The 2024 polo season draws a lot of attention, and the United States Polo Association shared its plans and insights. In this interview with CLICKPOLOUSA, the USPA discussed the upcoming season at the National Polo Center (NPC) in Wellington, Florida. Central to the talk is the famous Gauntlet of Polo, a tournament that has captured the imagination of many.
“What the USPA and the National Polo Center - Wellington have successfully created with the Gauntlet of Polo is an unparalleled combination of tradition and intensity.”
The conversation follows the Association's release of the 2024 season schedule, which includes events like the U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship and the NPC 16-Goal Championship, with the Gauntlet of Polo taking center stage.
Learn more about the story of the tournaments, the USPA's approach to boosting online engagement and its efforts to promote the sport's growth. Important programs like travel stipends and the focus on partnerships also provides a glimpse of what is to come in the 2024 polo season.
The Gauntlet of Polo is the highlight of the 2024 NPC season. Why has it become such a centerpiece, not only in America but the world?
What the USPA and the National Polo Center - Wellington have successfully created with the Gauntlet of Polo is an unparalleled combination of tradition and intensity. The series has seamlessly blended the storied heritage of the three most coveted American trophies with a contemporary competitive edge, which attracts both seasoned enthusiasts and new spectators. The Gauntlet draws the best high-goal players and top polo ponies from around the world, who travel to Wellington, Florida, every winter to compete. The Gauntlet’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it comprises three distinct stages, each building on the last, creating a captivating narrative that unfolds throughout the winter season. Only one team in history has captured the series! Teams have to possess, manage and maintain top-tier strings of horses to sustain the three-month competition. It takes excellence to stay at the top of your game for that sustained period of time and it forces teams to rely on their organizations of managers, grooms, veterinarians, farriers, coaches and trainers.
How do the three stages of the Gauntlet differ and how do they build on each other to create a captivating narrative across the season?
The C.V. Whitney Cup, which runs for three weeks in February (February 9-25), is the first stage in the Gauntlet and sets the tone. It serves as an initial test of skill and strategy and separates the serious contenders from the rest. The second stage, the USPA Gold Cup, also starts in February (February 23 - March 24) and narrows the field further. This is where the competition intensifies and the stakes grow higher; if the team who won the C.V. Whitney Cup wins the USPA Gold Cup, the season boasts a Gauntlet contender. It adds intrigue to the series and can be a pivotal moment in the NPC season.
The U.S. Open Polo Championship, starting March 22 and ending on April 21, serves as the Gauntlet’s apex and is the most coveted title in American polo. The high-goal tournament is steeped in history dating back to 1904. Winning the U.S. Open Polo Championship is a career milestone for players; for many, it takes years of dedication to reach this level of play. The only team to have won all three stages of the Gauntlet is Pilot, who took home the championship title in its inaugural year–2019.
The Continental Cup is kicking off the season on New Year's Eve. What kind of atmosphere can spectators expect?
The Continental Cup promises an electric atmosphere for spectators and a unique New Year’s celebration. It will combine the festive spirit of the holiday season with the thrill of world-class polo. Spectators can expect a dynamic blend of sport and celebration, as teams vie for the early-season title. The Continental Cup is also the start of the NPC 16-Goal Championship and serves as the season opener on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One. What better way to kick off the New Year!
“Employing a multi-faceted media strategy that includes digital content on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Threads and X allows both the USPA and NPC the opportunity to engage with followers during matches, adding value to the fan experience.”
Some tournaments will be livestreamed on uspolo.org and USPA social media channels. What’s the strategy to increase online engagement?
The goal of the USPA Polo Network and livestreamed tournaments on uspolo.org and USPA social media channels is to increase accessibility and make polo available to a broader audience. The platform successfully increased unique viewers by 103% increase over 2022. Employing a multi-faceted media strategy that includes digital content on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Threads and X allows both the USPA and NPC the opportunity to engage with followers during matches, adding value to the fan experience. The Association’s YouTube channel, which also livestreams tournaments, features additional polo coverage through player interviews, expert commentary and behind-the-scenes content. Providing inside access from multiple sources allows fans to follow the action anywhere they go, fostering a stronger sense of community within the sport.
This will be the NPC 16-Goal Championship's second edition. Could you talk more about the format and what makes it unique?
The unique format of the NPC 16-Goal Championship provides a competitive platform for emerging talents and medium-goal teams to qualify for the championship by winning one of four qualifiers: the Joe Barry Memorial, Ylvisaker Cup, Iglehart Cup and Continental Cup. Last season, Iconica won the first three qualifiers and eventually the inaugural championship, ending their season with a 16-1 record. Iconica’s success story serves as an ideal and the reason why the USPA Tournament Committee created the series. It is extremely beneficial to offer medium-goal competition on a meaningful stage. The USPA is committed to inclusivity and available competition for a wide range of players that includes the opportunity to be showcased at the National Polo Center.
For some tournaments, the USPA is offering travel stipends to teams. How important are initiatives like these?
Initiatives like the travel stipend underscore the USPA's dedication to fostering participation in polo. They reduce financial barriers and promote diversity within the sport, attracting teams from various backgrounds and locations. It is important to elevate the level of competition while promoting representation from clubs nationwide to develop a true national tournament. It can be difficult for many teams to travel away from their home club which limits competition, and this travel stipend offers incentive to travel and play against teams that may otherwise never be seen. It also gives players from around the country a chance to enter a tournament at NPC. Initiatives like this, the National President's Cup and the NPC 16-Goal series involve many different clubs and highlight different players, ensuring a more comprehensive representation of polo talent. They also offer stepping stones for 8-goal teams to move up to 12-16 goal and for 16-goal teams to move up to the 22-goal level.
Are there any key partnerships that you would like to highlight which have been instrumental in organizing the 2024 season?
Collaborations with corporate sponsors such as the U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of the USPA, and other supporters have bolstered the Gauntlet of Polo's appeal. These critical partnerships from brands, media outlets and polo clubs worldwide extend the reach and increase fans of the sport.
“Since 1890, the USPA has been committed to fostering the growth of polo. The organization is actively developing initiatives that will further facilitate the sport’s expansion, including youth polo programs, more educational resources and new NPC facility upgrades.”
Are there any future developments or projects that you would like to share related to the growth of the sport or the USPA?
Since 1890, the USPA has been committed to fostering the growth of polo. The organization is actively developing initiatives that will further facilitate the sport’s expansion, including youth polo programs, more educational resources and new NPC facility upgrades. The Association and NPC aim to attract new enthusiasts while continuing the tradition of excellence that has made polo a beloved sport for generations. Our goal is to ensure that the National Polo Center remains at the forefront of the polo world, offering unparalleled experiences for players and fans alike.