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  • Henri de By


The squeeze is on. Notwithstanding the recent snow, most of us are bringing our horses in to get them fit in time for the UK polo season. However, it is not just the weather that makes for a rather chilly beginning. Polo in the UK is faced with a shrinking number of patrons.

According to the HPA, last season a whopping 20 percent of players with a handicap of 1-goal or less dropped out of polo. A trend many fear will continue this year.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to make up for lost revenue, some clubs, already last season, started the ill-advised practice of charging a separate fee for each match of a tournament. A transparent trick designed to slip through an, often outsized, increase in tournament fees.

The argument that this fee-per- match would be fairer to those who do not qualify for semis or a final seems claptrap. Almost without fail, the qualifying games alone turn out more costly than the previous all-in- one fee for the entire tournament. Besides, in the large majority of UK clubs, tournaments tend to exist of two matches played by each team over a single weekend. In those cases, the fee to be paid for each single game approaches if not equals the previous complete tournament fee, resulting in an overall fee increase of up to 100 percent.

Of course, it is difficult for clubs to operate in the face of shrinking revenue due to patrons leaving polo. Nonetheless, increasing prices when faced with a dwindling number of clients is a sure way to throw your business into a death-spiral; even more clients will leave while new ones stay away. It is a matter of simple economics.

So, let’s beware of dabbling in what could be called polonomics: that habit to think that the word polo, by itself, justifies any price increase. It might work when embroidering it on baseball caps and fleeces. Nonetheless, when it comes to tournament fees, such disproportionate mark-ups will ultimately be counterproductive. Even low-goal patrons — who account for 95% of all polo played in the UK —already spend amounts of money on their hobby that to most non-polo people would be astounding. The exodus of these patrons will not be slowed down — let alone be stopped or reversed — if those that remain feel they are being fleeced to make up for the loss of patrons who have already left.

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