Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 13:43 UK

Cartier maintains polo momentum

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Guards Polo Club

Arnaud Bamberger, managing director, Cartier UK
This year's event is perhaps a bit less flashy than at other times
Arnaud Bamberger, Cartier

With 35 chefs working out of a tent in a field, serving hot food for 700 celebrities, you might expect some noise.

Instead there is a hushed silence, punctuated by quietly spoken commands, as Anton Mosimann and his chefs display their artistry preparing lunch.

"It is all calm. No shouting, no screaming," Mr Mossiman whispers earnestly. "If you're good you don't have to shout."

With some 20,000 spectators, Cartier International Day at Guards Polo Club is the largest, most glamorous event of the polo season.

And an invite to Cartier's own marquee, where Mr Mosimann plies his trade, is the hottest ticket.

This year marks the jeweller and watchmaker's 25th year as main sponsor, and the company remains committed to the exclusive event.

"I don't want to spend money just to spend money," says Arnaud Bamberger, managing director of Cartier UK, wary of recessionary pressures.

"But I do feel that when you have built up something over a number of years and it has legitimacy then I don't want to lose the momentum."

Hard hit

As celebrities and models sit down for lobster salad and beef with Cartier's wealthy customers, there is no mention of economic woes.

Anton Mosimann
If you're good you don't have to shout
Anton Mosimann

"Recession? What recession?" quips a 20-something model as she lights a cigarette after the meal. "In my world there is no recession."

Yet across the pitch, in the Royal Box, it is clear that the world of polo is far from immune from a downturn.

Some sponsors have "simply vanished", according to Charles Stisted, chief executive of Guards Polo Club. "They've gone belly up."

Focus on the sport

Though Cartier remains committed to sponsoring the event, Mr Bamberger too acknowledges that he is feeling the pinch.

England v Argentina, 26 July 2009
In order to grow, we have to create the market place
Charles Stisted, chief executive, Guards Polo Club

"People obviously are spending less," he says, so "this year's event is perhaps a bit less flashy than at other times. There may not be some things that we would have had in the past.

"But," he continues, " I don't mind that. I don't want to be too ostentatious.

"This year, at the 25th anniversary, I want to make sure the whole thing is re-centred on the sport.

"Every year it is England against another country, and this year it's England v Argentina, the country of polo, so this is a match between two of the best countries in the world."

Global market

As play gets underway, Mr Stisted agrees wholeheartedly that the event must always be about the sport.

Celebrities and Cartier customers mingle at the company's marquee.
Cartier remains committed to the annual event.

Following last year's extravagance, he stepped in to scale back the parties, halving the marquee from the London nightclub Chinawhite, and cutting down the Players & Grooms' enclosure.

"It just got a bit much," he says. "And then, when the recession hit I realised I would have had to cut back in any case."

Rather than growing the events and entertainment side of the business, Mr Stisted is doing what he can to grow the sport, and thus attract corporate backing.

"We've started looking abroad for our sponsorship," he says.

Three years ago, Guards set up a cup in Dubai, and it is assisting in the creation of polo clubs in Jordan, Morocco and Lebanon, as well as in Kazakhstan and China, arranging competitions and exhibition matches or training players and ponies.

"It is all about building bridges between countries," Mr Stisted says. "In order to grow, we have to create the market place."

Smaller events

Mr Stisted has also nimbly changed Guards' focus away from big, traditional events towards recession-beating non-publicised, small events.

Martin Valent of Argentina at the Cartier International Day 2009
With some 20,000 spectators, Cartier is the sport's largest event.

"It is a bit like mining for a vein of gold," he says. "There is always a vein."

A small event is "not that expensive, and it is what it is", says Mr Stisted.

Cartier's Mr Bamberger is making similar adjustments. "We want more customers to spend on smaller things," he says, hinting at the launch of more affordable products this autumn.

Still alive

Over in the stables, the grooms are busy brushing down the ponies after a match that saw Argentina take home the Coronation Cup after beating England 12-5.

Here, it is all about horsemanship and the skills of the players in a sport that is gaining popularity.

Recession or no recession, polo is not about to fade away, and neither will its sponsors.

Says Mr Bamberger: "We're still breathing, we're still alive."

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