The list with the latest online poker sponsorship cuts is getting bigger by the day. What is happening? Are there any money left for the online poker pros?
Online poker is not dying BUT it is definitely reinventing itself.
In this new online world, the poker wonder kid with no entertainment value (as in not appealing for the masses) is not welcomed. Just look at what happened in the last month or so.
Poker Pro Cuts Galore
Amaya’s PokerStars made the first move in August by cutting a number of sponsored players mostly unknown to the people outside the hardcore base by their names Humberto Brenes, Angel Guillen and Jose ‘Nacho’ Barbero. According to PokerNews, the reasons behind this decision were purely financially-related. Basically, they had to make some budget cuts. One month later, others followed like Joe Cada, Marcel Luske and Alex Kravchenko.
Cada is the most coveted; he won the 2009 WSOP Main Event for over $8.5 million and shortly after that, he signed with PokerStars. The American was one of the few cuts who actually revealed why he parted ways with the online operators. He tweeted:
If everyone is wondering what happened with Poker Stars and myself it’s pretty simple. I asked for 100 percent rake back, they said no.
The cuts kept coming as Ultimate Poker (UP) announced at the end of last month the departures of five sponsored pros: Brent Hanks, William Reynolds, Phil Collins, Jeremy Ausmus and Jason Somerville. Labeled as the next Daniel Negreanu (really?), one-time bracelet winner Somerville told F5Poker that the separation was strictly a financial decision. UP retreated from the New Jersey market and cuts had to be made. He said:
I’m not a cheap date. I didn’t want to take whatever, so we had to do what we had to do.
Moreover, partypoker did some of its own housekeeping and parted ways with WPT champ Marvin Rettenmaier.
Last and (most likely) not least, Full Tilt recently cut Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom and Gus Hansen and put an end to the famous team generically called The Professionals. FT released a statement on Tuesday saying:
“This (decision) follows a year-long review of the Full Tilt brand and a decision to move away from Pro-centric advertising to focus on the experiences and stories of the vast majority of our players. Full Tilt will celebrate the excitement, fun and intrinsic enjoyment of playing our poker, blackjack roulette and slots games.”
So what does it mean?
Well we first have to understand the differences between players like Barbero, Somerville, Cada, Rettenmaier and Blom compared with the existing pros like Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal and Daniel Negreanu.
The first category is comprised of online grinders who more often than not like to keep their private lives behind closed doors. They don’t enjoy the bright spotlights and they are much respected among their peers. But, beyond that, they are basically unknowns. For the average amateur, they don’t mean anything. As a comparison, Ronaldo and Nadal are sports icons known worldwide; Negreanu is a genuine poker icon like Phil Hellmuth – you don’t have to know much about the game to be familiar with their names. So why are they part of the Team PokerStars Pro although they are not really pros (except Negreanu of course)? Simple, they can help the game go mainstream. They can reach beyond the poker community and win the audience who has yet to learn about the game.
Full Tilt is already transparent about the new approach for the upcoming months moving away from the ‘Pro-centric advertising to focus on the experiences and the stories of the vast majority of our players.’ The ads start with the phrase – You won’t find this story in any poker movie – showing a couple of average guys who just want to have a good time at the table and make their own stories. No 3bets, no squeezes, no floats, no thin value bets, no nothing.
The Next Poker Pro?
The trend will continue in the future as more online operators will focus on the recreational players. Even EPT president Edgar Stuchly is aware of that. He told PokerListings yesterday:
“A lot has changed in the last 12 months. We are trying to reach the potential players that have never heard of poker yet. We want to win the audience over that has yet to learn about the game of poker. To do this, we need appropriate representatives.”
So don’t expect guys like red-hot Daniel Colman to sign a sponsorship deal any time soon (even if he wanted to). Instead, expect other popular figures to join the so-called ‘pros’ and promote the game. Maybe Lionel Messi, or maybe Fernando Alonso. And also expect challenges like Nadal and Ronaldo battling heads-up become more and more common. ‘Cause this is the only way poker can attract new players and new markets.
So…who will be the next pro?