Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships ignites new passion for the Sport of Kings

American polo legend Mike Azzaro will be one of the featured players at the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships held next month at WestWorld of Scottsdale. (Submitted photo)

Exceeding expectations and shattering perceptions of how to market one of the most prestigious spectacles anywhere on planet Earth the 7th Annual Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships returns to WestWorld of Scottsdale Saturday, Nov. 11.

Expanding to two full days is an exhibition of the Sport of Kings as the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships brings the flair of affluence and offers its aromas, its sights and its sounds to be experienced by both aficionado and the curious.

Thousands are expected to descend upon WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, the second weekend of November to experience the spectacle that is combining greasy fingers and champagne flutes —- both figuratively and literally.

“Absolutely, yes,” is how co-founder Jason Rose responded to if the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships has exceeded even his expectations in terms of revenue generated and audiences attracted.

Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships co-founder Jason Rose

“It’s pretty cool that after six years the captain of the Wales Polo Team, which is one of the most prestigious polo clubs of history, is now calling your event the best polo event of the year — that is some exciting stuff. We are always looking to experiment, we are trying to bring something new and exciting every year.”

All promotions aside, this year’s Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships features an American polo legend as Mike Azzaro will lead the Aspen Valley Polo Club as it defends the Molina Cup against the Monte-Carlo Polo Club at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11.

Inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2013, Mr. Azzaro held the sport’s top ranking of 10 goals in 1994 for 14 years and he has won seven U.S. Championships, third most of any players.

He also won three Silver Cups, Butler Handicap, Iglehart and World Cup. Recently, Mr. Azzaro made his debut at Aspen Valley Polo Club, which is owned by Marc and Melissa Ganzi.

With top-tier polo talent, the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships is slowly rising among the ranks of places to be upon the world stage of the sport, Mr. Rose points out.

“We are excited to have a Hall of Fame player for the first time this year,” he said. “We are fortunate, the event has been very successful and it has made it’s mark on polo. We have also had a few real key sponsors who said, ‘we will take a chance on you, we believe in you.’”

Highlighted new elements this year include a live performance by the Phoenix Opera, live Shakespeare and new VIP tents complimenting Polo Party favorites including:

  • The Canine Couture Dog Fashion Show;
  • The World’s “Longest” Catwalk Fashion Show;
  • An exclusive preview of the 2018 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction; and
  • An exclusive preview of the 2018 Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.

At this year’s event, the food and entertainment offerings have expanded as Mr. Rose outlined several partnerships including new relationships with longtime Valley staple Sandbar Mexican Grill, acclaimed chef  Michael DeMaria, Church Alive! and Bottled Blonde, the Southwest Shakespeare Company and the Phoenix Opera Company.

“A couple of years ago while traveling in the American south I encountered a pop-up restaurant bringing together fried chicken and champagne — a pop-up restaurant focused on that!” he said pointing out his excitement for the inaugural Fried & Fizzy offering from Chef DeMaria.

Complete with a strong-arm contest where contestants have to be wearing top hats and ties to try their odds against arm-wrestling champion Travis Bagent and Red Bull skydivers kicking off the field of play, Mr. Rose says the spectacle is worth the cost of admission.

“This is not your grandma’s polo event — for that you can go to Palm Springs,” Mr. Rose quipped. “We are bringing in new people to the sport: no matter if you are poor, rich, black, white, gay, straight or anything in between this is an event to attend.”

Alongside local dignitaries will be a notable first drop — similar to the first pitch of a baseball game — as Arizona Cardinals Running Back David Johnson and Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch will have the honor of starting two feature matches.

Polo revelers at last year’s event that showcased beautiful people and automobiles.

Polo anyone?

This year’s Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championship lineup on Saturday, Nov. 11 features Santa Barbara vs. Polo Azteca, Seattle vs. Arizona Polo Club — and the reigning champions — the Aspen Valley Polo Club vs. the Monte Carlo Polo Team.

Melissa Ganzi

Saturday will be finished with the second annual Women’s Sunset Polo Match while late Sunday morning the event continues with The Brunch, which is sponsored by Scottsdale Maserati and following it will be the Battle of The Sexes Match, followed by St. Moritz Switzerland vs. Clogau Wales Polo Team.

The Aspen Valley Club, which is led by Melissa Ganzi, will feature another notable player this November: Ashley Busch.

Mrs. Busch, the wife of NASCAR drive Kurt Busch, was named Most Valuable Player after her team, Altair Polo, won the May 2015 8-Goal Spring Challenge Tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club. She scored four goals and was one of the most dominant players on the field.

“I am really excited to come back and defend the title,” said Mrs. Ganzi in an Oct. 16 phone interview of the Molina Cup. “I find the crowd in Scottsdale to be a very enthusiastic crowd. The sponsors and the key people of the event who have been involved since the beginning — I look forward to seeing our Scottsdale family.”

