Polo event adds to Scottsdale tourism
Bentley Championships take place at WestWorld
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.