After years of using the polo player as its signature branding logo, Ralph Lauren is taking on a sponsorship role of an actual polo team. Ralph Lauren is now the official sponsor of the Black Watch polo team and its star player (and longtime Ralph Lauren model) Nacho Figueras.Taking the sponsorship a step further, the company is now selling match shirts for Black Watch fans that are embroidered with Nacho Figueras' number 2 on the shoulder. Here's a montage video clip of Nacho from YouTube.
The shirts went on sale today on ralphlauren.com and are only available in the Ralph Lauren stores in the wealthy resort towns of Southampton and East Hampton, New York. Ralph Lauren plans to follow the team match schedule by bringing Blackwatch logo'd items like the polos, dresses and other items to its stores in Florida when the team plays there.
This is the first move by the apparel company into sponsorship of a sports team (previous sponsorship was of events like the U.S. Open and of golf players like Luke Donald, Jonathan Bird, Tom Watson) and the appeal of the sport of polo is an obvious one. The most valuable element of Ralph Lauren's clothing and home goods business is arguably the lifestyle that the preppy, all-American line represents. The company is very defensive of its brand and picky about selecting partnerships and sponsorships that supplement that exclusive image.
While player Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras is Argentine, he's been a familiar face in Ralph Lauren's perfume/cologne and clothing ads since 2000. Figueras is also the best known polo player in the U.S. due in part to that modeling experience and his much photographed presence on the Hamptons' polo circuit. He seems a natural choice to be the public face of that polo player emblazoned and embroidered on the RL polo products.
Polo, of course, is so exclusive (read expensive to play) and played in such affluent areas (the Hamptons, Palm Beach, Greenwich) that referencing the sport reaffirms the aspirational lifestyle behind the Ralph Lauren brand moreso than the actual price point or place of sale for the company's products. High-end brands like Richemont's Cartier, the Cashmere company Loro Piana and Argentine polo equipment maker La Martina are the only other high-profile retailers investing in the sport right now.
Will these items sell? (How many polo fans are there out there?) That's the real question but this line seems to be more about marketing for Ralph Lauren than the actual product line or sport. Regardless, for Figueras the partnership/sponsorship seems to be a win. He told me this weekend at the Mercedes-Benz Bridgehampton Polo Challenge that he wants to widen the appeal of polo as a sport here in the United States. "This is a chance to tell the world more about my sport." Figueras says he's been watching soccer's David Beckhamand Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone for inspiration on how to partner with a brand and to use his image to widen the appeal of his sport. He'd like to create a line of horse blankets, saddles, boots and equine equipment with Ralph Lauren. We'll see if that is yet another area of interest for the rapidly expanding Ralph Lauren.
One of these days CEO Ralph Lauren will finally decide to talk about the business behind this massive brand and empire or give RL President Roger Farrah permission to speak on the record about the amazing story behind the business. Unfortunately for us, we've been told that Ralph won't do press or interviews which makes us journalists all the more curious as to why?
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