One of the most talked-about and potentially most financially harmful consequences of April 15’s Black Friday online poker shutdown is the effect on poker’s biggest land-based tournaments.
Most of those land-based tournaments are heavily sponsored and sometimes even fully funded by the world’s biggest online poker brands, and those sites that are now shut out of American homes: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UB.com and Absolute Poker.
“People simply do not realize that the only way for the WSOP [World Series of Poker] and the WPT [World Poker Tour] to offer these huge multi-million dollar prize pools is through the use of sponsors,” MyPokerBasics’ Kevin Smith says.
“Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars spent hundreds of millions of dollars keeping these tours alive and expanding each year, so everyone from the professional players to fans to the tournament directors must be furious over this outcome,” Smith continued. “Honestly … everyone loses.”
Smith’s comments were served up as self-promotion, but he’s right: The prize pools offered at these tournaments are largely funded by online poker play. More than 60% of WSOP entrants are online qualifiers. And the targeted sites spent millions in tournament sponsorships, money that probably isn’t there any more.
Cancellations come quickly
And there’s the fear some professional media enterprises have of association with any industry under investigation. Almost immediately, ESPN canceled all its online poker sponsorships and all poker programming (but still plans to air all WSOP coverage as scheduled). The UFC has severed ties with Full Tilt Poker sponsorship, and Fox has canceled a pair of high-profile PokerStars events.
The World Team Poker Championship has been shoved from May until “at least the end of summer,” PokerNewsReport reports. Many of the players in that tourney had been sponsored by the major poker rooms targeted by Black Friday’s events.
Full Tilt’s Onyx Cup, scheduled to start in less than a month in Vegas, has also been canceled. And a British poker tournament and program has also been canceled because Full Tilt reportedly couldn’t produce the promised prize money. If that story holds true, it’s an extremely ill omen for future land-based conferences, as well.
World Series of Poker
As for the biggest tournament of them all, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is seen to be in a much safer position than lesser events. In itself, the WSOP is a huge brand, heavily televised and owned by Ceasars, the world’s biggest land-based gambling company.
The industry drew a sign of relief when it was announced that ESPN wouldn’t alter its WSOP programming in the wake of Black Friday, as was the case for so many other tournaments.
But there’s still room for a bit of concern. Namely, because of the fact that the WSOP is driven largely by online qualifiers, and those online qualifiers are now largely blocked to American players.
Poker Royalty’s Brian Balsbaugh contends that, because “around 60% of entrants at the WSOP, as well as the WPT come via online websites”, this year’s WSOP attendance “may plummet to just 2,500 players,” per OnlinePoker.net.
Whether or not that happens, the WSOP brand will survive. Covers.com‘s Josh Nagel tells the story of how WSOP owners prepared for this day:
“The [UIGEA] essentially outlawed online poker, and the WSOP immediately took steps to abide by the regulations,” he writes. “For instance, the Caesars official said, the WSOP stopped accepting third-party entries to its tournaments. In other words, it no longer took sign-ups directly from online poker companies that offered seats to WSOP tournaments as part of their promotions.” (The WSOP seats most sites give away is the cash equivalent of a buy-in.)
WSOP executives also started prohibiting advertising and promotion of any poker .com site back in 2006. “Nothing is going to change for us, because we affected change ourselves five years ago,” a Caesars executive told Nagel.
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