The Patron

Money can't buy love. But it can buy polo.

Returning from his conquests, Goodman was never met with a parade. Neither his U.S. Open victory nor his ranking as world champion was even mentioned in the Chronicle. Roane, the polo club's marketing director, explained, "They only deal at a very basic, blue-collar level."

Goodman leaped at the chance to provide an alternative. It came in the form of a letter from Ami Shinitzky, publisher of Polo Magazine, the leading polo journal that actually confined itself to polo. The magazine had a circulation of only 7,000 and yearly earnings of less than $40,000. But Shinitzky was offering to sell it -- and its trademark for an "equestrian sports and lifestyle magazine" -- for $500,000.

"Clearly, the real value of the magazine is ... in the magazine's yet untapped potential," Shinitzky wrote. "Moreover, Ralph Lauren's spectacular achievement with the name Polo has helped cement the unmistakable association of the name Polo with lifestyle."

Goodman was intrigued. He bought Polo Magazine shortly after it named him the 1997 Tommy Hitchcock Amateur Player of Year.

He wanted to do something for the sport that had been so good to him, but he also had the new-money urge to make even more money. Goodman decided to print two magazines under the trademark. Polo Players' Edition would essentially be the old staff producing the old magazine. POLO Magazine would be something entirely new. As the cover line read, it was "Adventure," it was "Elegance," and lastly, it was "Sport."

He set up the office in Dallas because he had a buddy there in the publishing business. The staff he hired knew nothing about polo; Goodman knew nothing about magazine publishing. But the editor, Steve Connatser, was a design consultant, and they all knew something about looking good.

It would be printed on the very finest paper. POLO would be a coffee-table magazine, the kind you don't put your drink on. In the first year of his ownership, Goodman spent $4.5 million. Unlike his polo team, wherein he leaves management to the pros, Goodman could not leave the magazine alone. He was on the phone with Connatser at least twice a day. He proofed stories and changed them, assigned stories on a whim and killed them the same way. But the first issue, October 1997, came together. The publisher's note said that magazine publishing is like polo: "You either hit it or you don't."

In some respects, publishing was better than polo, because the publisher never looked bad. An article by Eric O'Keefe began: "Consider Memo Gracida .... For Gracida to lead John Goodman's Isla Carroll team to four coveted crowns is a tour de force. Clearly, Gracida is first among equals." As Goodman was, too, there in the sports roundup, charging valiantly into the action at the Westchester Cup, and then smiling elsewhere with his Queen Cup, right beside her bonneted, buttoned-up Royal Majesty herself.

Beyond these few pages, the magazine was devoted to the worship of wealth. The cover story focused on Monte Carlo and one of its average residents, Claudia Schiffer. According to negotiations that became public record, Claudia required $15,000 to appear in POLO, and she wanted the right to approve anything printed. The shoot was held; the proofs were sent. The agent returned a list of corrections. Claudia wanted bigger photos ("i.e., full page") and "Her name should be in bigger letters. Add 'Actress' in the subtitle. It should read 'Supermodel/Actress/CEO.' "

Most of the changes weren't made, but Claudia came out looking okay anyhow. The pullout quote was "Claudia's stunning looks are matched by a staggering income," and nothing improves image like income.

There was a look at the polo parties -- pictures of the insider crowd, mugging and hugging. The magazine traveled to Miami to speak on the death of Gianni Versace, and to Scotland to tell you about cashmere. There was a fashion story that even quoted Ralph Lauren ("Once a man tries one of these suits on he'll know he's wearing something different"). There were ads for Carlos Yachts, for Breguet watches, for Chanel, Gucci, Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna -- but there was not even one ad from Ralph Lauren.

National ad director Rod Hunsaker had sent Ralph's company a letter about POLO Magazine, "which is not about the sport," he explained, "but rather about an adventurous approach to living life -- a celebration of history's rich lessons and today's unique opportunities .... We invite Polo Ralph Lauren to join us."

Polo Ralph Lauren was not interested, not in the least.

"His need to protect everything bearing on his company's image, and his own, is palpable, unsleeping, electric, scary," a Fortune writer once said of Lauren.

The U.S. Polo Association was among the first to be sued by Polo Ralph Lauren, 20 years ago, when it tried to sell clothes. The court ruled the association could sell its merchandise, but only if the clothes looked nothing like Lauren's. Last year, another Lauren lawsuit indirectly saved the Houston Polo Club's good name, too. Someone had opened a sexually oriented business near the Richmond strip and was calling it The Polo Club. Then a well-dressed team of New York lawyers arrived to change that.

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