Image from the “Living the Dream” contest most recently held here at Lancasterpolo.
Is Sponsorship the Only Way?
The bike polo Illuminati spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to decide if indeed bike polo is in the decline (I don’t think it is) and what we can do to reverse that trend if it proves to be accurate (which it’s not). Still, even if you’re only mildly involved in the game, chances are you have some sort of interest in where the sport is going and how that’s going to affect you down the line.
One of the refrains I hear more often than not is “wait until we get our first big sponsor.” And, no doubt, if Gatorade or Nike or Adidas wanted to throw a few thousand dollars at the NAH each year, we’d see some significant changes to how much support clubs got in order to host tourneys and build courts and whatever else. But throwing money at something isn’t always the best way to fix it. I know this as a fact, as I recently tried throwing my wallet at a leaking faucet and all I got was a wet wallet. (Thanks, Obama.)
But as true as that sounds–that getting a big chunk of dough will help our sport–I believe there is a more effective way to:
- Gain a steady stream of new players for all clubs
- Establish the sport as marketable/profitable
- Create a community that is unified and vibrant
Look to the Gym Class
And it comes down to introducing grade-schools to the sport, and encouraging them, in turn, to introduce bike polo as a extra-curricular activity/gym class event.
Why is this a good idea? Well, let’s start with the basics: the more people we have getting involved in bike polo, the more likely it is that the sport will live beyond the first big wave we have going right now. People who learn to play a sport earlier in life are likely to develop a certain enjoyment from it, and typically continue to play that sport into college (or at least play it on the weekends with friends to stay in shape after college and what-not). Furthermore we’d be institutionalizing the game itself, making for a set way of learning the sport and having it be available to more people than just those who stumble into the game through luck.
This model (the school focus rather than sponsor focus) also gives bike polo equipment manufacturers something that they’re dying for: bulk orders. Imagine if a school–just one–needed to begin this sort of program up. They’d need to order dozens of complete mallets, dozens of various sized bikes (or at least bikes that could suit all body types–I remember how fun it was to be the only guy who needed the smallest golf club in gym class), and safety equipment to boot. Even if just a few companies were able to lock down those orders, the impact on their ability to research and develop more equipment (not to mention offer it up at a cheaper price) would be monumental.
When I first started playing lacrosse in high school, there were rarely dedicated lacrosse fields. Now they are everywhere simply because the sport caught on. I see bike polo as going the same way if introduced into schools: eventually it won’t be uncommon to see schools either create multi-use spaces for street hockey and bike polo or they will create deals with local roller hockey rinks for use–creating that much needed name-to-trust that bike polo players rarely have when negotiating with roller rinks.
Awareness and Dedication
Bike polo in school wouldn’t be exactly like bike polo in the wild of course–but what sport is? The point of any sport you experience in gym class is to get your body moving and to figure out if you have any real skill at it at all. Naturally this could lead to a school league of bike polo (where teams get together from high schools and compete, etc), but let’s start with getting it to be a gym class activity first.
Okay: so we have bike polo in schools, now. What happens next? A few things, I think. Since bike polo companies are now making money (and the sport itself is becoming recognizable), larger companies are going to want a piece of the action–at least a bigger piece than what they’ve been willing to go for so far. High school sports are big business, and if bike polo takes root, you can bet that the NAH and the qualifying series will see a lot more interest and cash flow.
This means that the NAH might even be able to, after a period of years (thinking big picture, now) be able to go full-time, especially if they require all of these new bike polo enthusiasts to get a license to play in the qualifying series. Money means power, particularly in creating the necessary foundation to make something that isn’t just held together by tenacity and a willingness to accept “good enough” work.
So I say it’s a long shot–a real long shot–but not impossible. If we as a community decide that the aim shouldn’t be sponsorship at first, but rather making the game more widespread via public schools, we might really make a huge impact on how much bike polo grows.