Ignacio Manifesto, General Manager of the Argentine Association of Polo, met with PoloLine at the AAP Palermo offices to talk about the Association’s long and short term plans. Manifesto also speaks about the last year and a half and his new role.
“The Association decided to professionalize the way they did things in order for polo to develop as a more profesional sport,” says Manifesto. “Polo is a very traditional sport, where everyone knows each other and relationships span years. But we are now being forced to change things, especially as more and more brands become involved with the sport. HSBC, for example, wants content that appeals to their clients; that is the challenge we have in front of us. We have to analyse why a company wants to get involved with polo, what they are looking for, and how to maximise their relationship with us in the long term. It’s all part of the evolution of polo today.”
How has your vision of polo changed since you started working in the AAP?
I came from an environment that has nothing to do with polo. I have worked with other sports, but I didn’t have knowledge of or a relationship with polo. That distance, or lack of knowledge, allows me to see polo as a product: what to do, what attracts people, why companies want to get involved, why media follows it. When you are involved in the sport, you know that it has a lot to offer: tradition, history, idiosyncrasies, objectives. The AAP is a non-profit organisation; it must be 100% clear that our objective is to improve and promote polo. Then you have to figure out how to generate income to promote the sport.
Do you analyse or try to copy models from other sports and apply them to polo?
I am a complete sports fan, and at home we follow the NFL a lot. They have a model where they play flat out for three months, and not much happens the rest of the year. But there is content all year long. It is a fantastic marketing model, one to learn from. Polo has another peculiarity; the public knows about the Argentine Open, but 300 games are played at Palermo a year, and 400 in Pilar. And it’s growing every year. But the public doesn’t know about the majority of it. We have a great location and polo is a visually impressive sport – we have to know how to market that. The door is always open, but people don’t know that they can come with their family to watch low, medium, or high goal, junior or women’s polo, and enjoy a nice day out. We have polo all year round here. We are working on communicating our full polo calendar, so it doesn’t seem like we only play the Triple Crown.
What challenges come about with the Open?
The Open is special in the fact that you start work on the next one as soon as the last one ends. It doesn’t just come together in three months. We think and work on it all year long. It is a product that was already well set up when I started working here, so in that sense my introduction into the AAP was easy. What I did find was that every section had their own objectives and there was very little work as a complete entity. Polo has a big industry behind it, and we need to make sure that this all shows every time we market it.
What are you focusing on today?
On many things: on what we communicate and what we give people when they come. For everyone to know that they can come at 2pm and stay until 9pm, and whoever wants to eat with their children or friends can do so. Regardless whether they know about polo or not, watching the game is an exciting experience and being in Palermo is culturally significant. The place is really remarkable, and so is Pilar. This is all developing naturally; people come and stay a bit longer every time, just like at the Open. We need to make sure the value you get from visiting is high all year long.
How would you describe the relationship between the big three associations: USPA, HPA and AAP?
The relationship has grown a lot over the past year. We are working on a big project to become more international. The players already are, but we are not as international as we should be. Not only in terms of image, but also in terms of developing the way we work and our organisation. We also look at organisations which are not related to polo We need to copy better models and see how they can be applied to what we are doing. We are strong in sporting terms, but other organisations are better commercially, without having the product we have.
What will be worked on at an international level?
We have just defined a different way of working and applied that to the Argentine national team. Before, decisions were made based on the sporting aspect. We have a responsibility to be number one, and hopefully in five years time we will be able to compete against a 40-goal team. We have to be involved in everything in order to promote polo on an international scale, because Argentina also benefits from the development of polo. Most of the players who compete abroad are Argentine. The best thing that can happen is for polo to grow and become competitive. The commercial side of things and image are also important. Before, it was just about sending the national team to play and then seeing what we could come up with. The national team is now a brand which we need to develop, and be more pro-active – it’s not about waiting to get invited to play. We have a good relationship with the INPROTUR (National Institute of Tourism Promotion) and with the embassies, who both use polo to promote Argentina. We need to work together, travel, and promote out product. We can’t go and not talk about the Open. That is how we will get the support of players, businesses, and organisations.
How did it work before?
Argentina travelled but they did not manage the organisation of the place; they focused only on the sporting side of things, which is neither right nor wrong. We would get to the event and our image was being used by other brands or organisations. We were invited and the structure was already set up according to the objectives of a third party. But now we want to be in charge of what we do and do it ourselves, with all the commercial risks that involves. I am representing Argentine polo – I can’t leave everything up to someone else, or a brand I don’t know anything about, whose objectives and values I don’t know about. We are in charge and these are our values. We don’t need to be told what our image is. No-one doubts that we have the best players, but the organisations? Can’t we work to make this the best organisation in the world? We have the sporting ability, now we just need to learn about the rest, which is what we are doing.
How did other organisations react to this?
Things were run like this before. They just took on a role the Association left behind. Many of these organisations work to improve polo and there is a lot to learn from them. We explained that we wanted to work together, and that is what we are doing today. Everything we have done has been positive. We are taking what we have and seeing what we can do. Perhaps we could be stricter in terms of brands, because it is a commercial deal. But with other organisations and tournaments, it’s about consensus. We have to go bit by bit.
What needs to be done for people to know that polo is about more than just four players on horses?
We have a responsibility to do just that. There is an enormous industry which we are very proud of, and we have a responsibility to help it grow more. During last year’s Open, we tried to work more with the teams. We need brands to come to polo, whether it is through a team or whatever. We shouldn’t compete or limit a brand. We need to learn about the brands that support polo and maximise them, respecting the limits of both parties. Last year, an important report of the polo industry was put together. We know about it and now we have to share that information. This is the outcome of a great industry.
What plans are there for the AAP grounds in Pilar, in terms of access and infrastructure?
The restructuring of the Pilar club was about creating more assets for polo. The Association is non-profit, so what is generated is reinvested. The four new grounds are in the final stages. We have not spoken about building stands. We have studied the ways to make getting there and logistics as easy as posible. Now we just need a structure so that playing on the far grounds is as easy. I hope the expansion will allow us to build according to the people who come. We can set up 600 stands, but what if they don’t fill? We want it to be the other way around. We want people to come to polo because of what it implies and because of the service we give them.
The General Manager of the AAP concludes with the following thought: “It is a matter of time. We have clear objectives in terms of where we want to go, but it is important to validate those objectives. We have to stop every six months and see how we are getting on. Different aspects keep appearing and need to be considered. And we need patience; Long, medium, and short term goals. That changes our point of view about the sporting and comercial decisions. Everything is easier. We can’t do something on a whim; there has to be an explanation and reasoning behind it, regardless whether it is right or wrong.”