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WoSJ Exclusive; CHIO Aachen director Frank Kemperman – “Make your show with your heart!”

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

CHIO Aachen director Frank Kemperman. CHIO Aachen director Frank Kemperman is a giant in the sport. Kemperman is the man behind the teams that organize some of the most magic events in the world; first of all and most famously CHIO Aachen, but also Indoor Brabant in Den Bosch and Jumping Indoor Maastricht. When it recently was announced that the legendary CHIO Aachen would pull out as host for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup – well, WoSJ decided it was an absolute necessity to speak with Kemperman to get to know more about the decision, but also to learn more about his views on the sport and it’s future. And as we discover, Kemperman is the perfect example on how to be a professional to the fingertips when it comes to business – but still have love and passion for the sport, not to forget for the wonderful horses in it.

Before we embark on our long list of questions, we want to find out how one ends up as show director for one of the most famous shows in the world – if not the most famous. Of course, Kemperman was always a keen horseman – and he was also at one point a groom for the famous Dutch rider Harry Wouters.”I was even groom at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 – now you can see how old I am,” Kemperman laughs as we sit in his corner office in Aachen that has views to the grass ring where we are used to seeing the showjumpers warming up.

Well – Frank’s father had other thoughts when it came to his son’s choice of career though, and wanted Frank to have a ‘normal job’ as he puts it – and as Kemperman decided he was not a good enough rider to make a living from that he ended up as manager at Zangersheide working for Leon Melchoir.

“There I learned a lot about management, and got some further education,” Franks says before he explains how his career has included management of a race track and even a football club – to mention some. “At this time there was no professional team organization around the equestrian events and so at one point I was asked to be sports director at one show. After that I did this job at many events; focusing on the sport. The parties I left to others,” Kemperman laughs. “Those jobs went very well, and I was involved in many shows at this time – and I learned that I could make money this way. So this job as sports director for different events I did for several years.”

When the board of the Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein discussed that they wanted a professional director for CHIO Aachen Kemperman’s name came up, and he was asked. “I was very surprised and thought to myself ‘How can the Germans ask a foreigner – a Dutch guy to do this job? How can they ask me?’ Then I was just very happy to have another client, and did not expect to be told that I had to do it fulltime,” Frank smiles looking back. “So, I started here in 1993 – more than twenty years ago. I am still allowed to do one-two events, so I do Den Bosch and Maastricht as show director in addition to my job here,” he says of his busy schedule.

In 2015 Aachen will host the European Championships, and Kemperman will again be in charge of another huge event.As chief-in-charge of such an enormous outdoor event and also for two big indoor shows, we ask Kemperman what the biggest difference is when it comes to the organizing. “The main difference refers mostly to the fact that CHIO Aachen is a huge event compared to the two others that I organize. For example – I just had a meeting with 26 people that are in our permanent staff here in Aachen, and the goal of this meeting is to get the nose in one direction and inform each other. If you have a small organization – like in Den Bosch or Maastricht – it is not comparable to what happens in Aachen; it’s just so big here,” Frank explains.

Frank is also explicit about the fact that no matter the event, you need to have a quality product to present. Especially if you want sponsors in. “Sponsors don’t line up – all organizers need to work hard for it! It’s maybe a story of the chicken and the egg; many organizers maybe go around it in the way that first they need the money and then they create the show. I think it’s important to have a great concept before the sponsors are approached. You can’t ask for money unless you have something special to sell. You have to fight for it – and you have to convince that it is something to be a sponsor!”

Frank is also a believer in creating an own identity for a show, and creating atmosphere! “If you have the same package everywhere, you cannot separate one show from the other. Make your show with your heart! Also – I want quality at my shows. That goes for the riders that are there to the food that’s being served; if you don’t do it good – then don’t do it at all! Everything needs to work for everybody. And I always ask everybody how it’s working out; the volunteers, the grooms – I want to hear how it is otherwise we cannot improve the show.”

And although he certainly is a businessman, Frank does create shows with his heart. As was the case with Kemperman’s ‘baby’ – Jumping Indoor Maastricht – which came back this year after a two year absence. “I lost my sleep over that show wondering if we would make it as it was re-launched in a difficult economic climate – but we still did it and made a small profit. It was created more by emotion, than brains,” he laughs. “But in the end everybody were so enthusiastic that the show was back and I was so, so happy we succeeded. I was so proud, just because I put my heart and soul into this event – my wife worked there, my son worked there – it was so special. It had to work, and it did. You can always work for money, but I think you need to put your heart in it if it’s going to be good.”

The amazing main ring in Aachen - where every showjumper wants to win.

We return to the show that takes up most of Frank’s time, as the news about Aachen pulling out as host for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series made the headlines earlier this month. And of course as one of the most prestigious Nations Cups to win around the globe – it makes a pretty big deal that Furusiyya and FEI no longer can boast of a partnership with CHIO Aachen. So, what were the reasons for pulling out?

