Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — Innovation and omnichannel strategy are the drivers to success for USPA Global Licensing Inc., the subsidiary of the United States Polo Association (USPA), and the worldwide licensor of the U.S. Polo Assn. brand, according to J. Michael Prince, its president and CEO. Amid pandemic challenges, the global company was able to pivot and adapt to not only bring world-class polo to Palm Beach County but also to grow its multi-billion dollar global brand, he told Invest:.
What were the strategies your organization implemented to manage this unprecedented period for the sports industry?
Let’s start by putting the business in perspective. U.S. Polo Assn. is the fifth-largest global sports licensor in the world, just behind the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. We have 1,100 retail stores worldwide that span more than 180 countries. We also have 6 million social media followers around the world, and 30 brand websites in 15 different languages.
With regard to the pandemic, we had to look at operations not only from a sporting perspective but from a global business perspective as one of the world’s largest sport-inspired brands. On the business side, we said something’s coming, let’s get ready for it. We were one of the first businesses in South Florida to start working remotely. We decided to get in front of what we knew was coming and keep everyone safe because there were so many variables at that time. We got everyone set up from an IT perspective so our teams could stay productive and efficient. I’m proud to say that in the last 16 months, not one person has been laid off, and not one person has taken a salary cut. We kept everyone’s jobs stable, and we also hired several new people across the organization.
From the sports perspective, we unfortunately had a lot of events canceled in 2020 and our polo season here at the International Polo Club (IPC) was cut short. We shut everything down for a limited period to keep the players, staff and fans safe, and during that time we reset. On the return, we had a very successful 2021 high season here in Palm Beach County with polo being the country’s most prestigious event series. We concluded the high season with our U.S. Open Polo Championship® in front of a global television audience of 6.5 million viewers worldwide. So, it was a sport reset, and a business reset. We were very strategic and opportunistic in thinking through the challenges.
How has demand for your services changed and what trends are you preparing for?
What became most important was digital, e-commerce and innovation. We were already on an aggressive innovation and digital journey, but we accelerated over last year, going from a handful of websites to 30 global websites in 15 different languages in a matter of 12 months. We built our social media following to more than 6 million and we continued working on our omnichannel approach between stores and our online business.
How have communication tools helped to promote Palm Beach County as a national destination for equestrian sports?
In partnership with the United States Polo association (USPA), also based in Palm Beach County, and IPC where we have the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1, we consistently promote the fact that we are based in Palm Beach County. With our global polo broadcast reaching some 6.5 million viewers worldwide, we work with Palm Beach County to place commercials for the county and the state of Florida into that broadcast. We include promotions of Palm Beach County in our live stream events as well. It’s important to tell consumers and sports fans that Palm Beach County is our brand and our sport home base.
On a more personal note, I believe Palm Beach County is one of the most wonderful places to work, offering a great quality of life for families and professionals, lots of outdoor activities, and the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.
What is the impact of polo events on the local economy of Palm Beach County?
The impact of equestrian sports on Palm Beach County is in the hundreds of millions of dollars that is spent here every season. Equestrian sports create jobs for the teams, the staff, athletes, etc. You also have the impact in dollars spent at hotels, Airbnb’s, restaurants, shopping and transportation. From November until the end of April of every year, Palm Beach County is the equestrian capital of the world. The Europeans come, visitors from Latin America, and the Northeast, as we are the epicenter for all things equestrian for five to six months. Many in the equestrian world also have homes and real estate here, including many horse farms. There’s a tremendous impact from a real estate perspective and the spending that continues to grow in the region.
What is your outlook for your brand and the sports industry in Palm Beach County?
Our outlook today, despite the many challenges we all face, is quite positive. We continue to pivot in ways that strengthen the business and build the U.S. Polo Assn. brand, including supporting our global partners, and focusing on brick and mortar as well as digital innovation.
In terms of the sport, we continue to focus on bringing the best players and their equine partners to Palm Beach County for the benefit of the sport, the fans and the county overall. We also have some exciting, first-time global events coming in 2022 that will drive tremendous regional and international traffic here to Palm Beach County. This includes hosting the FIP World Polo Championship in 2022. FIP, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, hosts this event every several years and is polo’s equivalent of the World Cup of soccer, with 25 to 30 countries participating. This event will draw global media and fans and garner international and global recognition not only for the sport and our U.S. Polo Assn. brand but also for the county. This is something that makes us very proud, and we can’t wait!
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