During the last few months I’ve had several professional polo players ask me to publish an article about pro salaries. In 2005 Steve Crowder wrote an article about pro salaries based on the cost of living and playing in Indio, CA. Every season I get a few calls from pros asking where they can access a copy of that article (which is linked on PoloZONE.com under “Player Tools”) when they are negotiating their salaries for the up coming season. Several patrons have also mentioned to me that Crowder’s article helped them realize what they should be paying their pros.
With the recent rise in gas prices, the polo industry is certainly feeling the pressure with increases prices for horse feed, shavings, travel/transportation and many other expenses. For this reason we are revising and expanding the “Cost of Polo” article to include current horse expenses, pro living expenses, club membership fees, purchase price of polo horses, as well as pro salaries across the country.
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate what the break-even point is for a pro when comparing actual expenses to salary earned. The expense chart includes an estimate of costs a pro incurs to maintain a string of polo horses in order to compete in polo on a professional level. The cost structure also includes a pro’s living expenses, equipment expenses and other related expenses. These same costs can be applied to a patron/sponsor who maintains the same number of horses.
When negotiating a pro’s salary we must also take into consideration what a pros expenses are and how these expenses may differ depending on the Club and the location where they are working. In addition, there are some regional or club-based standards that should also be factored into the equation. For example, at Eldorado Polo Club the stalls are significantly less expensive than fees charged at other Southern California Clubs. For this reason, it is common practice for the pro to pay for their own stalls when playing at Eldorado Polo Club. At San Diego Polo Club the stalls are always paid for by the patron and not by the pro.
After several interviews it became clear that there are a couple simple formulas being used to calculate pro salaries. In Florida and New York patrons and pros quoted me their rates based on a fee paid per game. In some of the smaller clubs they used the figure of $500 per goal per game to figure a base pay. In California the pros and patrons quoted a fee paid per goal per month in relation to a pros handicap. Both formulas were used to calculate the salaries paid by the month.
The results of our research showed that pro salaries fall into a general range from $3,000 to $6,000 per goal per month. The lowest salary base of $3000 per goal was quoted in California and the higher base salary of $4000 per goal was quoted from both Florida and New York. The salary per goal increased with the level of play, the pros skills (if they are under-rated) and the pros horses. Please keep in mind that some pros are paid more or less than these quoted figures. These are just average ranges based on our research data.
In California it is common for pros to earn an average of $3,500 per goal/per month in the 4- to 10-goal leagues with an increase up to $5,000 per goal for the 12- to 14-goal tournaments. These figures seemed concurrent between Eldorado Polo Club, San Diego Polo Club and Santa Barbara Polo Club. At Eldorado Polo Club the pros often pay for their own stabling, housing, feed and expenses. This is the only Club where it is common practice for a pro to cover these expenses on his own with the exception of Club fees that are always paid for by the patron. In San Diego patrons pay for the pro’s stabling and club fees and occasionally their housing, but not always. At Santa Barbara the patrons pay for the pros stabling and club fees. Pros and grooms are responsible for their own housing. Sometimes patrons pay their pros a set fee and let them pay for their own expenses out of their salary. The pro’s salary may be higher to compensate for the expenses.
In New York salaries ranged from $4,000 on the low end to $6,000 per goal in 4- to 8- goal polo leagues. The patrons pay for the pro’s stabling, feed for the horses and housing for the pro and groom. The figures in New York were only sampled from one Club.
In Florida the figure I received from two smaller clubs was approximately $4000 per goal per month on the low end. The interview did not give specific salaries so I was not able to dictate a range, but noted that most pros were being paid MORE than $4,000 per goal. The range is most likely very similar to the range in New York of $4,000 - $6,000 per goal. The patrons in Florida pay for stabling, pro housing and all club fees.
Our research was based on several interviews with pros and patrons in New York, Florida and California. The results in this article are not representative of all clubs or all levels of polo. Polo leagues that are 16-goal and higher will command much higher salary ranges and we did not include research for high-goal level in this article.
After talking to pros and patrons across the country it seemed to be a standard to pay polo grooms anywhere from $1800 per month to $3500 per month. The salary varied based on the experience level of the groom, if they were seasonal or year-round and what the job required. Most estimates came in around $2500 - $2700 with a few figures coming in lower or higher. The patron often pays for the groom’s Visa if they require one. The grooms are sometimes responsible for their own housing expense, but they can negotiate to have this expense covered by their patron or pro. In New York and Florida the groom’s housing was paid for by the patron in all cases interviewed. A few patrons pay for their grooms housing in San Diego, Eldorado and in other areas as well. When you consider the cost of housing in the different areas it is almost impossible for a groom to afford standard housing based on what we are paying them. So this is a fact to take into consideration when negotiating the salary for your grooms and what expenses you plan to cover.
