expects to hear about the Grand Garden in a week or 10 days.

As is the case with arena in Gothenburg, Sweden, the most frequent host of the World Cup, the Grand Garden is connected to the hotel so no one has to leave the building to gain access. Tim said secure stabling could be organized behind the arena.

John Madden, first vice president of the FEI, noted, “This is a difficult situation, nobody’s happy about it. Las Vegas has been a fantastic host of the World Cup™ for both dressage and jumping. They’re encouraged to rebid, but in the meanwhile, the bureau decided to reopen bids to see if there are other possibilities.”

Praising LVE, he said, “We hope we’ll be able to continue to work together with them and have more World Cups there, hopefully for both disciplines.”

John noted the FEI jumping committee was “satisfied with the Las Vegas bid.” He said he couldn’t speak for the whole FEI bureau, but commented that “I think we have liked doing the dressage and jumping together.”

Will Connell, director of sport for the U.S. Equestrian Federation, said his organization has been working closely with LVE and will continue doing so “when they decide what they want to do. It’s disappointing and we’d love to see 2018 in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Events has been a huge supporter of the World Cup concept over the years. It takes time to grow an event and I think they’ve done a great job promoting the World Cup™ final in Las Vegas.”

The first Las Vegas World Cup™, the jumping final in 2000, revolutionized the way the competition was presented. Lasers and fireworks raised the excitement level, and being able to use performers from the casino hotels for cameo appearances added interest to the event.

The rebidding situation is reminiscent of what happened with the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Bromont, Quebec, won the bid originally, but bidding was reopened; in that instance, when there was concern about the finances of the deal. There was talk of other possible locations to stage the competition, but in the end, Bromont was awarded the event.

Ironically, Las Vegas Events originally lost the bid for the 2015 finals to Guadalajara, Mexico, but when that entity failed to come up with the financing, Vegas was tapped to take over.

Show jumping was the only discipline at the 2000 and 2003 Cup finals at Thomas & Mack. In 2005, Vegas became an innovator by combining the dressage and show jumping finals, as it did in 2007, 2009 and this year. An increase in the number of dressage judges since the 2009 event changed the situation, leading to the complaints about the 2015 set-up.

World Cup™ jumping finals have been a big success at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas | Photo © Nancy Jaffer

As for other arenas, a new $350 million, 20,000-seat venue is being built across from the MGM Grand hotel with an expected spring 2016 opening, but it is unavailable for 2018 because it will the home of an NHL hockey team. The Southpoint further down the Strip hosts a number of horse shows and would be perfect, Tim said, except for the fact that it seats less than 5,000 people.

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