Getting an interview with Alex Haagen IV is not an easy task, but several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to secure an in person sit down with this extremely busy man, who, along with his father, Alex Haagen the III, own the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio. Most people know the Empire Polo Grounds as the place where the Coachella & Stagecoach Festivals take place but there is so much more that goes on there. Just recently the Southwest Arts Festival was held there and this weekend the Rhythm, Wine & Brews Festival will commence on Saturday starting at 2pm. (See other articles in this issue about the RWB event) On Sunday, Loving All Animals will also host an event there. But most importantly it is a place where the sport of polo is played in front of spectators.
The Polo season begins in November and runs through the end of March. On March 23, they will host the event Polo d’Elegance, where the famous Nacho Figueras, known as the Mick Jagger of Polo, will be playing.
“He won’t be happy unless there are 10,000 people there,” states Haagen IV. “He’s used to playing in front of huge crowds and is kind of like a rock star. He’s been on Conan and Letterman.”
Haagen IV and his father, Haagen III are real estate developers who love horses and polo and here is their story. Haagen IV and his family lived on a horse ranch in San Diego. “I was on my first horse with someone holding me when I was about 6 months and actually riding my first horse at 3 years old,” Haagen IV proudly states.”
Back in 1984 they came out to the Coachella Valley together and his Father bought some land. “He bought 5 acres and we put some nice stables on it. Originally it was just for us to be able to practice on but then one field turned into more and we opened it as a polo club for the first time in 1987. And we’ve been acquiring more and more land over the last 26 years. We just acquired another piece of land at the corner of Monroe & 50th. This summer we just put in another polo field. Our goal is to keep growing it and have the most beautiful club in the world. We’ve been told by a lot of other people that have traveled all over the world that it is, of course, I can’t say that myself, because I’m a little jaded. Nacho, who has traveled to China, Russia & Europe says that he’s never seen another polo facility as nice as ours.”
You can tell that polo is in his blood. He loves talking about the sport. “It’s a very physical sport which some people may not realize but you have eight 1500 pound horses running around on a field and you’re aloud to have physical contact. It’s fast and exciting. We want to expose more people to it.”
There are 12 polo fields with about 100 players that play there. Haagen IV says that there are about 20 matches per week and it’s free to get in unless you want a cabana. “It is free and on Sundays we have one side of the field where people can pull up and tailgate and have a picnic and wine and then on the other side we have couches and cabanas. And then we have other areas where people can come and pay for the seats. The cabanas are already sold out but sometimes things change so it’s always good to check back.”
“A couple years ago we started having Friday night polo under the lights. Every other weekend we have it on the full size night lit polo field which only 3 people in the world have. The Sultan of Brunei has one and there’s one in Australia and we actually have two. A polo field equals 10 football fields so when you see a football stadium lit up just times that by 10.”
Polo isn’t the only thing going on out there as we know. There is Coachella & Stagecoach Festivals, Corporate Events, The Tack Room Tavern and the Date Shed. Even though father and son are the owners there are several people who help run the different divisions. “My father is the King in charge of everything and I delegate and oversee his wishes. But we have a great team. Kristen Reinhagen handles The Date Shed, Tony handles the sponsorships and sales and Sunday polo and Bianca does the corporate events and we have a polo manager and assistant manager that keep things going.”
As for the corporate events they’ve had many. “We have all kinds…we just had the PS Kennel Club’s event here and a private party of about 2500 for the Humana Challenge, The American Cancer Society does there 24 hour Walk for Life here and we’ve had a filming of the TV Show “The Bachelor” here. In the last 15 years we’ve had just about every Fortune 500 business do an event here. These events are what help keep the polo grounds green,” Haagen IV says with a smile.
Haagen IV enjoys talking about music and The Date Shed almost as much as horses and polo. I asked him what made him decide to open The Date Shed. “We’re real estate developers and even though we are in the music business with having the festivals here we’re not, because we don’t produce and run the festivals. I love music but I didn’t really know a lot about it from a business aspect. I’ve watched a lot transpire over the last 20 years in music and have many friends in the music business and I just wanted to give our community a real venue where locals could come and enjoy music. It’s really not much different than doing corporate events.”
