Polo event adds to Scotts­dale tourism

Bent­ley Cham­pi­onships take place at West­World

The Arizona Republic - - Business - Russ Wiles

The Val­ley’s tourist sea­son doesn’t start in earnest un­til win­ter, but the sched­ule is grad­u­ally ex­tend­ing. Next up: the Bent­ley Scotts­dale Polo Cham­pi­onships, which comes to West­World on Sat­ur­day and Sun­day.

Now in its eighth year, the eques­trian event has found a spot on the Val­ley’s so­cial scene and is a grow­ing con­trib­u­tor to the area’s tourism in­dus­try, boost­ing en­thu­si­asm lead­ing into the tra­di­tional in­flux of win­ter vis­i­tors.

“It comes at a good time, when we have ca­pac­ity for more vis­i­tors,” said Rachel Sacco, pres­i­dent and CEO of Ex­pe­ri­ence Scotts­dale, a mar­ket­ing com­pany for the city.

The event leads into the high sea­son that in­cludes the Bar­rett-Jack­son col­lec­tor-car auc­tion in mid-Jan­uary, the Waste Man­age­ment Phoenix Open golf tour­na­ment start­ing at the end of Jan­uary, and the Scotts­dale Ara­bian Horse Show in Fe­bru­ary.

No­vem­ber isn’t an es­pe­cially prom­i­nent tourist month — and most vis­i­tors to the Polo Cham­pi­onships likely will come from metro Phoenix — but the event co­in­cides with in­creas­ingly grim weather in many other parts of the coun­try.

Polo matches from the event will be taped for Fox Sports af­fil­i­ates around the na­tion, pro­vid­ing a pos­si­ble lure to out-of-town guests.

“Our goal is to make Scotts­dale a year-round vis­i­tor des­ti­na­tion,” Sacco said.

An­other move with that aim in mind was switch­ing Canal Con­ver­gence from Fe­bru­ary to No­vem­ber.

This event fea­tures 10 days of art ex­hibits, work­shops, live en­ter­tain­ment and other ac­tiv­i­ties near Scotts­dale Fash­ion Square. The free event be­gins Nov. 9.

Ja­son Rose, founder of the Polo Cham­pi­onships, ex­pects more than 13,000 peo­ple will show up over the two days that will fea­ture six polo matches, an Ara­bian horse show, clas­sic-car view­ing, a rugby match, a hu­man fash­ion show, a dog fash­ion show and per­for­mances by mem­bers of the Phoenix Sym­phony, Ari­zona Opera, Phoenix The­atre and the Phoenix Boys Choir. Last year’s event in­cluded a land­ing by sky­divers.

“Our goal is to give peo­ple the un­ex­pected at a sport­ing event,” Rose said.

Bar­rett-Jack­son, one of the found­ing spon­sors of the Polo Cham­pi­onships, will have a tent there.

“It gives us a chance to spend time with cus­tomers and spon­sors and en­ter­tain them,” said Craig Jack­son, the com­pany’s chair­man and CEO.

Rose didn’t pro­vide fi­nan­cial fig­ures for the event, but he said it’s prof­itable and has a bud­get near­ing $1 mil­lion.

This year’s event will fea­ture 10 teams from out­side Mari­copa County, from places as di­verse as Italy, Wales and Malaysia, and two lo­cal clubs. That con­trasts with the first year, when only one lo­cal team showed up — and played against it­self.

“We es­ti­mate 20 per­cent of the crowd is com­ing from out­side Mari­copa County and 10 to 12 per­cent from out­side Ari­zona,” said Rose, bas­ing that on ZIP codes as­so­ci­ated with on­line ticket sales.

Rose said he even­tu­ally hopes to lure two of the world’s big­gest polo-play­ing celebri­ties — princes Wil­liam and Harry.

“We have made a for­mal re­quest” for a visit by ei­ther brother in 2019, said Rose, who over­sees the event through his pub­lic re­la­tions firm, Rose+Moser+Al­lyn. “Our ul­ti­mate goal is to host a visit by the roy­als.”

Even if Wil­liam and Harry don’t show, the event al­ready fea­tures an in­ter­na­tional ar­ray of polo en­thu­si­asts. One of the world’s most fa­mous play­ers, for­mer pro­fes­sional model Na­cho Figueras from polo-happy Ar­gentina, will par­tic­i­pate this month.

“I re­ally en­joy rais­ing the aware­ness of the sport,” Figueras said in an email. “I love what I do and I made it a mis­sion of mine to make more peo­ple ex­posed to polo.”

Play­ers from other states and coun­tries are fly­ing in for the event, but their equine part­ners are stay­ing home. Par­tic­i­pants will rent horses for matches, mostly re­ly­ing on ranches in Ari­zona and the Palm Springs area, Rose said.

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