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July 11, 2013

New Owner, New Future, Same Product

When I heard that Mark Bellissimo, best known in the horse world as managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners, had expressed interest in purchasing the Chronicle, I was intrigued—and, at first, a bit worried.

Bellissimo clearly has big plans and a bold vision for horse sports. How would the Chronicle fit into that? Would he want the magazine to promote his own shows? Would he respect the array of disciplines unique to the Chronicle? Or tamper with 76 years of editorial independence?

I wasn’t overly concerned, though. The Ohrstrom family, who’ve owned the magazine for 61 years, were determined to place it in the hands of a good steward, someone who would carry it into the future while honoring its past, who would understand the value of the print as well as the possibilities of the website.

When Bellissimo showed up in Middleburg, Va., I don’t think anyone expected that he would walk in, shake hands, sit down and say, simply and openly, “I want to be clear that I have no interest in changing the editorial direction or having any impact on that. I’m not looking to use the Chronicle to promote my shows.”

Yet it made sense: Bellissimo has proven himself an astute businessman, and fundamentally altering a respected product wouldn’t seem to be a good business move. Instead, he rattled off one way after another in which the Chronicle could harness print, digital, and mobile frontiers to expand the potential of equestrian sport as well as innovative concepts for partnering with advertisers and sponsors to offer new and different solutions.

We listened intently to his whirlwind of ideas (“and this is him not on caffeine,” his daughter, Paige, told us). After a few hours our minds were spinning, but we were inspired to start down the path to a bigger, better business model, one that would ensure the Chronicle wasn’t just around for another year or two but that would solidify its role as the independent voice in horse sports.

We dared to hope that this was really the shot the company needed—the connections, business experience and outside the box thinking that Bellissimo brings.

And yet, we’re not oblivious to industry rumors or reputations, so we did a little Googling, too. We found that he’d played ice hockey, and a fellow player said this about him in his high school paper: “Our captain, Mark Bellissimo, wants to win more than any guy in the school. In the locker room he has let us feel his presence—constantly trying to give us spirit—so much that some people have misunderstood his urgings. Believe me, I know that they are sincere. On the ice he has thrown himself into situations with abandon.”

Yes, yes. This was the Mark Bellissimo we had met as well. Working to inspire, enthuse and, well, to win. Our partnership is still in its infancy, but I believe that the Chronicle—and every reader, advertiser, employee or sponsor—will be better for it.

Rumors of the sale circulated about a month before the deal was done. We heard that we were moving to Texas, to Florida, that our doors had closed the previous Friday. We ignored the gossip and carried on, knowing that soon we could share the good news with our readers.

But you will be the judge of whether the Chronicle lives up to its standards going forward. Stay tuned. I think you will be pleased.

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