There are two models used in our expense charts. One is for a player who owns 8 horses and the other is for a player who owns 6 horses. If a pro is playing 6-chukker polo they will need at least 8 horses or more, especially at the 10-goal level and higher. If a pro is playing 4-chukker polo they will need between 4-6 horses. Many pros have one or two green horses they are bringing up. They also need horses to umpire on and a spare in case one gets injured during the season. For this reason our minimum of horses is 6.
The models are based on a 4-month polo season with 2 months off in between seasons. During the two months off a pro is not earning a salary and is paying pasture expenses for his horses as well as his living expenses which don’t change during the off season. This will vary at the different clubs, so if a pro is only being paid for 3 months the model will need to be adjusted accordingly. The one expense that we did NOT include in the chart is a pro’s expense for new horses. At most clubs the patron is paying for the pro’s stabling, feed and other expenses. These expenses are included in the chart, but can be considered “savings” or a fund for “new horses” as this is an expense that pros incur each year that is not accounted for in this chart.
The point at which a pro is breaking-even and not saving any money, but covering their expenses when they own 6 horses is $11,070 and with 8 horses $12,485. This is assuming that there are not any expenses excluded or missed. The chart does not account for the costs associated if the pro is supporting a family with this same salary. It also does not include the cost of a new horse or leasing horses if one or more of the pro’s horses is injured during a season. The expenses for vet, equipment and supplies is also very low, so take these factors into consideration when reviewing the chart and when making a decision on what to charge your patron or for what to pay your pro. The expense chart assumes that most pros have at least 6 horses. Several clubs offer 4-chukker polo, where only 4 horses may be needed, but if a horse gets injured or if the pro needs a spare they will have the cost of leasing a horse(s) to factor in to their equation. For this reason we have used a 6-horse model as the lowest denominator in terms of horses required to polo play competitively.
6-Horse Break Even Point $11,070 - $13,200
8-Horse Break Even Point $12,485 - $15,185
1-Goal Pro @ $4000 per goal = $4000 per month
2-Goal Pro @ $4000 per goal = $8,000 per month
3-Goal Pro @ $4000 per goal = $12,000 per month
4-Goal Pro @ $4000 per goal = $16,000 per month
1-Goal Pro @ $4500 per goal = $4500 per month
2-Goal Pro @ $4500 per goal = $9,000 per month
3-Goal Pro @ $4500 per goal = $13,500 per month
4-Goal Pro @ $4500 per goal = $18,000 per month
1-Goal Pro @ $5000 per goal = $5000 per month
2-Goal Pro @ $5000 per goal = $10,000 per month
3-Goal Pro @ $5000 per goal = $15,000 per month
4-Goal Pro @ $5000 per goal = $20,000 per month
Based on the findings in this article one can conclude that if you are paying your pro less than $4000 per goal per month in 4 chukker leagues then your pro is NOT earning enough to cover his expenses. Since you can only compete at this level if you are less than 4-goals, then you can easily define a fair rate of pay for this level of play. The 1- and 2-Goal pros cannot break even and will need to have other jobs or income to subsidize their earnings. Some pros may play in two leagues or groom on the side. They may also manage their patron’s barn or earn money in other ways including buying and selling horses.
A 3-goal pro can break even at $4000 - $4500 per goal. A 4-goal player can break even at $4000 per goal, but they are sought after for higher levels of play that translates into a higher per goal fee. The 4-goaler and higher rated players require a minimum of 8 horses and sometimes more if they are playing in a league at the 12-goal level or higher.
In conclusion, a minimum base salary of $4000 per goal is supported by the expenses and costs associated to properly maintain a string of healthy polo horses. The expenses will vary based on the location, the pro, and the level of play.
You must also take into consideration that pros play polo to earn a living. Most of us who work outside of the polo industry, earn more money than our expenses total, so we are able to afford a vacation or to put some money towards buying a house or into a savings account for the future. Most pros, especially at the 5-goal handicap and under are barely covering their expenses. Yet, we expect the most out of our pros and their horses during every tournament game. We need to be aware of what polo actually costs and be willing to support it. If we cannot or choose not to support polo, then we are only aiding in the demise of this sport we love so much. So if you truly love polo then do what you can to support it by paying fair wages to your grooms and pros.
The article is linked and will be archived in the “Player Tools” section of PoloZONE.com for future reference.
More interviews are needed in Florida in addition to Texas and Aiken, SC. We will continue to update this article as information becomes available to us. If you would like to share your salary and expenses with us please email email@example.com . Your name and data will be kept anonymous.
If any of the figures in our expense chart seem too high or too low, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can adjust our figures to be more accurate as needed. We will also be collecting data for a Part II article about club and membership fees.