Introduction by Josh Jakobitz, Polo Lifestyles editor
What’s in a name? And what is a name worth? While luxury brands clamor for partnerships in the Sport of Kings – titles and presenting sponsorship naming rights – some rising tournaments resist corporate takeover and the diluting potential for decision-making. Certainly, though, polo remains the ultimate brand association in the luxury industry. Many of the world’s best-known polo tournaments – Cartier Queen’s Cup, Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, King Power Gold Cup, Land Rover Polo Open – are solidly anchored by the title luxury brand. Often, the title sponsorship creates a draw to other brands considering, and ultimately sponsoring, the three T’s: teams, tents and trophies.
In the digital age, branding in polo has proliferated beyond the on-site audience. Between live streaming on PoloLine.TV, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, the traditional polo audience – high-net-worth, jet-setting – joins the growing, aspirational audience that isn’t traditionally interested in polo. It has been in the interest of the sport for years to reach, and convert, non-polo fans, but options were previously limited – and expensive. Hashtags and handles have changed all of that.
Luxury consumers search social media for products, events and influencers. Largely undeterred by data usage or international roaming charges, they watch social media stories and online TV at a much higher concentration than users dependent upon WiFi connections. A polo tournament can attract 1,000 to 10,000 guests and attendees; social media can increase viewership and virtual attendance to the nth degree, meaning the sky is the limit. What does this mean for sponsorship and presenting brands in the polo market? Curated ad spots and videos inserted into live streaming with links and handles engage luxury consumers and polo fans with handles and links to online shopping. All consumers love the gratification of the online shopping basket; this directed marketing, paired with a code for free shipping available to polo viewers, is now far beyond the scope of traditional sporting events. Pairing and partnering polo events with luxury brands is mutually advantageous from both marketing aspects and return-on-investment – when executed correctly. There is what’s in a name and then there’s what is that name worth; the answer lies in the careful management and balance of the two.
One of the rising polo tournaments that we have followed for two years is the Afrique Polo Day in the UK. After a debut Polo Day in 2018, we sent our team in for the second edition at Ham Polo Club. I had to ask myself, what’s in a name for Afrique? Having seen photos of sports cars and champagne brands in the promotion, I wondered, what is this event really promoting? The answer, simply, is Africa: African brands, African culture, African polo players and home-grown African luxury. The sports cars, while shiny and beautiful, are only nominally part of the day. The
event remains true to its core value. We should be so lucky to say the same about all polo opens, events and tournaments.
Story by Raphael Dapaah / Photos by Eva Thompson In true ceremonial pomp and majesty befitting the Sport of Kings, Afrique’s second annual Polo Day hosted at Ham Polo Club in the leafy London suburb of Surrey, was a rousing spectacle of splendor, glamour and grandeur.
The history of Polo on the African continent dates back to the 19th century, with some of the best polo teams hailing from Nigeria, Ghana and South African respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, these nations are also home to Africa’s largest economies and most affluent and emerging middle-upper class populations. However, Afrique’s Polo Day is unique in that it is the first dedicated occasion that celebrates Africa’s passion for the sport outside of the continent and also spotlights the rapidly growing luxury market that Africa has become in the past decade.
The growing confidence and wealth of the continent were on full display for all who might have suspected or otherwise doubted the prevailing African Century narrative that has in recent years been spearheaded by the global recognition of African music, fashion and more. Magnificent kente and lace sequined gowns bursting with bold colors that shone like diamonds in the midday sun were the order of the day. Anything short of splendor was simply unacceptable, and it appeared that every woman who swanned around the polo ground, head held high, heels higher, received the memo.
From geles, to ankara and silk head scarves, Queen Nefertiti incarnates turned the heads of polo spectators, press and VIP guests alike, and by the second chukka, even the polo players seemed more interested in the fashion parade taking place than their own game which ended in an uninspiring draw.
Indeed, even the gentlemen, keen not to be outdone by the fairer sex, came dressed to the nines. It was hard to miss the sharp cut of a teal Ozwald Boateng suit that peacocked past, champagne flute in hand as the sounds of Burna Boy burst through the ground speakers resulting in a sudden eruption of jubilant approvals from all, transforming the fashion show to an Afro-Fusion rave in mere seconds.
As the day wore on, drinks poured, cigars burned, music blasted, and it became impossible to distinguish between celebrity attendees, VIPs, press, sponsors and patrons alike. As soon as the DJ played the classic cook-out anthem “Candy” any separate factions and areas that existed before were soon replaced by a blur of vibrant gowns, and suits swaying in seemingly choreographed unison.
Afrique curated an event that has not only modernized and jazzed up a traditionally exclusive social occasion as polo, but has somehow also managed to successfully position Africa at the center of it in a move that signals a slow but steady change of the old guard to the new; that still feels inclusive to all who accept and embrace it.