When you speak to Dustin Iannotti, you can’t help but get caught up in the whirlwind of his enthusiasm. He moves along at a hefty pace, and if you don’t keep up, you will be left behind.
This is one of the reasons Iannotti has been so successful wherever he has worked. It’s also one of the reasons why he is a magnet for successful and interesting people, a good trait to have considering he is set to produce a new TV show called Poker Night: The Tour, based on the lives of interesting people.
I sat down with Iannotti to try and learn a little bit more about the project.
This is what he had to say.
Who is Dustin Iannotti?
“I started in the industry in 2007. I worked as a player agent for Poker Royalty. I spent three and a half years with them. From there I moved on to PokerStars where I served as Team Online Manager, promoting the likes of Randy Lew and Isaac Haxton.
“When PokerStars took over Full Tilt I moved to Dublin and worked as the Head of Team Pro alongside Viktor Blom, Tom Dwan and Gus Hansen. Then I came back to the states to work with Ultimate Poker. I not only worked in the Team Pro department, but also worked in the content department and created web series and social media branded content for them.
“Recently I created my own consultancy company called J.E.D.I Groop, with my partner and fellow industry veteran John Erminio. The company is a mix of poker and content consulting and it led me to my relationship with Todd at Poker Night and my work on Poker Night: The Tour. I am very fortunate that I have gotten to work with a lot of the top talent, and the top brands, in the online poker industry.”
Neymar has just scored the winning goal in the Champions League final, and yet I doubt there will be any sign of the PokerStars logo in the ensuing media melee. Are there metrics to understand the success or failure of sponsored players?
“There are definitely metrics used engagement wise to see how many times a brand is used in conjunction with the named pro. I think the way the pro/company relationship used to operate no longer works as well in today’s climate. Signing every random person who wins a bracelet isn’t a great idea anymore. They aren’t going to be able to grow poker like they may have been able to in the past.
“PokerStars are not signing Neymar so when he scores that goal he pulls off his shirt and shows a PokerStars logo. It’s more the idea that Neymar is willing to sign with a poker brand. There is struggle getting mainstream companies or celebrities to view poker as a fully reputable organization. When Neymar signs it shows that we are legitimate. It not only adds to PokerStars credibility, but the credibility of poker as a whole.
“Outside of the sports stars, Jason Somerville has reinvented the sponsored pro model. He is doing Twitch online and is bringing in more people from an affiliate standpoint than any other pro has done in half a decade. He does this all through content creation. That’s the way forward in the industry.
“Circa 2007-2010, from the agent side, if you made the Top 27 of the WSOP Main Event there would be a sponsorship deal for you. That model is not in place any more. In the past it would be crazy to see a single guy at the WSOP Main Event without a patch. In this day and age you are lucky to see half the guys with sponsorship deals.
“To be able to say that the most recognizable face in Brazil is a member of PokerStars…when looking at legality for poker in Brazil…they look at PokerStars first.”
Poker Night: The Tour…what is it, and where did the idea come from?
“Firstly, it’s important to state that it’s not a spin-off from Poker Night in America, it’s a brand new show concept. When Todd Anderson created Poker Night in America, he wanted to do something different with poker TV at the toughest time in the industry, when other poker shows were disappearing from TV. With his Heartland Poker Tour background, he knew how to promote players who may not have the highest profile.
“Poker Night in America focuses more on the mid stakes player. The buy-ins are smaller and therefore cater more to a wider demographic. He wants to capture the poker fan as well as the stay-at-home-mother that somehow manages to make a final table. He got the ok to create a second show model, and he has gauged enough interest from various networks to start work on it.
“He told me about the opportunity. He didn’t want to do the same show twice, and he wanted me to help him with that. I jumped at the opportunity. He’s confident in me, and believes we can create something unique. He doesn’t want to tell me how to create. The vision is to bring more of the reality of poker to the series.
“We want to know about the insane prop bets, and all the other things that happen away from the felt. I want to bring these stories to life for a mainstream audience and see how they will react. Telling stories is vital. It’s not just a game for high profile pros. There are a lot of people who play poker, they are all characters in their own right, and people will be interested to see what they get up to when they stop playing.
“If we have a final table each week from a different location it will be difficult to follow everyone. For me, the main bread and butter will be following a thread, or little mini series within the show. We will follow some of the more familiar players each season. We will pick a handful of notable names that are recognizable to mainstream fans, and follow them in a way that has never been done before.
“But we also want to know how the plumber spends his money when he gets home, how he settles back into normal life after a big win, and how he reacts when the taxes come out of his money? Mainstream TV viewers don’t know the answers to these questions. I remember watching Moneymaker thinking: “Is this guy going to keep his job as an accountant? What does Sammy Farha do on a Thursday night? Does he ever actually light that cigarette?”
“Reality shows are so successful because they spend a lot of time finding the right cast of characters. In poker there are a lot of great characters, but at a final table you are going to get some duds. That said, I believe there is a model where you can take one of those guys, and build a story around them. A great producer can do this without the dud even saying a word. There are so many angles that have not been tried on poker shows yet. One thing is for sure, if we steer clear of the norm, we will at least have some fun.”
How many episodes are you planning, and what TV network will you broadcast on?
“I believe it’s 26 episodes, and we haven’t finalized what TV networks we will appear on.”
It sounds like you are building a TV show around the characters that play poker, and not poker itself?
“That’s true. We are building a show around a cast of characters and not around the poker. We want to tell the story of who these characters are, where they come from and why they do what they do? We are also going to have our own little mini series, within the series, where we follow some well-established pros. For 26-weeks, you will tune in and see how these guys live their lives away from the felt, what’s inside their kitchen, what they bet on, and what do they do with their spare time.
“Take the Kardashians, for example, people are interested in them because they lead interesting lives, and lives that are so different to the ones we lead. It will be the same for some of the people living in the poker world. The difference with poker, and it’s a pretty cool difference, is you can sit down at a table, get your money out, and start playing with all these interesting characters.”