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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Luxury brands target the polo set
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Guards Polo Club, Surrey

HRH Prince Harry
Prince Harry will play in Sunday's match

Enter the grounds of Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park, part of the 14,000-acre Windsor Estate, and you enter a different world.

A long drive through what the club describes as "ancient woods where Edward the Confessor hunted wild boar and parkland laid out by King Charles II" brings you to Smith's Lawn, home to the Queen's Cup Draw.

Regarded by many as polo's equivalent to Wimbledon's Centre Court, Guards is also home to Sunday's Cartier International Day, which the club describes as "one of the highlights of the English social calendar".

The event will enable spectators to see HRH Prince Harry in action on Smith's Lawn, before he presents the Coronation Cup to the winner of a match between England and New Zealand.

Just the kind of audience that will give luxury goods companies plenty of scope to align their brands with what the club's chief executive, Charles Stisted, describes as "the upper quartile of banking and the upper quartile of lifestyle".

The right company

Polo matches tend to attract wealthy people, and audience numbers at Cartier day have risen sharply from 20,000 in 1995 to more than 25,000.

Guards Polo Club's chief executive, Charles Stisted
Polo is a fantastic leveller... however many polo ponies you might own, there will always be someone who has more than you
Charles Stisted


Sponsorship is the obvious way to get in on the act. The German car maker Audi sponsors the club itself, the French jeweller and watchmaker Cartier sponsors Sunday's event, to name just a couple of the sponsors.

Other companies will be dipping into this world simply by buying corporate entertainment packages.

For 345 a head, they can treat their business associates to a champagne-fuelled day spent in The Smith's Lawn Enclosure, complete with reserved grandstand seats.

"It's all about the company you keep, who you're rubbing shoulders with," says Mr Stisted.

Polo first

Guards' corporate backers cover about a third of the cost of running the club and paying the salaries of its 25 grooms, nine groundsmen and 15 office workers, as well as the upkeep of the club's 3,000 accredited polo ponies.

Chelsy Davy, friend of Prince Harry; Zara Phillips and Kate Middleton, girlfriend of Prince William at a polo match in Wiltshire
The world of polo gives punters the chance to meet royals and celebs

The remainder is raised from associated businesses and events, and through membership fees paid by its 200 playing and 1,000 non-playing members.

Polo remains a pretty expensive sport, so many of the players are very wealthy, observes Mr Stisted.

"You've got to make money to take time off to play," he says.

But the club is nevertheless run as a business.

"You've got to combine the passion with the business to then enjoy the passion."

Polo comes first

So although Sunday's event is likely to turn into a spectacular lineup of royalty and celebrities, bankers and wannabes, Mr Stisted still believes that "the great thing about polo is that it is a completely diverse group of people in the sport".

Guards Polo Club
Polo is more important than glamour at Guards

"There's far more inverted snobbery here than everywhere else. When you look at the cars parked here, there are as many Minis as there are Ferraris," he says.

At times the opposite is the case, with just as many Ferraris as there are Minis, he concedes, but this is not the point.

Guards is not a good place to show off ostentatious wealth, Mr Stisted insists.

"Polo is a fantastic leveller. However many polo ponies you might own, there will always be someone who has more than you."

On a non-event day there is nothing grand about the Smith's Lawn grandstand and the Royal Box.

The Guards club house itself, which houses a restaurant and some offices, is a functional and honest construction, similar to the kind of building you might find at a municipal golf club.

It sends out a clear signal, Mr Stisted insists, that Guards is about polo first - and glamour second.

"We must not upset the sport," he says.

"We won't be having wine tasting events here. It has to be about polo."


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