First, professional bull-riding began working to rebrand itself, making conscious marketing efforts aimed at leaving behind its rodeo roots and establishing itself as an extreme sport.
Now, get ready for the next riding sport to try to gain a faster, flashier reputation: polo. And while it might not be in the X-Games anytime soon, it just might be able to harness the interest of the Millennial demographic.
According to an article in The Telegraph, polo wants to showcase itself as “the grandfather of extreme sports,” while appealing to a younger (read: less stuffy) fan base.
The sport’s most recent strides include streaming its matches online, as captured by drone photography. The first use of this technology came at the US and Argentine Opens when PoloLine TV implemented the technology into its coverage.
Aerial photography specialist Jack Hardway says it’s just another good way to bring polo to a wider audience. He likens it to the Volvo Ocean Race, which cannot be seen and appreciated without technological intervention.
“Sailing is like polo,” Hardaway told The Telegraph. “I feel it’s hard for most people to relate to; mainly as it is not a sport you can go outside and play.”
“Depth on a horizontal plain is sometimes hard to figure out for people, especially on a larger scale like a polo field,” he said. “Elevation of camera shots are going to be the governing body’s friend [if spectators are to relate to the sport].”
Of course, the article noted, liability costs, with drones hovering close to players and ponies, could prove one stumbling block for the sport, but Hardway says the technology will soon be incorporated into everyday use, including sporting events.
“Using them for sports is in its infancy phase,” he added. “If polo is interested in starting to use them as part of their coverage, I think it’s as good a time as any.”
The use of drones, which is becoming increasingly regulated in the U.S. (review the rules here), has become a sticking point with sports events in the U.S. While some see it as a revenue stream, others are worried about the threat and distraction it poses.
Pete McCormack, manager at King Power polo, told The Telegraph: "The latest streaming of polo in HD and drones has totally transformed the sport from being just a spectator to now feeling you are actually interacting with the game. There is great foresight from the people who are bringing this to the game. It's what it needs as polo is the grandfather of extreme sports."
Greg Hughes co-started Polo Cam in 2004. As organizers have done with bull riding, Hughes sees polo as an extreme sport which should be showcased appropriately. "If we can show it in that way – as an extreme sport – people will notice it.”
The stumbling block has been polo’s image: not merely white-collar, but upper-crust. In the UK, royalty plays polo. In the U.S., it’s a sport followed by the wealthy, and definitely not as much by the middle class. In fact, the average person would be hard-pressed to find polo results in any mainstream media.
But Hughes believes that as more viewers see the sport, the more the impression of it will change, and with it, the demand for coverage. He also sees it becoming something for the larger population.
"We're now entering a phase where it's being brought to the world and it's not just something for old families with money, something to do on a Sunday afternoon. It's something everybody can do. “
David Woodd, CEO of the Hurlingham Polo Association told The Telegraph that “streaming really helped” polo in the 2016 season. So there is backing for it from the sport’s governing body.
But bringing polo into a new millennium, say organizers, is going to take an all-out effort, of which drones are only one part of the puzzle. Hughes says that it is essential to bring the sport down to the level of the people across the spectrum of viewers. And that, he adds, could lead to corporate sponsorship of teams. There also needs to be affordable polo academies and clinics that can teach the skills that will ultimately create new polo players at all levels.
And with increased awareness comes increased demand. And that, say organizers, could lead to the inclusion of polo as an Olympic sport in future years.