For poker pros, snagging a sweet sponsorship deal not only helps to provide residual “variance-free” income, but also shows the poker world that you’ve arrived. For most pros, these sponsorships are linked to poker with many tied to online poker rooms or training sites.
However, some pros have enjoyed the privilege of snagging a sponsorship or endorsement from an unusual source. By this, we don’t mean the random Istanbul poker site that might sign Jamie Gold but rather a mainstream company that decides to “gamble” on a poker pro. Below are seven unusual endorsement deals from mainstream companies.
Howard Lederer and Erick Lindgren – Knob Creek Bourbon
Back in 2005, Howard Lederer and Erick Lindgren signed a one-year deal to represent Knob Creek Bourbon at both the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour Event.
This was actually a historic moment for poker as Knob creek was the first mainstream brand to sponsor poker players. While many of you have never heard about this endorsement, it set a precedent that some pros today have been able to take advantage of.
Phil Hellmuth – Hardees / Carl’s Jr.
In 2014, 14-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth appeared in a commercial for Carl’s Jr. and Hardees promoting the Texas BBQ Thickburger.
Amazingly, the king of self-promotion in poker didn’t speak a word during the commercial. He was too busy stuffing his face with burger.
Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak – Yahoo!
If you listened to the inaugural episode of the Full Contact Poker Podcast with Daniel Negreanu, you heard about some of the short-term and one-off deals signed by poker superagent Brian Balsbaugh.
One such deal involved some appearances by Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak for Yahoo!. Esfandiari revealed in a 2005 interview with ESPN that he made three appearances for Yahoo! and according to a press release by Yahoo!, both he and Phil Laak went to the 2005 E3 Expo to promote Yahoo! Poker.
Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen and Phil Hellmuth – Diet Pepsi
Brian Balsbaugh also managed to snag a sweat commercial deal for Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen and Phil Hellmuth in 2006. The three appeared together in a commercial for Diet Pepsi where they played poker against the Diet Pepsi can.
While not exactly the iconic Ray Charles commercial we all know and love, it is the first mainstream commercial appearance by poker players representing a non-poker product. Sadly, we couldn’t find a working copy of this commercial online but suffice it to say that the can ran very well.
Vanessa Rousso – GoDaddy
Vanessa Rousso had a banner year in 2009. After appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, GoDaddy signed her to a sponsorship deal. She joined Danica Patrick and Candace Michelle as female ambassadors for the site.
Rousso’s introductory commercial featured Patrick, Michelle and CEO/Founder Bob Parsons playing against her in a friendly game of poker that degenerates into – well we won’t spoil the fun for you. Watch the commercial below.
Phil Ivey – Chrysler
Last year, Phil Ivey was featured in a Chrysler commercial driving the 2015 Chrysler 300. He was part of the Kings and Queens of America commercial series that featured prominent figures in business, poker and sports.
Along with Hellmuth, Ivey’s commercial is one of the two biggest promotional deals of the last decade.
Andre Akkari – Puma
If you look at the average poker player, it is hard to imagine them as “athletes” in the traditional sense. That’s why it was surprising that Andre Akkari signed a deal recently with Puma Sportswear.
A shoe deal may seem like a strange sponsorship for a poker pro considering the amount of time sitting at the table but we have to give credit to Puma for thinking creatively. Anyone that has played at the World Series of Poker knows the importance of comfortable shoes and the same can be said for any casino where you have to hike a country mile to get to the poker room.
Who knows, this could prove to be a highly successful partnership for Puma, especially in Brazil where he has a major following.