Ms. Ganzi explains her love affair for both polo and equestrian sports has been a deep connection for her and she hopes one day both her son and daughter join her on the Scottsdale pitch.

“Horses have always been a big part of my life,” she said. “I used to compete as a child and really grew up around horses. Polo has enriched my life — my whole family plays. Who knows? Maybe one day my son or daughter might play in Scottsdale for the Molina Cup.”

Mrs. Ganzi points out what a treat it has been to play alongside one of the great American polo players of her generation: Mike Azzaro.

“Mike is a Hall of Fame player and he is somebody who is apart of his own polo legacy and has made his mark on the game. He is very competitive and I think it will be fun for him to visit Scottsdale for the first time,” she said, noting Mrs. Busch will also be joining the pitch.

Ashley Busch

“My team will also be joined by Ashley Busch. Ashley and I played together before. Absolutely, we are bringing world-class polo to Scottsdale. To even play polo at this level you need to be an accomplished player and rider.”

Mrs. Ganzi has won several championships and, according to published news reports, has made history when she helped set a world record for the most consecutive chukkers played, 32, in a benefit for the Wounded Warriors project. And, she is credited as being the first female player to win The USPA Monty Waterbury Cup.

Mr. Azzaro says he is looking forward to playing in Scottsdale and experiencing the spectacle first-hand.
“She has bragged about it and Melissa has told me what a great event it is,” Mr. Azzaro said in an Oct. 17 phone interview.

“Normally in the fall, I will take it off but for this event, I am coming. Normally what I do on a professional basis is playing against the best players in the world. In competitions for prestigious tournaments that have been played for more than 100 years — hopefully, this event will grow into something like that.”

The Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships will also be observing the recent passing of Sunset “Sunny” Hale, the first woman in polo history to win the U.S. Open and one of the first iconic players to join The Polo Party.

Polo partygoers at last year’s end-of-the-event concert that this year is featuring a unique blend of classical sounds with 21st Century bravado.

A new audience perception

Mr. Rose says finding a sponsor in the U.S. Polo Assn. was a bit of a feather in the cap.

“To receive that phone call I felt like that was vindication for the event,” he said when asked about the new interest from the governing body of United States polo.

“We partnered with the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships because it’s the perfect platform to highlight the brand’s authentic connection to the sport of polo in the United States and globally,” said Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at USPA Global Licensing Inc. Mathew McCartin in an Oct. 18 statement to the Independent.

“As the official brand of the USPA, the governing body of the sport of polo in the United States since 1890, it’s our goal to build the connection between the sport and the brand globally through broadcasts and influencer marketing. This event is the perfect combination of sport and fashion for fans, including polo matches Saturday and Sunday, as well as the longest catwalk hosted by Phoenix Fashion Week and presented by the U.S. Polo Assn.”

Mr. McCartin says the sport of polo is enjoyed by more than just the affluent.

“The sport of polo is played by many different groups of people, including collegiate, middle and high school, and women and men of all ages,” he said. “In fact, the current membership is 37 percent women and the largest membership groups by age ranges are 11-20 years of age and 41-50 years of age.

The Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships are an avenue to a broader audience, Mr. McCartin stated.

“The Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships provides the sport of polo the opportunity to showcase the accessibility and excitement of the game and lifestyle,” he explained.

“Accessing nearing 10,000 fans per day offers both the sport — USPA — and the brand — U.S. Polo Assn. — the ability to correct many misperceptions about the game, which is neither elite nor stuffy. Digital content developed around this event will be shared with the brand’s 49 U.S. Polo Assn. licensees in over 150 countries. In fact, we believe part of our role at U.S. Polo Assn. is to bring the sport of polo to the world.”

Rachel Sacco

Experience Scottsdale President and CEO Rachel Sacco also sees the worldwide brand potential of the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships.

“Like we do with all of our special events, we promote the Scottsdale Polo Championships to visitors in a variety of ways, from marketing to public relations. We’ve included the Scottsdale Polo Championships in our online and printed Calendar of Events and in our August email blast to leisure visitors,” she said in an Oct. 17 statement to the Independent.

“We’ll also be promoting the championships more and more across our social media channels as the event draws closer.”

Mrs. Sacco points out The Polo Party comes to the Valley of the Sun at just the right time.

“The Scottsdale Polo Championships returns each year in October or November, which is a need period for the local tourism industry,” she explained. “Any event like the Championships that generates excitement and attendance this time of year can help grow visitation at a time when hotels and resorts need a boost in occupancy. The Championships adds to the cachet of Scottsdale because it is a luxury lifestyle event that showcases many great aspects of our community, including equestrian, arts and culture, fashion, dining and more.”

A view of The Polo Party that erupts following championship play. (Submitted photo)

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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