Empire Polo Club Closing

Empire Polo Club will no longer host polo, staff laid off

James B. CutchinPalm Springs Desert Sun

Goldenvoice has signed a long-term agreement with the Empire Polo Club through 2050 for full operational control of the venue in Indio, October 27, 2021.  The large area of land is the home to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival.

Empire Polo Club, one of two polo clubs in the Coachella Valley, will no longer host the sport. Staff at the polo club have been laid off, some on short notice.

Neighboring Eldorado Polo Club will assume “as many as possible” of the shuttered club’s matches, according to Eldorado staff, although details of the plans are still being negotiated.

The move comes as part of Goldenvoice’s planned takeover of the operations at the polo grounds, first announced last week. The Los Angeles-based concert company behind the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals is assuming full control of the grounds as part of a long-term lease agreement through 2050.

In a statement on the takeover, Goldenvoice said that it would allow “greater flexibility for programming and scheduling, as well as opening both the Empire Polo Club and Grand Oasis properties up to a broader spectrum of special events, sporting events and private functions.”

Those events apparently do not include ongoing polo matches at the club. AEG, Goldenvoice’s parent company, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the polo cancellation or the layoffs.

Vicky Owens, polo manager at Empire, is being laid off after 35 years working on the polo grounds. She said she found out last week that polo operations were ending and that her services would no longer be required. 

“I’ll be staying on a month or two to help them with the transition,” Owens said. “After that, I don’t know.”

She said “several” employees were shocked at the short notice they were given about their layoffs, although she declined to discuss specifically how many other people had been laid off. Owens referred further questions to Empire’s administrative office. A representative there said no one was immediately available to discuss the situation.

The Coachella Valley’s only other polo venue, the adjacent Eldorado Polo Club, is also owned by Goldenvoice. The concert business purchased that 200-acre club in 2013 after previously leasing the land for parking and other uses.

Graham Bray, polo manager at Eldorado Polo Club, said there were no plans to end polo at that club. 

“The idea is to continue (playing polo here) for years,” Bray said. “We just haven’t finalized all (the details) yet.”

Bray said the upcoming 2022 polo season is set to proceed as scheduled and that Eldorado staff are currently in negotiations with Goldenvoice on a long-term plan for polo at the club. He had no timetable for how long the long-term plan negotiations would last saying only that it “could take until March.”

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Eldorado is currently working to take on “as many as possible” of Empire’s polo players and matches, according to Bray. He said that detailed plans for incorporating as many of the former Empire players as possible while avoiding a degradation in quality were under discussion and would likely be finalized sometime in the next week.

Eldorado plans to allow spectators for its 2022 polo season after the prior season’s COVID-driven prohibition, according to Gram, who added that the upcoming season’s in-person viewing experience “will be the same as Eldorado always runs it.”

The polo club shakeup comes as former President and CEO of AEG Tim Leiweke and former Executive Chairman of Live Nation Entertainment Irving Azoff broke ground on a $250 million, 300,000-square-foot arena in June on unincorporated land near Palm Desert that will be home to an AHL team, and host other entertainment events.

AEG is one of the largest live-music and events companies in the world, second only to Live Nation.

The City of Indio, where both of the polo venues are located, is hoping that the live-music giant’s year-round presence through Goldenvoice’s control of the Empire Polo Grounds will bring additional investment and jobs to the area.

“We hope these developments set the stage for further year-round investment in Indio, and the potential for additional jobs, tourism and entertainment for our more than 90,000 residents and 1.4 million annual visitors,” said Indio Director of Communications and Marketing Brooke Beare on the Goldenvoice takeover.

In a statement last week on the handover, the family of Alex Haagen III, owner of the Empire Polo Club, said they are “pleased” to continue their long-term relationship with Tollett and Goldenvoice, adding the new lease assures Coachella and Stagecoach will continue for many years.

This story includes prior reporting by Desert Sun arts and entertainment reporter Brian Blueskye.

James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at james.cutchin@desertsun.com.

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