Horsing around is serious business
Unedited as ‘I’ wrote it :) – prefer it like this.
M.F. Hussain loves to paint them; Dr. Vijay Mallya is passionate about them; our Finance Minister doesn’t find it too ‘taxing’ to take an afternoon stroll to watch a ‘chukka’ or two. Horse aficionados all!
For thousands of years man has been fascinated by this beautiful and captivating creature- the horse. Almost divine in their perfection, horses have been considered the ultimate symbol of elegance-power-pride.
Big Monies… high stake racing.
There is a lot riding here, with on-course attendance of 2 million each year; an estimated 1000 million rupees in betting turnover; prize money in excess of Rs. 200 million each year (the highest, compared to any other spectator sport in India-the Indian Derby and the Poonawalla Breeders Multi Million alone give out prize money of 6.8 million rupees and 6 million rupees, respectively).
Although horse racing is where the big money is, one sport that retains the quintessential romance of the horse and yet is certain to get your adrenalin pumping is Polo and it is this segment that we shall try to cover in this piece.
Right place… at the right time.
As we step into another polo season (Delhi season kicks off in the 1st week of November this year), I cannot help think how much has changed for the game in the last 4-5 years. Polo has seen a revival of support and it has been extraordinary, to say the least.
It began a few years ago, when concerted efforts of the army; corporate patrons; royal families, who had worked tirelessly on promoting the game, bore fruit.
But, another phenomenon taking place at the same time, was perhaps equally responsible for the turnaround – an array of high-end domestic and multinational brands – Omega, Hyundai, ABN Amro to just name a few – that had arrived in the late 90s and the new millennium, were trying to capture the mind-space of their target audience, but were increasingly faced with a ‘clutter’.
The effort, therefore, was to find niche opportunities that would effectively reflect the core personality of their brand. Patronized by aristocracy-royalty & the elite-people who live best-of-the-best plus one- polo gave them such a niche.
Many of these marketers adopted a more holistic strategy and associated with more than one activity. For example, many like Seagram who were associated with Golf, came to be associated with Polo and vice versa.
Corporate funding started to trickle in and with brand association began a new process of communication-Direct Mail, advertising, PR initiatives, side events including fashion shows and live bands added new colour to the game.
While, die-hard polo lovers ‘lived the season’ on the polo grounds anyway (even moving city to city as the circuit moved), high ‘society’ had now adapted it too. Media swung into action to cover the game and contributed its share. Success begets success, as they say – what started as a trickle, has now become a wave.
The combined whiff of cigar smoke, expensive perfumes, crisp air and horses of course… that greet you on the ground, surely make for a heady combination…but, what’s a real turn-on is to see the sheer numbers in which crowds gather to watch a ‘final’. A combined sea of royalty, army, ‘society’, bureaucrats, diplomats and expatriates…
A new generation of players has now taken forefront, come as they do from diverse backgrounds – polo sons (only a rare daughter or two, still); royalty; army; civilians… They all have one thing in common though-young, talented, bubbling with enthusiasm, media savvy, they see the world as their playground and backed by new corporate monies that are coming in… polo as a career.
Thanks to tips from veterans and the experience gained by playing with a string of high goal players from overseas, the quality of our players, and therefore the game, is again touching glorious heights.
It makes an interesting study to see how some of the corporate sponsors and patrons have benefited from their association…
Jatin Ahluwalia, who heads Marketing and Corporate Communication for Ericsson India, says “Polo gives us an opportunity to associate our brand with the understated exclusivity of the game and also allows company top brass to spend quality time with clients in a relaxed setting.”
In some cases the game has had a far-reaching impact… The young heir to Jodhpur’s royal family, Yuvraj Shivraj Singh- a fine polo player himself and a patron, has devoted considerable amount of time, effort and money in reviving Jodhpur polo. Shivraj, who is currently in Moscow helping with the revival of the game there after decades of dormancy, feels ” Bringing polo back to Jodhpur hasn’t just been the realization of a long cherished dream my father H.H. Maharaja Gaj Singh and myself, but has also given the city an opportunity to showcase its rich culture and heritage to the guests who come visiting”.
Timed as the ‘season’ is during the Christmas-New Year Holidays, it hasn’t just put the city back on the polo map, but has also given a huge boost to the tourism opportunities for Jodhpur. Now who can resist polo combined with Rajasthan sands and legendry Rajput hospitality.
Also, notice the differences in how the association manifests itself for say… McDowell’s Signature, a brand from the UB stables-owned by the flamboyant Dr. Vijay Mallya. The brand’s youthful energy and vibrancy reflects in their celebratory communication-the signature of success. On the other hand, led by patron and captain Naveen Jindal, the young Managing Director of Jindal Steel and Power, Team Jindal… personifies teamwork and the power of steely determination. There are many more examples like these.
This is however just the beginning. What with… new sponsors lining up; a 6 month circuit touching 5 cities- Bangalore – Delhi – Jodhpur- Jaipur – Delhi – Mumbai, in that order; new polo facilities being commissioned by hotel chains and even polo players themselves… like the Kalaan brothers, who have set-up the Haryana Polo Club on the Delhi-Pataudi road, just off National Highway 8 (opportunities are in abundance and it won’t be long before a creative sponsor decides to host a car rally to the venue, practically prompting and leading the way. High Tea on arrival… followed by an exciting game of polo. What better way to spend a Sunday winter afternoon).
Imagine too…big screen display on the grounds; walkie-talkies to facilitate conversation between umpires and referee; player endorsements; all woman polo or woman-a-side matches; mainstream television coverage… why, even picture alerts on mobile phones, particularly as the ‘season’ moves from city to city.
Just the beginning… so ride them to a gallop my friend or step aside as they thunder past. For, horses… as they say in these charmed circles… have ‘right of way’!
Disclaimer: Views of authors are personal and do not represent the views of Blogworks, or any of its clients.