While most everyone is aware that PokerStars came to the rescue and purchased Full Tilt Poker in 2012, the industry giant toyed with the idea of playing the knight in shining armor role six years earlier in a possible purchase of the New Orleans Saints.
In a recent blog post by poker writer and industry veteran Nolan Dalla, who at the time was PokerStars’ Director of Communications, it was revealed that discussions had taken place and an offer sheet prepared to acquire the struggling Saints of the National Football League.
Louisiana was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, forcing the Saints to play their home games elsewhere due to extensive damage to the Superdome in New Orleans. Dalla explains that Saints owner Tom Benson considered selling the franchise in 2006 amid speculation that the city of New Orleans would not be able to support the football club despite a loyal fan base.
PokerStars no. 2 at the time
This was prior to enactment of the UIGEA and also before PokerStars ascended to claim the top spot in the online poker industry. PartyPoker was still leading the way, with PokerStars a distant second but trying hard to catch their main rival under the direction of owner Isai Scheinberg.
Although the sale of an NFL franchise to an online poker site located offshore would likely not sit well with NFL honchos, the marketing team at PokerStars that included Dalla felt that the publicity attached to just submitting an offer would be worth millions of dollars.
PokerStars was about to be playing in the real major leagues of sports and business, and would be destined to get a whole lot of attention once the announcement went public,” Dalla said of the offer. “Who knows — with some creative organization and structuring, anything might happen.”
Proposal to purchase Saints sent to Isai Scheinberg for approval
Dalla prepared a proposal and sent it off to Scheinberg. The proposal contained language stating that PokerStars would keep the Saints in New Orleans, which would surely create a tremendous amount of goodwill toward the poker site. At the time, rumors were circulating that potential new owners might move the team to a new city in another state.
Even if the purchase were to be vetoed by NFL bigwigs worried about the league’s image, PokerStars had nothing to lose and everything to gain by making an offer and generating positive publicity.
Our offer would be the lead story on ESPN’s SportsCenter — watched nightly by the coveted sweet spot consisting of 18-35 year old males,” Dalla stated. “We’d make the talking heads shows. I suspect it would even make mainstream news and expose us to an audience that didn’t know online poker even existed. It certainly would have been a front page story in the Wall Street Journal.”
Scheinberg takes a pass
Scheinberg, however, decided against submitting the bid for a reported $600 million to acquire the New Orleans Saints. The reasons why are apparently known only by the poker site founder, with Dalla speculating that the exposure such an offer would receive perhaps amounting to too much publicity.
“There was always the risk that with more scrutiny aimed our direction, we might become targets,” Dalla said.
That scrutiny did eventually find its way to PokerStars in the form of a shutdown orchestrated by the U.S. Department of Justice five years later on Black Friday in 2011.