Wellington’s ‘Voice Of Polo’ Tony Coppola Takes On
A New Role As USPA President
Longtime Wellington resident Tony Coppola has done it all in the sport of polo — professional player, announcer, club operator, business owner, hall of fame honoree — and now he can add president of the United States Polo Association to his long list of achievements in the sport.
Coppola was elected to the position at the annual member meeting held in late September in Stevenson, Wash.
Coppola joins Chairman Chip Campbell III, Chief Executive Officer Robert Puetz, Secretary Stewart Armstrong, Treasurer Sam Ramirez Jr., Paul Jornayvaz, Dan Walker, Maureen Brennan, Stephen Orthwein Jr. and Tom Gose on the Executive Committee of the USPA Board of Governors.
“To be elected by my peers means a lot,” said Coppola, who has been a fixture of Wellington’s equestrian community since the 1970s.
Known locally as “the voice of polo” for his many years of play-by-play announcing at polo matches, he is taking his new role at an important transition in the USPA’s history.
Although president is second to chairman in the board’s hierarchy, Coppola said he and Campbell share the same vision: a reorganization of the USPA.
“There is a different dynamic to polo in the U.S. over the past 10 to 15 years. It’s grown from an association of players into a business. It was time to bring in some new blood,” Coppola explained.
In 2015, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the USPA can’t be held in contempt for selling sunglasses with the “double horsemen mark” — which depicts two mounted polo players vying for a ball — and is also featured on merchandise sold under the Polo Ralph Lauren brand trademark.
The USPA — in a partnership with JRA Trademark Co. — also sells products, sometimes in competition with Polo Ralph Lauren, under the brand name U.S. Polo Assn. The decision in favor of the USPA is a departure from the original ruling in favor of Polo Ralph Lauren in 1984, and more than 20 years of supporting judgments.
The USPA was founded in 1890, while the Ralph Lauren Corp. started in 1967.
The revenue stream from royalties will allow the organization to initiate programs previously only dreamed about.
Many of these programs are focused on growing the sport of polo, introducing the sport to youth and developing world-class players to compete on the international stage.
“A lot of my focus and attention has been spent on young players,” Coppola emphasized.
Coppola is also president of the Polo Training Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs for players from as young as six and up to 16 years of age, as well as a gap program for those 16 to 21 years old.
The programs currently include teaching and mentoring young players by more experienced ones, but he would like to take them further.
“The youth is the future of U.S. polo,” Coppola stressed.
Coppola knows a little about developing a world-class player. His 23-year-old son Matt has been competing internationally since he was 16. This year, he has traveled to Argentina, as well as Texas and California multiple times to compete in high-level tournaments.
“Matt has been doing pretty well for himself,” the proud father commented.
Coppola said there will also be an emphasis on female polo players, through training and development programs, along with tournament sponsorship and support. He pointed to the fact that approximately 40 percent of USPA membership is comprised of women.
“The U.S. women’s team has won a number of international tournaments, including making it to the semifinals of the Argentine Open,” Coppola said.
He felt new blood was needed in the USPA leadership to combat what he characterized as a “slight decline” in polo across the U.S. He recognizes polo is an expensive sport, but pointed to the different levels players compete at based on their ability and financial resources.
“Polo is not only an elitist sport. You have ‘country club’ golf and ‘public course’ golf — the same is true for polo,” Coppola explained. “We need to promote the sport at the grassroots level.”
He spends a lot of time on the road throughout the year, including three months every summer in the Northeast, where he is involved with a number of polo clubs.
His travels frequently take him to the center of the polo universe — Argentina, known around the world as the “Mecca of polo.”
Coppola explained there are a thousand or more polo fields in and around the city of Pilar, which has a population of approximately 300,000 people and is located close to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
In Argentina, polo is a top-tier sport, and the popularity of polo in Argentina probably can’t be duplicated in the U.S. However, the focus on growing youth programs can be.
Coppola feels that the future of polo in Wellington, known as the winter capital of the sport here in the U.S., is fundamentally sound over the long term, although there was a decline in players here last season.
“There are four polo clubs in the greater Wellington area, which means there are plenty of places for players of all levels to participate,” he said.
The tough season last year also affected a decline in sales at Coppola’s iconic tack store, the Tackeria on South Shore Blvd.
“We had less competitors in all equestrian areas last year, plus there is increased competition from other suppliers, especially on the internet,” Coppola explained. “There’s a lot of people competing for the same dollar.”
However, he noted that he is seeing polo players returning to Wellington this year that he didn’t see last year — a good sign for the future, both over the short term, and the long term.
Coppola has been a member of the USPA since 1969 and has been in leadership in the Florida and Caribbean Circuit for years. He feels ready for leadership at the national level after all he has done for the sport here.
“I played professionally and have been involved in polo for many years. This means I have to carve out a little bit more of my time, and give back as much as I possibly can to the sport,” Coppola said.
For more information about the United States Polo Association, visit www.uspolo.org. The Tackeria is located at 13501 South Shore Blvd. in Wellington. For more information, call (561) 793-2012 or visit www.tackeria.com. –––