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Is your job safe?

When I worked in the railway I used to think it was. I was told that it was a job for life and the terms and conditions I inherited made it extremely difficult for the company to get rid of me.

But ultimately, I had no control.

It took me a long time to figure that out, and when I did, I left, and created my own business. Now it’s up to me. My hard work, intelligence and luck will bring me the work that I need. Any dips in the levels of those three could result in destitution, but I know what is needed to survive. I understand what my clients need and I produce.

Do sponsored poker players understand their clients? Do they know what to produce?

That question has bothered me for a long time, and the itch has started to develop once more, after the news this week that both the PokerStars Latin American Team and Ultimate Poker have cut their rosters by half.

The South American trio of Jose ‘Nacho’ Barbero, Angel Guillen and Humberto Brenes will not be having their contracts renewed by PokerStars, and their Regional Manager has been brave enough to give us the real reason why.

During an interview with CardPlayer Latin America, PokerStars Regional Manager Juan Carreno said that the ties were severed because of budget cuts. It seems Stars are no longer able/willing to support multiple Team Pros in Argentina and Mexico.

But why?

It must boil down to the metrics. I am sure if Barbero and Guillen were hitting their metrics then Stars could afford to have multiple Team Pros in those particular countries.

I reached out to PokerStars to ask how they measured the success criteria of their Team Pros, but they were reluctant to provide me with that information. So, I have licked my finger, raised it into the air and this is what I think.

It has to be player numbers.

If I am paying good money for a sponsored pro then I want to know that my money is being well spent. The only way that you can do this is to track player numbers in the region that the pro has been hired to represent.

Taking Argentina as an example, you would imagine that Barbero and Leo Fernandez would be given the task of working their magic to ensure player retention is ‘x’ and player growth is ‘y.’

Otherwise what’s the point in hiring them?

As far as I can tell, and I am no business mastermind, the revenue comes from the players. The more players who join the site, and play, the more revenue the site makes.

I’m not sure when Fernandez’s contract expires, but I will be amazed if it’s renewed, because the Team Pro magic has lost some of its sparkle in the land of great beef, sexy senioritas’ and hands of God.

I also wonder if the budgets for Team Pros are regionalized or centralized? I would bet a night with my wife that Rafael Nadal is getting paid a small fortune for his affiliation with PokerStars.

Were the South American triumvirate axed to generate more income to keep paying Nadal?

And what are Nadal’s metrics?

How does PokerStars know if their affiliation with one of the greatest sportsmen in the world brings more players to the table? Everyone knows that you cannot manage what you cannot measure.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the signing of Nadal runs at a huge loss. Think about it. Within poker circles the signing was huge. But outside of poker? I just had dinner with an old friend and he had no idea that people played poker for a living.

Does Nadal have the PokerStars label on his pearly whites when he graces the Center Court at Wimbledon? Is the Red Spade sewn into his rackets? Does he mention them during his press conferences? Do the mainstream press even know that a poker company sponsors him?

No, no, no and no.

It’s the same with Luis Suarez.

When he signed for 888.com it was big news, but there was no way on earth that the Liverpool Press Team was ever going to allow their star cannibal to talk about his affiliation with an online gambling company.

It just wasn’t going to happen.

When the Uruguayan tripped and accidentally bit that Italian defender with the really difficult name to type, 888.com got very lucky. That dent in the shoulder saved them a fortune.

I remember when IveyPoker was born and they started hiring pros left, right and center. The excitement from the team could be heard in Gavin Smith’s home in Alaska.

Then they realized there was no money.

They wore the patch that was mailed to them, went to their ATM and withdrew the buy-in before sitting at the game. As it turned out, the only way to get paid was to make training videos.

What!

That’s work!

Check out the site and compare the number of videos against the number of pros and you will see the hard workers and the lazy shirkers.

Des Duffy, Director at BetClic Everest Group, told me that he would want a player to be hungry enough to represent his brand for free, before considering hiring her/him as an ambassador.

This reminded me of the early days of Roberto Romanello when he was so desperate to be affiliated with Full Tilt Poker (FTP) that he would have gladly wore their patch for free. It was the site where he learned to play poker and it was his dream to represent them.

Back in those days Romanello would put a lot of time and effort into getting sponsored by FTP, and I don’t mean playing good poker. I’m talking about working hard at creating relationships with the people that matter, and making a good impression.

Speaking to James Sudworth, who was one of the earliest members of Team PKR, he had this to say about sponsorship, “I was already representing the brand before being sponsored as I loved the site. I see so many players getting sponsored by sites they have had nothing to do with before the sponsorship deal. To be an ambassador for a site, you really have to love the site and everything it stands for.”

This reminds me of the relationship that I saw develop between Scott Baumstein and PartyPoker. When Baumstein traveled to the European WPT events he built up great relationships within the WPT/Party fraternity. He was always available to get involved in videos, and then got into the commentary booth.

Baumstein wasn’t getting paid for his time. He did it because he enjoyed it, and he had a longer-term view; one that was realized when PartyPoker signed him up as a Team Pro when they joined the New Jersey party.

I like that approach.

But that’s not to say that people can’t join a site they have no affiliation with, and not work hard to promote them (I am thinking Sam Trickett and Everest here as a successful example).

The times of ‘just wearing a patch’ are long gone.

Sponsored players have a role to play in making the organization a success, and one suspects from the recent changes at Ultimate Poker (UP), and PokerStars, that in some cases this isn’t happening.

Sponsorship isn’t for everyone though. Although I guess this has much to do with earnings than anything else. I can’t imagine a grinder who is up and down like a yo-yo refusing a deal, whereas someone who has other successful business outlets can afford to be pickier.

Towing the corporate line can be boooooring. This is particularly difficult if you don’t love the site and have the same values (going back to Sudworth’s point). Selling a lie can sometimes feel like selling your soul to the devil and this can be a bitter pill for some people to swallow.

I wonder if WSOP.com are watching all the departures with interest. They have stood solid in their opinion that an ambassador is not needed, but there has been a lot of recent press suggesting they may break the mold and sign up Greg Merson.

Once again it all depends on the numbers. Can Merson make a difference, and attract more players, or will he be just another great poker player wearing a patch?

That depends on whether the WSOP.com will track the numbers?

Perhaps, it’s just too complicated.

When Victoria Coren won her second EPT title she was splashed over every major newspaper in the UK, but does that really matter unless thousands of UK players opened online accounts? And how do you track that kind of information?

Perhaps, like me, they just lick their finger, stick it in the air and hope for the best?

 

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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.

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