By David Cummings, Chairman of USPA Global Licensing, Inc. and Bob Puetz, CEO of United States Polo Association
In a recent news release, the United States Polo Association (USPA), USPA Global Licensing (USPAGL) and International Polo Club (IPC) announced a new name, the “GAUNTLET OF POLO™,” for a three-part high-goal tournament series: the C.V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Gold Cup®, and the U.S. Open Polo Championship®. Why not stay with the Triple Crown of Polo or pick a more traditional name like the USPA Grand Slam, or the USPA World Series, or the USPA National High Goal Challenge, etc.? How did the GAUNTLET OF POLO™ evolve?
Let’s start at the beginning. To entrust the sport entirely to USPA member clubs was not advancing USPA’s long-term goals. The number of premier clubs is limited. Each has their own priorities. Many struggle to make financial ends meet. It is not reasonable for clubs to be expected to invest in the USPA’s larger mission of elevating and growing the game to a national, and even international, audience. The inevitable result would potentially be a decline in attendance, shrinking team entries, USPA media rights, sponsorship value as well as a decrease in overall corporate sponsor interest. The USPA has a responsibility to the sport on a holistic level. To grow its base of members, players, teams, competitions and fans. To deliver value to those same stakeholders, particularly the members. The USPA has the opportunity to capitalize on its position as the sanctioning body to influence the branding and marketing of the events in a manner that enhances USPA as a respected global sports property, while increasing the avidity of the core fan base and elevating the sport to attract new fans.
We can learn from the experiences of other professional sports. The USPA is not unlike other governing bodies who have suffered from reduced participation. In looking at successful governing bodies, many are in control of their destiny, and upheaving the status quo, by establishing an owned and controlled “pinnacle event.” Examples are the NFL’s Super Bowl, the MLB’s World Series and All-Star Game, the NBA’s Playoffs and All-Star Game, the NHL’s Winter Classic events, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and All-Star Race, and the PGA TOUR FedEx Cup Playoffs. The USPA saw an opportunity to do the same by packaging its three “marquee” events into one compelling “pinnacle competition.” And there in lies GAUNTLET OF POLO™.
The catalyst to build this pinnacle competition was ignited when the USPA decided to lower these three tournaments from 26 to 22 goal tournaments. This action presented the USPA with an opportunity to reshape the trajectory of high goal polo in the USPA and increase the growth and interest in the sport. Thus, the development of an innovative sponsorship and partnership with the International Polo Club of Palm Beach (IPC). This new relationship allowed the USPA to resume its proper position as “the leader” in the sport, employ strategies to increase team participation and generate excitement through prize money. After defining the goals and objectives of the new pinnacle competition which were focused on: 1) Increase participation of teams and American players; 2) Increase overall event attendance; 3) Enhance the spectator experience to benefit IPC members, event guests and the local community; 4) Elevate the competition and game day experiences for players, team owners and corporate sponsors; and 5) Broaden spectator reach on digital, mobile, social and broadcast channels, particularly for the CBS special telecast.
Our Valued GAUNTLET OF POLO™ Partners
To build value in this sport property, we have assembled a professional team with proven and successful track record with decades of collective experience in sports marketing, broadcasting, public relations, legal and branding expertise to assist IPC, the USPA and USPAGL parties to accomplish their goals and objectives over the next three years. Adam G. Mersereau is a business lawyer and partner of Butler Rikard and Mersereau in Jacksonville, Florida. Brian Woyt is the CEO and chief strategist for brand, content and digital for Wolf and Missile of Jacksonville, Florida. Adam has worked extensively with the International Olympic Committee and PGA TOUR while Brian has developed marketing strategies and brand positioning for the Travel Channel and served as the senior director of global brand marketing for the PGA TOUR. Barbara Karasek, CEO of Paradise Advertising & Marketing, is an experienced data-driven brand marketer and public relations practitioner, and has worked with the USOC, NASCAR, PGA TOUR, and SeaWorld Entertainment. Wrigley Media, our creative director for broadcasting, and Carr-Hughes Productions work together to enhance our broadcast on CBS to make it compelling for non-polo viewers to grow the sport outside of its core audience. Jerry Kaye, a freelance designer, will work with Brian Kaminer, Sr. VP of Design for Global, to develop a premium clothing line for the new series. With this expertise coupled with the marketing teams of IPC, the USPA and USPA Global Licensing, we are confident in succeeding to build a new brand that the USPA can own and monetize.
The GAUNTLET OF POLO™ Naming Process
Before we can name an event, we must define the brand’s DNA. Over the last 12 months, Brian Woyt led our organization and stakeholders through a step-by-step process to crystallize the brand’s mission, vision, passion, expertise, economics and long term potential. The mission of the new brand is to develop the elite stage to showcase the best of polo in order to grow the sport, build awareness for the USPA, provide sponsorship opportunities, stimulate competition, and elevate the player, team owner, fan and corporate sponsor experiences.
The GAUNTLET OF POLO™ Brand Position
The brand’s position is to be polo’s ultimate test. A series: Many challengers. Three events. One Champion. It’s survival of the fittest as the world’s preeminent teams, most skilled athletes and finest horses come together for three months to battle head-to-head to prove who is the best. The prize: the richest in the sport. The competitors: the best in the world. The location: like no other. For polo athletes, fans and sponsors, this collection of events is polo’s ultimate test.
The GAUNTLET OF POLO™ Brand Name
The naming of the series is a critical and intricate part of developing a sports property or any other brand. Our goal is to re-engage with the current IPC membership and community and attract the younger polo and equestrian consumer. To accomplish this, we must give our spectators both a better polo competition and game day event experience. It’s an opportunity to redefine our offerings and create something new and different that has a “coolness” with intention to draw attention, generate enthusiasm and entice the younger demographics to get involved in our sport. Our challenge is to create a name for the tournament series that is memorable, intuitive and “catchy” for the fans, as well as exciting, descriptive, engaging, sophisticated enough to tie directly back to the positioning statement, is commercially viable for a wide range of licensing efforts, and able to be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.
GAUNTLET OF POLO™ Industry Support
After months and several presentations with multiple options, the USPA Executive Committee reluctantly agreed to the “GAUNTLET OF POLO™.” To their credit, they were willing to step out of the traditional comfort zone and try something new and different. The “GAUNTLET” comes from the phrase “throw down the gauntlet” which means to challenge or confront someone. In its earliest use, it was not intended as a metaphor, rather as a physical action intended to issue a formal challenge or competition. What better descriptive term to depict USPA’s ultimate challenge for the GAUNTLET OF POLO™ series?
When we approached Billy Stone, the executive producer for CBS Sports Network, and his design team with the GAUNTLET concept, they readily accepted the new tournament series name, stating “we wholeheartedly support the GAUNTLET OF POLO™ and was worried you were coming to us with the Triple Crown of Polo, or the World Series of Polo or something overused or outdated. The GAUNTLET is new, progressive and consistent with other sport properties.”
As the marketing initiatives have commenced, we are pleased to report that GAUNTLET OF POLO™ has been well received by the general media. We are building momentum as we have a real story to tell with a new series, a historic number of 16 team entries in all three tournaments, and an unprecedented purse of $1 million in prize money.