24/Jul/2014 - Last News Update: 17:58

Guards Polo Club eyes global commerce

Category: Business

Published: 22nd Jul 2011 00:00:56

It is far from glitzy, with no hint of any champagne-fuelled glamour, as a small group of middle-aged men get ready for a game of polo.

Braving the threat of rain, they chat quietly while pulling on worn leather boots and tightening the straps on their knee-pads and hard hats, all prepared for some tough action on the pitch.

As the fast-paced game kicks off, just a handful or two of die-hards have gathered to watch the game, including wives of the players and their children in pushchairs.

The audience is outnumbered by grooms dressed in jeans and T-shirts who are looking after the several dozen polo ponies the men have brought along in large, battered horse boxes.

But although it is low-profile, the entire circus is clearly an expensive affair.

The everyday realities of polo are more about costly logistical challenges than about the sort of showmanship and lavish partying that will be evident at the Cartier International tournament here at Guards Polo Club on Sunday.

There is one universal truth about the sport of polo, however, whether on the pitch on a quiet weekday or alongside it during a big tournament: pretty much everyone involved is paying large sums to take part.

Polo teams are generally paid for by playing patrons, who tend to be wealthy individuals with money to burn. Each patron will be part of a team of four players - him or herself along with three professional players - with additional cash paying for several strings of ponies, as the horses are called in the sport, as well as staff looking after horses, vehicles and players.

Additional income comes from sponsors that are eager to reach the sport's affluent audience. Some of them even pay for the parties that are usually held alongside major tournaments to entertain loyal customers and clients.

Other parties, which are often slightly less exclusive, sell tickets that can nevertheless cost hundreds of pounds per head.

It is tempting, therefore, to think of the world of polo as a lucrative place to do business, but that is not necessarily so, according to Neil Hobday, who was appointed chief executive of Guards Polo Club in Surrey last month.

"Polo has been playing catch-up commercially, in a business sense," he observes, pointing out that few clubs make any money.

Guards Polo Club is an exception, Mr Hobday insists, thanks to the efforts of his predecessor Charles Stisted, who died in a helicopter accident last October.

"Charlie was able to put in place much-needed improvements," Mr Hobday says, pointing to how Mr Stisted had a new clubhouse built, along with several new grounds and the sprucing up of the club's nearby Fleming Farm, which houses some 100 ponies and 28 grooms.

"From a commercial point of view, he actually put together a profitable enterprise, which in polo in Europe is quite an achievement."

Central to Mr Stisted's efforts was his belief that any moves away from the club's core activity - the sport itself - would need to be handled with great care.

Under Mr Stisted, the club lent its brand to various accessories such as perfume and sunglasses, though only in markets outside the UK. A licensing deal with the polo clothing brand La Martina allows it too to use the Guards brand, with a new collection due out next year. But none of these initiatives have been allowed to grow too large.

Similarly, Mr Stisted consistently resisted lucrative offers from sponsors and party organisers to gear up their activities off the pitch, insisting the club should avoid turning itself into an events company.

"I'm aware that this is a tricky balancing act," Mr Hobday says. "We do not want to dilute the Guards brand - ever."

Mr Hobday is eager to "continue to build the brand", however, through the offer of assistance to clubs outside the UK that want to expand and create new tournaments.

Besides, polo is increasingly televised, which means additional potential for revenue, he insists.

"Polo is a very glamorous sport to the outside world. The product is there, it just needs to be presented properly," he says.

Mr Hobday's background makes him well suited to expand Guards' commercial operations.

Like Mr Stisted, he is a former Scots Guards officer, though he has also clocked up considerable experience in sports management, having worked for International Management Group (IMG), run Loch Lomond Golf Club and founded the multi-sport marketing and management agency Carnegie Sports International.

"I think what we're going to see in the next 10 years is the growth of polo as a sport, both at the amateur and at the professional level," Mr Hobday says.

"My immediate priority is to be satisfied that the facilities and operations here are OK," he says.

"But as soon as the season is over, I'll be off to promote the sport and the club around the world."

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2011. Guards Polo Club eyes global commerce [Online] (Updated 22nd Jul 2011)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/172032/Guards-Polo-Club-eyes-global-commerce [Accessed 24th Jul 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Glasgow 2014: Sir Bradley Wiggins and England beaten by Australia

    Sir Bradley Wiggins was denied a first Commonwealth Games gold as Australia beat England in the final of the 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow.
  • Twitter staff male-dominated

    Twitter has become the latest tech firm to admit that most of its staff members are men.
  • Secret Cinema cancels Back To The Future opening night

    The immersive film-experience company, Secret Cinema, has cancelled the opening night of a special screening of 1980s film Back To The Future.
  • Government 'loses £700m NHS IT legal battle with Fujitsu'

    Taxpayers could be hit with a bill for up to £700m after the government reportedly lost a legal battle with Fujitsu over a failed NHS IT system.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Venezuela opposition leader Lopez: 'Trial will test democracy'

    One of Venezuela's main opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, has told a judge in Caracas that his trial on charges of inciting violence will be a test for the country's democracy.