“Last year it was announced that Furusiyya would sponsor the Nations Cup series, and that was fine with CHIO Aachen as it was a non-conflicting sponsor. That was of course very important for us, and we joined the new series as a host in Europe division one. The FEI always had a commercial package for the Nation Cup here in Aachen – and the price has been defined for many years. This year they wanted to pay 25 % of what they paid last year, as they thought Aachen should be equal to other shows. We tried to offer something else, but we could not come to an agreement.

Either way – we would have had to pull out as host in the series as of 2015. The transition period for moving over to the Longines timekeeping deal runs out next year – and Rolex is the time keeper here in Aachen. So, if we were to continue to host a FEI Nations Cup we would have had to go with Longines as time keeper. And as we have a long time contract with Rolex it was really no decision for us – we expected to be part of the series this year, but either way not from next year,” Kemperman explains un-dramatically.

Mercedes Benz is the long-term sponsor for the Nations Cup in Aachen, which no longer is a part of the FEI series.Matter-of-factly Kemperman also explains that the competition itself will not change. “We have a long-term sponsor for this competition – Mercedes Benz – so it will remain the same. The prize money were upgraded last year to 400.000 Euro, so we think we have a good product – also with the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday. We will do a very good show without being part of division one. Nothing will change, apart from the fact that Aachen’s Nations Cup will not count for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup. On the other hand – now we can invite which nations to participate. Before this decision belonged to the FEI, so we have more flexibility now.”

Kemperman is not worried that the decision to part with FEI’s Nations Cup series will affect the level on the riders coming to Aachen; “I hope that with the standard of the Aachen show and the prize money we have, we will still attract a lot of good riders. Most of the chef d’equipes I spoke to say they still will bring their top riders here. And my task is exactly this; to get the best horses and riders to the event.”

And that should be no problem, as Aachen seems to be the event that every rider dreams of making a win at. What makes Aachen so special we ask Kemperman? “That’s a famous question! In principle, Aachen is very special – but what makes it so is in my opinion the public. Because you see the top riders and the top horses many places around the world – they are the same, also in Aachen. So I would say it’s the fact that it’s a place with history, a great crowd who makes fantastic atmosphere – and also I hope that we have a good infrastructure for all target groups present. I think that’s it.” To illustrate Frank tells us the story of Jos Lansink’s words about Aachen, when he once said; “To become World Champion is fantastic, but to become World Champion in Aachen – that’s more than a dream!”

Frank Kemperman in his corner office in Aachen - which has views to the lovely grass warm-up ring. As to the new format on the Nations Cup series introduced by FEI last year, Kemperman is positive. “First of all the Nations Cups are very important. To start for your country is something very special, and it creates a fantastic atmosphere. So the product ‘Nations Cup’ is really needed. And if we don’t do it at our normal shows, I fear they will once remove it from the Olympics – which would be terrible for the sport. So, it’s good that the FEI recognizes the product – and I also think the system now is good with promoting the Nations Cup globally with a final such as the current. Before the focus was on one thing only; not to be relegated to the promotional league. Now, the focus is instead on winning the final. That being said – it’s important that the point system is not too complicated, and that there are not too many qualifying events.”

And speaking of too many events – we move on to the fact that last year CHIO Aachen was one of the Nations Cup shows that suffered from a clash with another five star event in the calendar – and we want to know the Dutchman’s opinion on this issue. Do we have too many shows? “Yes and no! I think we need a better structure on the calendar. If you look to other sports, as for example tennis the issue is solved in an interesting way. If you want to organize an ATP tournament – there are fixed dates, and you need to buy a license for the specific week to do the event and that week then belongs to the organizer.  The organizer then knows that this is the only one doing a tournament of that level at that time,” Kemperman illustrates.

“While in our sport – every year we have the same issue on clashing events with the Nations Cup series and the Global Champions Tour on the same weekends. Both have the same target group. The question is; can we get this organized, so that we get a calendar that is fixed – and so that everyone knows when the different shows are being held? I don’t have the solution, but I think the FEI Jumping Committee needs to sit down with the riders to find a solution,” Frank says.

And with so many tours and series going on at the same time, Kemperman is concerned that it can get too much at one point. “Personally I think it would be better not to have too many tours and series – we already have enough. Then you make it difficult for the outside world to understand which events are important and not. That’s a task for FEI to look closer on; maybe overall we have a product too confusing,” he says.

Frank believes that the biggest challenge for the sport though is to keep it clean, and to keep the focus on the welfare of the horse. “We need to bring out to the world that we are working with our horses in a fair way,” he states clearly across the table. “We need to get the word out there that we are horse people!”

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