Beyond Sponsorship: Alltech's Involvement In WEG

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Millions of dollars have been spent over the past several months to market and promote the World Equestrian Games, rather, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Brenna Angel has more on the unconventional role of Alltech as the games' title sponsor.

For a man who says he's ridden a horse only twice in his life, it may seem strange that Dr. Pearse Lyons has become one of the driving forces behind the world's largest sport horse event. He's founder and president of Nicholasville-based Alltech, the title sponsor of the 2010 World Equestrian Games. The partnership came at a price of $10-million, a decision Lyons says was one of the best -- and perhaps quickest -- he's ever made.

"It literally was a ten minute discussion when somebody explained to me what the games were about. So it was spontaneous, it was entrepreneurial. And entrepreneurs see an opportunity, but more importantly they act on it."

Alltech's products are hard to categorize. They include beer, animal nutrition supplements, algae, Haitian coffee, and Angus beef. Lyons has been all over the globe selling his products, and the games.

"Alltech doesn't do things in half measures. We're either in or we're out. And when we're in, we take it on. We stretched out and went to a hundred-plus countries that we work in and said, Why don't you our customer over there become our partner?' And they said, Wow, we'll do that.'"

But WEG organizers say Lyons has done more than simply write a check and talk up the games with his business clients. John Long, Chairman of the World Games Foundation and head of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, says Alltech created a sports marketing machine.

"I was out there two weeks ago on a Monday morning meeting with Dr. Lyons and he said, Come on I've got to go to a meeting.' And they have a staff meeting just for those people associated with the World Equestrian Games at 9:30 every Monday morning. And there must have been 60 people in the room. That's even greater than the size of the World Equestrian Games staff."

"What they've been able to do by bringing in additional staffing assistance to us, with their global outreach and their passion for the event, I really couldn't quantify what value that's brought to the games' overall efforts," says Jamie Link, CEO of the World Games Foundation.

When the organizing group announced a few weeks ago that it was trimming its budget due to lower-than-expected ticket sales, Alltech chipped in more help. Lyons brought in UK basketball John Calipari to promote a luxury ticket package called the Commonwealth Club.

Link says Alltech's support --now believed to be around $32 million-- has been an asset to the games, even if Lyons has a tendency to be over-ambitious.

"Sometime his numbers are a little higher than my numbers when we talk about some things. But I think that's indicative of his passion for the event and his confidence in the success of the event. So in way it's almost infectious."

"I was one of the first to say, Gosh we may get 600,000 people in here,' says Lyons. "I was the first to say that for our Fortnight Festival right across the state, Oh, I'm going to get U2.' And I tried to get U2 and I tried to get the Rolling Stones. But when I went to them, they wanted an astronomical amount of money. I wanted to put the Fortnight Festival right across the Commonwealth, and I'll be the first one to admit I failed."

But Alltech's investment in the games has not been a failure. Lyons understands he's running a business, not a charity; and says he's always aware of where he stands financially.

"Our business is booming, we just had the highest ever sales month this month. Profitability this year will be at an all-time high. So this hasn't hurt us financially, quite the reverse."

Don't be surprised to see Alltech's name attached to the next World Equestrian Games, the 2014 Games in Normandy, France.