Crush Polo – Why Isn’t Bike Polo on TV?
Behold Crush Polo, a new online column from Matt Kabik, editor of Lancaster Polo. Expect news, events, polo opinion, and player/manufacturer interviews to appear here throughout the year. For our first installment we have an editorial piece — Why Isn’t Bike Polo on TV?
I know none of you hipsters own TVs, but let’s just play around in theory here.
Bike polo has proven to be a healthy, growing, and popular sport with those who encounter it. In fact, it’s grown at such a steady rate that even my own club in little ol’ awesome Lancaster has a strong headcount on most nights for pickup.
Despite that, it seems like bike polo as a sport is still relatively unknown by people outside of it. Unlike Cheese Rolling or competitive caber tossing, nobody who isn’t playing or mistakenly involved with a polo player seems to have much of an idea of what hardcourt bike polo is. I mean, Microsoft Word tries to correct me when I write hardcourt – and if Microsoft doesn’t have my back, who will?!
Truth is, bike polo is very insular. Despite the natural alignment to bike lovers and to the miscreants that play, it doesn’t have much of a draw for the mainstream – not yet, at least.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t people inside of polo who are trying to make the sport a bit more far reaching than what it is. We North Americans have North American Hardcourt (lovingly the NAH) who consistently “legitimize” the sport and come up with a set of rules for players to point to, argue over, and ignore. The NAH represents one of the wings of bike polo players out there, the promoters who are trying like hell to get the sport recognized and blown up, as the cool kids say. These folks believe the future of bike polo is one where it’s a high school sport that kids can select instead of the embarrassing wrestling or altogether will-never-get-you-laid tennis options. They see going to a bar twenty years from now to watch the Beaverboyz 6.0 battle it out against the Plobber Clobitics on ESPN 2. I’m closer aligned to this group than I want to admit, I think, but these aren’t the only people pushing the buttons in the sport, of course.
The other group I want to bring up are what I like to call the…well I actually don’t’ have a name for them. The first thing that popped into my brain was the Anti-Federalists but I don’t know if that really works. Maybe the Anti-NAHs? The Nah-NAHs? Yeah, that’ll work.
So the Nah-NAHs are the folks who think that less regulation is good regulation, that there really shouldn’t be a single rule set, and that bringing in too many “outside” forces is going to ruin the game. They are more likely to throw tourneys that are self-regulated, full of booze, and pretty damned awesome to be part of if you’re looking for a good time. To this group, bike polo should remain somewhere closer to pick up: competitive without being important, skillful for the sake of skill and not for ranking, and rule number 1 (don’t be a dick) was pretty much the only solid rule to follow. While I might not always agree with this group, they make bike polo what it is, and I may or may not have a crush on them for that very reason.
An element that is helping decide the future of bike polo, for better or for worse, is the growth of bike polo companies. These are the folks who are creating bike polo specific products and goods that help solidify the legitimacy of the sport, in a way. As much as people want to disprove it, looking legitimate goes a long way to being considered legitimate, and that’s a hard fight for a sport that plays around with gas pipe and ski poles, yes?
These polo product suppliers are also beginning to actually turn a buck, meaning they can inject some money back into the sport (as many already do) and further secure respectable places to play, involvement of larger sponsors, and safety to the sport – good equipment means safe equipment, which means more “family friendly” sports play for the community.
The two main forces at work – the promoters and the Nah-Nahs are not, as much as I make it seem, at each other’s throats. In truth they are simply the natural progression of a sport – but it’s something that will fundamentally change in the near future.
In order for bike polo to grow, at least here in our lovely republic and in a quick order, it needs to get some monetary force behind it. To do that, it needs large sponsors and spectatorship. These two (sponsors, spectators) require a sport that has a set rulebook and expectations. This comes from legitimacy, which stems from regulation – as much as that word freaks out some players. This doesn’t mean that the NAH is going to send a representative to monitor your pickup games. Nor does it mean that there are going to be tourney crashers who go to NAH events and drive a party van through the courts with Freebird playing out of the speakers. It means that we are caught in an interesting time for the sport, a time where we can choose to grow in a slow, organic way; or grow quickly through making ourselves more “friendly” to non-polo enthusiasts (sponsors and spectators alike), making them more excited and more willing to open their coin purses to the sport.
Bike polo isn’t on TV yet because it’s not quite ready to be there – because the only people who would watch it are the people who play it. In order to open up to the wider market of viewers and fans, it needs to expand past participants. Is this essential for enjoying the game? No, certainly not. But players must decide on whether they want to continue to fight with hockey and tennis players for space or have spaces that are recognized as bike polo friendly. It’s a matter of choosing between making a sport that is more than just a curiosity.
There isn’t a right answer in this – at least not one that is so right that it cancels out any argument against it – but if you’re hoping to watch some idiots chase a little ball around on TV in your dotage, consider what actions you’re taking now to make that happen.