Fencing News: International Fencing Federation Considers Marketing Proposal from IMG

This is really interesting stuff if you’re interested in what’s happening at the FIE as they try to figure out how to grow fencing. -Tim

By Callum Murray (From SportCal)

The FIE, the international fencing federation, is considering a proposal from IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, to help it market its rights in 2013, its centenary year, and beyond, and will decide by the end of this year whether to accept the proposal.

In an exclusive interview at the FIE’s headquarters in Lausanne, Maxim Paramonov, the federation’s secretary general, told Sportcal: “We started with IMG after the Olympic Games, wishing to promote our centenary celebration, and we’re working hard on this project.  The agency is interested to enlarge the co-operation, and we’re thinking about their proposition.  Their proposal involves both a sponsorship and media strategy.  We should reach a decision by end of the year.”

There is no suggestion that the number of competitions will be increased for the centenary year, Paramonov said – there are already 48 World Cup competitions a year, in addition to an annual world championships – but the federation has selected eight competitions in its founder countries which it wants to enhance as part of its celebrations.

The countries are: Italy, France, Hungary, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK.

Paramonov said: “We have a special plan, through sports events, special presentations and special activities, to attract all categories of consumers, from sports, fencing and the outside world.  We don’t plan to overload our fencers with another competition, but we plan to improve our key competitions.

“There will be a special package, which is previewed in the budget, and with special attention on the media.  The events will be promoted around the country, and equipped with the most modern equipment.  A couple of events will be included into the competitions: an FIE hall of fame, and a travelling exhibition.”

The federation has an annual renewable contract for television coverage of its competitions with Eurosport, the pan-European sports broadcaster, which it plans to maintain.  Paramonov said: “Normally, we contract with Eurosport: it’s an opportunity to be presented on the biggest channel.  But for our zonal and world championships, we want to create a TV product, and we’re now making a deal with different companies to solve this.  We’re in talks with production companies and agencies, especially outside Europe.”

Fencing has benefited from significant technical advances in recent years, meaning that wireless, electronic equipment for registering ‘hits’ is less cumbersome, but Paramonov said that the main lesson from the fencing competition at this summer’s Olympic Games is that the sport must become more ‘spectacular.

He said: “We must have technical improvements, but we must also become more spectacular – people must understand us, not just the professionals.  Working groups have been formed [by the FIE] to present a programme of concrete measures.

“This is not only fencing’s problem – that it’s difficult to understand everything from a first look.  Fencing is complicated, and we are not looking to be understood from the first look, but we are looking to be a spectacle from the first look.

“We want to make the sport more attractive, but we want to keep the legacy of its human history.  For a long time, fencing has been among the arts, the culture and the traditions of humanity.  On the other side, there is room to develop its technical potential.  We’re looking for new technical innovations.”

One of these could be transparent masks, Paramonov said, enabling the faces of the fencers to be visible to spectators and television viewers.  The federation is collaborating with Uvex, the ski helmet maker, to test possible solutions, but the federation does not expect an immediate, short-term solution.

Paramonov said: “We have a couple of things to offer, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow.  We should be spectacular, but we should be safe as well.  Wireless technology is established, and video refereeing, when the results are visible for the spectators.  Slow motion replays can also be used.  We will continue this way, and we will for sure come to use more advanced TV graphics as well.”

Paramonov said that the federation is looking to the media, including social media, to help the sport become more accessible.  The federation has a dedicated channel on YouTube, the video-sharing site, and is also one of the sports featured on The Sports Hub, a portal on YouTube overseen by SportAccord, the umbrella body of 107 international sports federations and organisations.  The FIE also streams events on its own website.

Earlier this week, a deadline for nominations for the federation’s presidency elapsed, with no candidates coming forward to challenge the incumbent, Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire, meaning that he is certain of re-election next month.

On assuming the presidency in 2008, Usmanov promised to significantly boost the sport’s finances and, said Paramonov, he has been as good as his word, with about $4.5 million of the federation’s annual budget of $7.5 million coming from a foundation established by Usmanov, and from some other sponsors.  The federation’s other sources of revenues are a contribution from the International Olympic Committee’s commercial revenues, amounting to about $2.5 million, and the remaining $500,000 from membership fees.  The federation also has $10 million in reserve.

Paramonov said: “Four years ago he made a promise, and his programme has been implemented – even over-implemented.  Now we have a real guarantee for a healthy future for the FIE for the upcoming years.”

In addition to the foundation, ‘Foundation for the Future of Fencing,’ the federation’s sponsors include Megafon, the Russian telecoms company part-owned by Usmanov, and Swatch, the Swiss watch company.  Asked if it is seeking more sponsors, Paramonov said: “We’re working on it, we’d like more, it’s natural.  For the moment, with the co-operation with IMG, we’re in progress to find a solution.”

Asked about the priorities for the next four-year Olympic cycle, Paramonov said: “We are guaranteed to have the resources to invest into fencing.  Now we must be more efficient as a body, more professional, that’s at the root of every success.”

The federation presently has 12 employees.  Asked if he expects it to grow in the next four years, Paramonov was cautious, saying: “That  depends.  We’re now a non-profit organisation, and we have elected persons, who form commissions, and an executive board.  So how to make the elected persons be efficient is a problem to be solved, and it’s not easy.  We’re trying to find a balance between professional staff and elected persons.  We cannot live without each other, we must live in synergy. It’s an art to build a team.”

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