I found myself in the midst of what most people in Barbados were calling a Polo War in February of this year.
Actually for me on my new solo journey as an independent pr practitioner it was a welcomed assignment - I am an avid sports enthusiast, polo fits the profile of the type of client anyone would like on their books and it was a fantastic opportunity to build my portfolio.
Not a follower of the sport before this I had to learn the jargon quickly. I am proud to say that I am now a 'chukka chic', and although you would not find me on a horse anytime soon, I have fallen madly in love with the sport.
Back to the war
Up until last year Barbados had one polo season where all 30 something polo players in the country played against each other and visiting teams.
Reportedly this all changed with the development of the Waterhall Luxury Estate at Apes Hill by Sir Charles Williams, and of at least two other grounds by other players/developers. There was intense pressure now to host games at these new grounds to promote the properties. In answer to this Sir Charles created his own season with players predominately from his family and workers of Waterhall, while most of the other players on the island continued to played in what I call 'the local league'.
For the first time on the island there was a media blitz for Polo. A full media mix of television, radio, newspaper, magazines and the Internet were used to get the messages across. There was a big fight on for the small numbers of what was predominately white spectators who previously frequented the games.
With the majority of players staying with 'the local league' then it was natural to assume that most of the original spectators who were friends or family would be at this venue. Being a man of the people Sir Charles went after the people. Affluent Barbadians of all colours, most of whom had never before been to a polo match flocked to Waterhall attracted by its contemporary style of advertising.
In a press briefing to announce what was to be Waterhall Polo Club's penultimate and most important match series, Sir Charles said it succinctly - he has sponsored a professional team "Apes Hill" to play in the Queens Cup and Gold Cup in England to promote his condo project at Waterhall. He said that he saw both himself and the sport of Polo benefiting from this.
This is a first class pr strategy by Sir Charles. There is always dialog of pr being an intangible that cannot be measured, but Sir Charles is proving to the hard core pr pundits that sponsorship can generate a tangible/measurable return on investment.
To one of the journalists' question on Polo being played at different venues being a negative for the sport, he made reference to first division cricket which on any given Sunday is played at about six or more different venues across Barbados.
Waterhall's season finished one week before the Holders/Lion Castle's and the Waterhall players were all over at that venue playing and supporting on the final day. The perceived war is clearly not about the polo.
What is at stake however at each polo ground is valuable real-estate that each developer wants exposed and sold to potential buyers who frequent the games.
The two seasons in my estimation is the best thing that could have happened to Polo. Every Sunday polo was live on Love 104.1 FM. It was covered on CBC TV on Sports Locker, and there were numerous stories in both the Advocate and the Nation newspapers. Ordinary persons became aware of the sport and everyone knew that there was a season on.
Three cheers for Polo the eventual winner for having finally arrived on the island!