Felipe Perrone blog: Water Polo by the Sea

A water polo event reached a 3.7 million audience in 2016. Belgrade 2016? No. Which event was able to attract such an audience?

This February I turned 30 and its my 13th year as a professional water polo player and 23rd year which I have dedicated to this sport. During these years I have played in Brazil, Spain, Italy and currently in Croatia. I also took part in events and tournaments around the world, where I was lucky to share these experiences with local water polo communities. One of things all theses places had in common is the concern regarding the development of our sport. Therefore I decided to share in this post to what I consider to be a great example of how to promote our sport. The event which reached a 3.7 million audience was Waterpolo by the Sea, an initiative of former Australian national waterpolo team captain Thomas Whalan, held in Sydney, Australia. This event, organized in a country where water polo is not a traditional sport, is for sure a sign of hope for our sport.

I think it’s only fair that he explains this true miracle, having in mind the common issue of growth of audience in every water polo event around the world. This goal is crucial for professional development of water polo, which directly affects my job and the rest of the water polo community as well as the ones dreaming of being part of it.


What follows are some questions answered by Thomas Whalan, which will hopefully serve as inspiration and help us to understand some of the reasons why certain events are successful and others are not, no matter where they take place.

Thomas, first all of all, thank you very much for answering the questions. Can you explain what is Water Polo by the Sea?

The event is designed to promote the sport of water polo as far and as wide as possible outside of the traditional water polo community. In Australia and across the world there are so many spectacular pools by or in the sea or as was the case with the recent Sydney Harbour event we just created a 'pool' in the harbour. These locations make for a spectacular setting for any event but in particular water polo; locations where when added with the unique sport of water polo I knew would mean images and video footage would travel across Australia and around the world.

With the addition of some marketing and PR in promoting the amazing product that is water polo (incredibly skilled, tough and fit athletes wrestling wearing nothing but swimming costumes and funny looking caps) we added the social element by creating a unique event with music, exclusive hospitality options and celebrities and access to the players to create an event where with limited tickets it created very strong demand and sponsors have recognised that too.

What do you consider the key points for the success of this event?

- Marketing the fitness, toughness, skillfulness and basically 'good looking' elements of water polo players;
- spectacular and unique locations held in summer;
- music, celebrities and investing in PR outside of traditional sporting circles.
- combining all of the above to create an event experience for fans and showing off the best elements of our sport.  

I believe the secret to the success of water polo going forward is investing in marketing our athletes and creating summer events with a social element for a true crowd experience. Gone are the days that sports can rely on the purity of the game to gain new fans; we have to take the game to the fans and create a relevant experience for fans which means we are competing not just with other sports, but with entertainment in general and peoples time so we need to create memorable experiences for the fans.

Any suggestions on developing events?

I have fond memories playing in the Spanish, Italian and European Leagues and experienced amazing crowds on occasions for all three but really wished these were held in summer as I truly believe this would unlock a huge supporter base who want to enjoy water polo in outdoor locations and with all of the benefits of summer. It’s really difficult for many clubs to entice fans every week to an indoor pool and create water polo by the sea style experiences during winter. In Australia we have the National League during summer and clubs are now recognising the potential of Water Polo by the Sea style events for their crowds and we're trying to have every club host at least one major 'event' during the National League which promotes the game further.

Some final observations…

Water Polo athletes need to be treated as but also act like professional athletes. The clubs and national bodies have a responsibility to remunerate and/or promote their athletes and in return water polo athletes need to see themselves as equal to the football super stars in terms of how they present themselves to junior athletes, fans, sponsors and the media. All the way from the basics of a team wearing team uniform and looking like a unified professional unit to how they present themselves at every opportunity in public and to the media. A large part of the success of Water Polo by the Sea depends on presenting the athletes as professional stars who are paid big salaries in Europe and act as such. Where it falls down is when athletes turn up to the pool or media call with thongs or hotel towels as a small example. I started to understand this later in my playing career but see it as a large area we can all improve on across the water polo world.

Congratulations on the success of Water polo by the sea, and thank you for showing us how a personal initiative is capable of having a huge impact on the promotion of our sport.

 Share this