The U.S. Polo Association launched its OTT service earlier this year determined to monetize live-action and increase its knowledge of the co-ed sport’s fan base.
Global Polo TV features highlight shows and broadcasts more than 130 matches in the U.S. Roughly 1,000 hours of lifestyle fashion and short film content is also available to fans on the service.
The OTT product is operated by Global Polo Entertainment – a division of USPA Global Licensing, which is the national broadcaster and licensing arm of the USPA. The latter is the official sanctioning body of polo in America.
More than 4,000 subscribers in over 70 countries have signed up for Global Polo TV since launching on January 7, according to the company. Subscriptions to GPTV are free for consumers.
“We are still diving into viewership to fully determine who is watching what,” Shannon Stilson, assistant vice president of marketing at USPA Global Licensing, said. “One thing that sticks out to us already is fans are coming back to watch highlights and games on demand, which is not inconsistent with the broader streaming industry.”
Before launching the OTT platform, the USPA live-streamed polo matches on its website – in addition to its social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The organization averaged 800,000 unique viewers per year combined on those platforms.
To stream matches on GPTV, the organization leverages its in-house production team of a dozen staff members. USPA matches are also broadcast by CBS in the U.S., EuroSports in Europe, and DSport in India.
“This comes down to retraining the consumer on how to watch our content,” Stilson said. “We provided, as a paid-member benefit, free streaming to USPA matches prior to GPTV, which was a huge cost to the association.”
Just a handful of events into the season, the USPA is looking to grow interest in the OTT service from corporate sponsors. Market interest so far has been limited to regional advertisers.
“Most people look at polo as Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman,’ but these are athletes running 35 miles per hour on horseback while holding a mallet and whip,” Stilson said. “As we grow subscriptions, that will also grow the attention from national corporations.”
The USPA is banking a majority of those subscribers will come from avid fans of its retail brand – not to be confused with Ralph Lauren – which has more than 4 million followers on social media, predominantly on Facebook and Instagram.
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The trick there is to create content for casual fans without alienating existing supporters. Stilson likens it to NASCAR’s efforts to grow the sports fan base over the last decade.
Marquee events like the Gauntlet of Polo – a three-part, three-month competition featuring the C.V. Whitney Cup, Gold Cup, and U.S. Open Polo Championships – concludes on April 19 and are also expected to raise fan interest in the sport.
The competition, played annually in Palm Beach, Fla., attracts the biggest players from around the world before top athletes move on to other events in England and Argentina that are not sanctioned by the USPA. This is the second year the Gauntlet of Polo will take place, offering teams up to $1 million in prizes. The USPA has existed since 1890.
“What’s interesting is we see great synergy between market interest in our brand and the polo fan base,” Stilson said. “We have to create content for both.”