At the age of 23, Santi Torres (7) is already a veteran of the sport, currently the youngest American polo player to go pro at just 11 years old. Always a fierce competitor on grass, Torres seized several new opportunities in 2017 including a spot on the inaugural Gladiator Polo arena league and Team USPA. Playing again at Tryon International Equestrian Center in the highly anticipated “Battle for the Carolinas” fall series September 9th, Torres is doing everything he can to elevate his career to the next level.
American born in Santa Barbara, CA with Argentine heritage, Torres emerged on the polo scene with unyielding passion and natural ability enhanced through dedication to his craft. His early journey to make a name for himself was documented in the film, “The Polo Kid,” as he was nicknamed. Adopting the polo lifestyle of parents, Kelita and the now late Miguel Torres Sr., was seamless. Playing polo now for almost 20 years all across the globe, Torres speaks from a unique vantage point with an established player’s perspective on what is and can be done differently to improve and sustain spectatorship in North America.
With a brand new concept ready to be unveiled and one specifically tailored with the viewing experience in mind, Gladiator Polo was unleashed in the height of the winter season in Wellington, Florida. Donning the black jersey of Team Crixus this past high-goal season was just the beginning of Torres’s ride on the explosive series, featuring high-intensity arena polo with a Roman twist. Continuing with the second June installment on Team Charlotte in North Carolina, Torres witnessed a record turnout of fans in excess of 10,000. What is it about Gladiator Polo that has struck a chord with so many? How can club organizers around the country tap into the seemingly overwhelming response to this polo event and use it to revitalize interest? Santi Torres identifies the simple but key ingredient that is working and has triggered such a positive shock wave: personalization.
Arena polo has the advantage of a condensed area of play, easier for new polo spectators to familiarize themselves with the game. Gladiator Polo has added a few elements to bridge the distance between players and the audience, and they are responding like never before. “You have the commentator describing all the plays and the action is continuously right in front of you which allows spectators to see everything up close and begin learning,” Torres said. “There are also broadcasted player profiles before the first chukker where the audience can meet the players and each team member shares a little more of their story. It’s hard for people to follow when they watch polo on the field because all they see is a bunch of guys and horses running around. Nobody knows the players.”
Media networks have an important role to play in the successful launch of sporting events to a national and international viewer base and Torres highlights the steps that Argentina has taken to create a lasting bond with spectators. “In Argentina, there is a big screen at the end of the field and every time a horse is switched out during a chukker, their name comes up on the screen. Polo is broadcast on ESPN so everyone knows the players and the horses by name which is very important,” Torres revealed. “In North America polo is not on ESPN and they don’t show the horses or the players. So if a spectator doesn’t watch Sunday polo every week and they don’t actively study it, they won’t catch on and will lose interest.”
Aside from the amount of horses greatly exceeding that of the players in any given game, the idea of getting to know regular equine athletes in a player’s string has its benefits as with any other equestrian discipline. “Once you know the strengths of each horse and how they individually play on the field, you can pick out which ones are more skilled and have favorites, both horses and players. You can enjoy it more and have a reason to keep following.”
NBC Sports has been instrumental in the first steps of weaving short narration to humanize the players in the Gladiator Polo league. Similar to coverage of televised mainstream sports such as the NFL, spectators learn the players’ name, age, and hometown with the addition of a few personal details during the first Tryon tournament. Polo already has so many moving parts and Torres emphasizes the need for any actions that would facilitate a personal connection between spectators and teams to make it easier, knocking down the metaphorical boards that divide.
Nearing the end of a successful summer season at Flying H Polo Club in Big Horn, Wyoming, Torres will be making his way back to Tryon Resort at the end of August to rejoin the gladiators. While in Wyoming, the outdoorsman has been able to spend some time enjoying other activities such as fishing in the lakes, hiking mountains, and of course riding daily. Once finished with Gladiator Polo, he will travel to Houston, Texas ready for the next big opportunity.
Although an accomplished young player, Torres is not letting up, but pushing himself harder to be counted among the few skilled enough to reach 8 goals and above. “It’s going to take better horses, more opportunities to play high-goal polo, and continuing to train myself. Those three things will allow me to make the next step.”
Look for him the evening of September 9th in a teal jersey for Team Charlotte, clashing against Team Asheville in the decisive “Battle for North Carolina”. The battle for polo viewership wages on, but Gladiator Polo is powerful evidence that it’s not the game that needs to change, just the presentation. Revival has begun.