In its fifth year, the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, Horses & Horsepower’s intriguing mix of old and new draws big crowds.
By Sondra Barr • Photos by Chadwick Fowler
What do you get when a posh sport like polo is reimagined by a splashy Scottsdale PR firm tasked with bringing renewed attention to a game considered out of reach and out of touch? Answer: The Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships: Horses & Horsepower.
The brainchild of deft Valley publicist Jason Rose and his team, this Scottsdale event is equal parts pomp and party––high revelry for a modern age. Combining luxury vehicles, fashion, art, music, cocktails, dancing and, yes, even canines wearing couture, with a sport long considered reserved for the privileged set, Rose has created a funky, fresh way for everybody to enjoy the rarefied “sport of kings.”
In the past four years he’s produced the event, Rose’s experimental dip into the world of polo tournaments has become a bona fide hit that even has the notoriously staid United States Polo Association––an old school governing body of the ancient sport––rethinking its marketing strategy.
“This whole thing’s been an experiment,” says Rose, who got the idea for the event when Arizona Polo Club officials approached him about marketing their organization after they received a small grant from the United States Polo Association. At the time, Rose didn’t even know there was a local polo club in the Valley playing matches at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
What Rose and his team at Rose, Moser, Allyn Public and Online Relations presented to the APC was to produce a yearly signature polo tournament with a vibrant atmosphere akin to the 16th Hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but with polo—not golf––in the starring role.
“When we came up with the Horses & Horsepower concept initially, we actually went to Barrett-Jackson, which has been a client of ours for 17 or 18 years and asked, ‘Why don’t you use this as a sneak preview event between your Las Vegas auction at the end of September into your signature Scottsdale one in January?’” explains Rose.
While the team at Barrett-Jackson thought a signature Scottsdale polo tournament was a cool concept, they passed on the opportunity to own and produce the event, and opted to sponsor it instead.
So, Rose and his team decided to make a go of it themselves with the help of the APC. While they had zero experience putting on an event of the magnitude they envisioned, drawing upon their public relations acumen and extensive Valley connections, Rose and his crew achieved what they set out to do. “We now have the most attended polo event in the United States five years later, and what we think is the world’s most interesting polo event,” says Rose.
He points out that there were a number of elements working in their favor. “We were very fortunate that Airpark companies like Barrett-Jackson and the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show agreed to sign up as sponsors for that first year in 2011, which really gave us a lot of credibility and a lot of horsepower,” he says.
And, while local polo may not have been exactly top of mind for Valley residents, Rose knew its seemingly biggest weakness––its exclusivity––was actually its greatest strength. “Polo intrigues people; it’s aspirational. A lot of people have seen the movie ‘Pretty Woman,’ and they kind of have an interest in attending a polo match––if they haven’t already.”
One of the main things Rose says he felt needed to be addressed was what could be perceived as a lack of fervency in the attendees watching the polo teams competing. “It’s not the NFL,” admits Rose. While polo is a fast-paced, adrenaline-packed sport that features man and beast colliding at speeds that often reach up to 40 mph, “…people aren’t riveted necessarily to the action because they’ve got to see Aspen Valley defeat Wales this year like they would be rooting for the Arizona Cardinals against the Chicago Bears,” says Rose.
“The first year of the event, it was the local polo club versus itself––so, not terribly intriguing” says Rose. “But we just wanted to see if people wanted to come out and see polo at all.”
As it turns out, people did want to attend a polo match, but Rose knew they could do better. The second year of the event, Rose looked at the Fiesta Bowl as the model, where they had a host team and another team comes in. It’s a model that’s led to some very interesting polo matchups that can’t be found elsewhere. From a men versus women “Battle of the Sexes” match to an underprivileged versus privileged matchup pitting the Work to Ride program out of Philadelphia playing against Harvard––“And underprivileged kicked privileged butt that day,” exclaims Rose––the point is to keep the matches fresh and engaging and give attendees a team that they can get invested in rooting for.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Rose and the APC have persuaded some of the top polo players in the world to play at the event. Not only do these polo stars add cache and added credibility to the matches, their dashing good looks make marketing the event that much easier in local magazines and television spots.
This year, top American polo player Nic Roldan, who became the youngest player in history to win the U.S. Open Polo Championship in 1998, is returning. “He was one that we brought in in year two who really helped grow the event to the level that it’s at today,” says Rose.
According to Natalie Grancharov Camacho, the APC’s secretary, and an avid polo player, the growth the club’s experienced because of the event has been extraordinary. “The event is definitely a huge production. We run a small club, but being that we are the crux of polo in the state, we do get to work with the leaders of the event to give input about teams, the field, horses, etc.,” she says.
Getting top polo talent to come to Scottsdale, which isn’t exactly a polo hotspot, hasn’t proved difficult. “The thing that’s exciting for them is while there are more significant polo events in Palm Beach and Santa Barbara and elsewhere, no one has the crowds that we do, and no one has the funky atmosphere that we do where we create numerous events within events,” Rose says.
“The other thing that’s been very important to its success is, if you go to a polo match in Florida or Santa Barbara or Palm Springs, for the most part, you’ll see at a featured match 400 people of whom 80 percent are white and over the age of 70,” adds Rose, who points to the fact you can get into the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championship: Horses & Horsepower for $15 or you can buy a front-row table in the Molina Fine Jewelers’ tent for $4,000, with numerous options in between, as to why a diverse crowd attends this event.
As the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships: Horses & Horsepower returns to WestWorld of Scottsdale for its fifth year on Saturday, Oct. 24, for a day-long extravaganza. Big-name sponsors like Bentley Scottsdale, Molina Fine Jewelers, Barrett-Jackson, and Neiman Marcus are back, along with event crowd favorites including the Canine Couture dog fashion show; the Longest Catwalk Fashion Show, with a runway stretching nearly 200 yards; the 2016 Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show preview; the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction Preview, and over 250 works of art including a Picasso up for auction at the Larsen Live Art Auction inside The Picasso Pavilion.
Among the new additions: the Phoenix Symphony will play during one of the periods of play, while all other noise is turned off. “We’re shutting down the announcer, we’re shutting down the DJ, and the only thing you’ll hear is symphony,” says Rose. “And that’s going to be really boring or really cool, but it’s going to be fun and different and something you can’t experience anywhere else in the United States.”
Additionally, this year, The Phoenician Resort will hold high tea at the event. “Well, there’re worse things to do in the world than drink tea while looking up at the McDowell Mountains being served by the great people and staff from The Phoenician. And at the same time, 200 yards down the field, we have a Scottsdale nightclub DJ just ripping through his set with people bodysurfing and dancing in the Heineken Pavilion. It’s just a very eclectic environment,” says Rose.
“This event is really hard to compare to any other polo event because of the large scale,” explains Camacho, whose husband, Andres Camacho Castilla, is an APC member and Arizona’s top-ranked player. “We have been to the U.S. Open Polo Championship, the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, etc., and this event has three times the number of people as those––you have a huge energy everywhere,” she says.
Rose points out that because of the event’s mass appeal, it’s also a one-of-a-kind opportunity for businesses to entertain customers and clients. “I love the Diamondbacks, but there are 81 home games a year. The Suns have 40 to 41 games a year. Those are all terrific experiences, but there’s one of these. And, this is also one that has something equally for both men and women, which you can’t say a lot about at sporting events,” says Rose, who’s been approached by the San Diego Polo Club and others about producing a similar event. “We’ve certainly come up with a formula that makes sense, but part of the reason this has worked is we’re here.”