Welcoming a crowd of more than 10,000 fans and spectators, the first Gladiator Polo™ presented by Coca-Cola™ game held at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) exceeded all expectations.
Hosting an enthusiastic and engaged crowd while simultaneously showcasing the rapidly expanding sport of arena polo, the match featured two teams of top international arena polo players. The game saw Team Greenville sponsored by Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, top Team Charlotte sponsored by Circle K, 6-5 in a riveting six-chukker match.
The seating of George H. Morris Arena was filled to capacity with spectators, fans, and families eager to watch, learn, and participate in the high-paced and action-packed arena polo game, which brought together teams representing two of the major cities in close regional proximity to the venue, Charlotte, NC, and Greenville, SC.
The event saw crowds begin to pour into the venue nearly two hours ahead of the scheduled start of the match, which began at 8:00 p.m. and continued on under the lights.
“Tonight was just unbelievable. It was something unique. I’ve never played in front of a crowd that big before,” said Mariano Obregon, who was a member of the winning Team Greenville. “Everyone was cheering so loud and it was just a great experience. I’m really hoping that we get to do it again.”
Each of the six players selected to participate in the inaugural match at TIEC have built impressive records and amassed top performances in the sport of arena polo, which has grasped tightly to a new, forward-thinking spin on field polo, helping to bring a fresh energy and flare for both players and fans.
“That crowd really gets you going. We were down by one or two the whole game and they lift you in those moments. You get into it and you put your heart into it to get the people behind you,” added teammate Carlucho Arellano. “It was just an incredible night.”
Gladiator Polo™ is a direct example of the creativity derived from Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP). Bellissimo realized early on after acquiring the International Polo Club Palm Beach with the Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP) in 2016, that a transformation was desperately needed for one of civilization’s oldest sports. He put forth the Gladiator Polo™ concept in Wellington, FL, a world-renowned hub for international and national polo players during the winter season, in early 2017 to gauge response and interest. The concept blossomed, giving players an entirely new platform to demonstrate their skills while reaching a broadened audience.
Team Charlotte played Team Greenville to a tight game, only falling by a single point after six chukkers.
With a series of matches highlighting the Gladiator Polo™ season in Wellington, FL, Bellissimo announced the arrival of the sport at TIEC in early May, marking a substantial step forward in the effort to bring the game to a more expansive national and international audience.
“The community in this area has been so receptive and supportive to our concepts and events,” said Katherine Bellissimo, who also serves as a managing partner of TEP and oversees the marketing, communication, and sponsorship departments of the partnership. “Even when we first opened this facility and only hosted small grand prix classes on Sundays, we would still get a tremendous crowd. To see how that has expanded in only three years is truly incredible. We feel honored to experience such support and encouragement from this community, which has ultimately allowed us to grow and expand these sports to new heights.”
“This game wouldn’t have been possible without the gracious support of our sponsors Coca-Cola™, Circle K, Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, and the U.S. Polo Association,” she continued.
The game marked the first display of the sport of polo at TIEC and the players were thrilled with the positive response and final result of the game. Arellano commented, “It means to much to win this game tonight. You never know what to expect and everything just exceeded expectations, but foremost the crowd. They just blew us away.”
Carlucho Arellano raises his fist in excitement for Team Greenville after scoring a goal.
“The ring size was different from what we played with in Wellington and I think it was really interesting for the crowd and for us as players,” added Obregon. “You’re further away from the goal, so it’s harder to get to, which makes the play really interesting. You have to really play with your teammates and it becomes a more open game. It makes it more fun for us and the play becomes much more dynamic.”
Veteran force Pelon Escapite wowed throughout the game, showcasing his distinctive play and tenacity in the arena. Escapite was the heartbeat of the match, amassing goals, assisting plays and exemplifying an exceptional sense of hustle and accuracy in each of the six chukkers.
“As a player that kind of atmosphere is unbelievable and it makes you want to give it your all on every play. When you’re playing you’re surrounded by people cheering for you and against you. It’s just a great environment. It was great for the families here and great for the sport,” said Escapite.
Team Greenville hoists the winning check high in the air during their presentation ceremony with Dan Farrell, Chief Revenue Officer of TIEC & Tryon Resort, and Dan Holmes of Coca-Cola™.
Escapite was a standout player during the Gladiator Polo™ series in Wellington and was eager to participate in the next installment of the game at TIEC. He added, “I think this type of game is really appealing to the spectators. You can be up against the boards and all around the arena. It’s right there in front of you and it’s close. It’s like having courtside seats for every game.”
“The last goal of the game was for anyone today. I called Nino [Obregon] off the ball and he honored that and I scored. It was team play until the end,” explained Escapite. “The way the management of this series has been and the way Mark [Bellissimo] is promoting and providing a platform for this sport is unbelievable. We had concerns about the turnout with the potential weather tonight, but you wouldn’t have known with the crowd that came. To bring that many people here, to the first game ever held in this arena, is just impeccable work from Mark [Bellissimo] and his team.”