The name The Roxy LA has been associated with The Date Shed and I asked if they were partnering with them. “Nick Adler from the Roxy is a friend of mine and we didn’t so much partner with them but he opened a Roxy Lounge in Scottsdale so we collaborated and said when he’s got touring bands that are going to play in Scottsdale on Thursday and their playing Saturday night in LA, why not route them through here and give them another night to play at Date Shed while they’re driving by.”
Haagen IV admits that the Coachella Valley market is much different from LA. “We keep experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t because it’s a very unique crowd in the desert. We want to have more large acts that people will want to come out and see because we are a little isolated out here…. but with the right bands we can sell the place out.”
“Our asset is that we are world renowned because of the Coachella Festival. So when we call people like BB King and ask them to play an event like RWB, it’s easier to get in the door because we’re on the property where Coachella takes place. We went through some growing pains figuring out our demographic especially in summer where people might not have as much disposable income. Figuring out the needs and wants musically of the local community and trying to bring that here.”
When asked what the demographic for Date Shed is he says it’s hard to really pinpoint. “It’s probably the 25-35 crowd. Although, it depends on the shows. We’ve had some country shows that drew an older crowd. But we’re willing to try a lot of different things. The hip-hop and electronica does really well here. Some of our biggest shows have been reggae. It’s a mixed bag and I don’t want to corner us in and say we’re just one type of club. We want any type of genre to come in.”
Haagen IV says that it’s important to take care of the bands. “One of the things that we’ve done well is being very attentive to the artists and their needs and even if it’s a slow night we want them to have the best experience possible here starting with the stage and sound. If somebody brings a tour bus in we make sure to bring chairs out and a fire pit for them to have a bonfire and if they want they can stay overnight here and look up at the beautiful desert sky, which is something that they can’t do in LA or in NY City. We try to give them a little different experience and it’s paid off because we’ve had a lot of bands and tour managers that have said ‘we wish the show would’ve done a little better but you guys were so nice and it’s such a great place we definitely want to come back.’ And that’s what we want to hear.”
When asked where the Tack Room Tavern fits into all of this, Haagen IV jokingly replied, “We’re so busy working here all the time that we needed to have somewhere on site to get a good meal. We used to have different operators over the years but several years ago we partnered up with Best Beverage Catering and now we run it together. We wanted to make it a comfortable place that locals would enjoy. We’re looking at expanding it next year to be more like an Argentina Steak House but still with the same character.”
And now for a few Rapid Fire personal questions:
CVW: Favorite Bands?
AH: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jack’s Mannequin, Johnny Cash. I listen to everything. I’ll find a genre I like now and just hit Pandora and see what comes up. That’s one of my favorite parts of Coachella is discovering new bands.
CVW: How do you listen to music?
AH: My favorite new discovery is Sonos, which we just installed in the office. You can access it through an app and you can play Sirius, Spotify, itunes, anything through it. On the other hand…for Christmas I bought my son a record player and he’s been listening to vinyl and there’s something about how much better it sounds. I actually sent in my old record player to have it fixed and I think I’ll be listening to more vinyl.
CVW: Favorite All-time album?
AH: The Clash– London Calling
CVW: Favorite Song?
CVW: Favorite Movie?
AH: Pulp Fiction
CVW: Favorite TV show?
AH: Breaking Bad. Just the way it’s shot. It’s disturbing but you just can’t stop watching.
CVW: Favorite vacation spot?
CVW: First Car?
AH: It was one of those awful old station wagons with the wood on the side like the Brady Bunch.
CVW: Favorite Charity?
AH: Anything that has to do with cancer and helps in finding a cure.
Haagen IV lives here a majority of time in season. “We have a corporate office in LA so I travel back and forth. My wife & I got married here and lived here for a good 12-15 years and my son was raised here.” When I asked what he likes most about the Coachella Valley he responded, “So many things. That’s why we’ve created our life here. I think it’s all the relationships that I’ve created here over the last 30 years.”
My conclusion from interviewing the infamous, mysterious and charming, Alex Haagen IV, is that he is an astute business man who loves his family, horses, polo, music and the CV.