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Top-10 reasons the new professional poker tour will succeed

24 January 2011

By Aaron Todd

Last week, news broke that a new professional poker tour was taking shape. Federated Sports + Gaming, founded by the former commissioner of the World Series of Poker, Jeffrey Pollack, and the founders of horse race wagering site YouBet.com, announced that the to-be-named tour will consist of four tournaments, followed by a $1 million freeroll "tour championship," based on the results during the first four events.

While professional poker tours have been tried and talked about for years, I think this one's got a pretty good shot at success. Here are 10 reasons that I think this tour might actually take hold.

10. Lessons from previous attempts
As many poker pundits have pointed out, the idea of an exclusive tournament series for poker pros is not new. The Professional Poker Tour (PPT) had a one-year run, and the Professional Poker League had a draft (there were to be eight "teams" of eight players), but never got off the ground. The people involved in the planning for this league have studied where these attempts went right, and probably more importantly, what they did wrong.

9. Annie Duke
Some have argued that selecting Annie Duke, one of the most polarizing people in the poker community, as the commissioner of the new league was a mistake. I disagree with those people. Duke may be polarizing (I'll admit I'm not her biggest fan — I made her number seven on my list of the top-10 of overexposed poker pros just a few months ago), but she's also a been a fierce advocate for poker in general and is a smart, shrewd businesswoman. She didn't make it to the top-two on Celebrity Apprentice for nothing. And as a result of her appearance on the show, she has built up a relationship with many members of the mainstream media. How many other poker players have been on Ellen?

8. Qualification system
One of the shortcomings of the PPT was that its qualification system produced too many players that weren't at the top of their game. While most of the players who qualified for the tour did so by securing a spot on one of the industry's player-of-the-year leaderboards or notching a top-tier result in a tournament, some of those players were well past their prime. Every winner of the WSOP Main Event? No offense to Noel Furlong, Mansour Matloubi and Jerry Yang, but do they really deserve membership in an elite poker league?

While final details on the qualification system for the new tour have not been announced, Duke says that there will be very few exemptions granted and that most of the people playing will have earned their spot based on the previous year's live tournament results.

7. The Palms
While the location of the tournament series — The Palms — isn't generally known for having crazy nosebleed poker games (you can read my review of The Palms poker room to see what you can expect on most days), the casino is owned by the Maloof family, who know the entertainment business. And having a poker league in a casino with a connection to Playboy probably can't hurt, either.

6. Neutral stance
One of the major limiting factors in televised poker as of late has been the battle between Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. Both online rooms want their players to play in their events, but don't want them to play in their competitor's events. In an interview with pokerstatic.com, Duke described the league as being "Switzerland," and that it would have "the most liberal logo policy in the business." If they truly are able to get pros from both of the major sites on board, it could be the best place to see the top players from both sites clash on TV.

5. Major TV partner TBD
Speaking of TV, this is another detail that is still in the balance. No partner has been announced, but in order for this league to succeed, slick televised production will be essential. One of the major broadcast networks or ESPN would be the top candidates on FS+G's wish list, of course. But even a secondary cable network such as Spike or Versus would work. Seriously, how many poker players watched the Travel Channel or GSN before the World Poker Tour and High Stakes Poker?

4. Buy-in from top players
There's little doubt that most players support this idea right now. The question is will they support it when the criteria for entry are released? Some players will be shoe-ins — Tom Marchese and Vanessa Selbst, for instance — based on their results over the last 12 months. Should the criteria hold true to Duke's claim, some of the industry's biggest names (Duke's brother, Howard Lederer, for instance, who cashed in just one open event last year) may not earn a spot, and might change their tune when they find themselves on the outside looking in. On the flip side, the league might be really good for live tournaments, as it will provide incentive to players to play and produce results when they might otherwise decide to sit out.

3. Money
The reason I think the top players — even those who don't make the initial cut list — will buy into the idea is pure dollars and cents. In her interview with pokerstatic.com, Duke says that the first four events will produce a seven-figure overlay, and the fifth event will be a $1 million freeroll for the players who perform the best in the four preliminary events. That's free money flowing into the poker economy of the top players, and even if they aren't in on the game, they know they'll have a chance to benefit from it, either by getting on the tour the following year themselves, or by winning it off the folks who are lucky enough to wade through the talented fields to score a nice cash.

The tournaments won't be free, however; players will be responsible for buying into the first four events because Duke says "people play very differently if they don't have teeth in the game." However, there won't be any rake taken from the tournament prize pool.

2. Corporate sponsors
And where, you ask, is this money going to come from? Simple. Corporate sponsorships. You can expect that the entire tour will have a presenting sponsor before its first tournament. And there will be plenty of opportunities to sell the hole-card cam and have something similar to the "Degree All-In Moment." The whole point of this tour is to monetize the players, so I wouldn't expect to see any hesitation from management to find ways to bring in revenues.

1. Jeffrey Pollack
And Jeffrey Pollack is just the right man to bring in that revenue. Pollack, who is correctly given credit for making the World Series of Poker the brand that it is today, managed to sell poker to mainstream corporate entities such as Milwaukee's Best Light and Jack Links Beef Jerky. With the league taking a neutral stance in the online poker world, it is these types of corporations that Pollack will need to get on board.

Pollack also has credibility with the players, which should help produce more buy-in from the pros.
Top-10 reasons the new professional poker tour will succeed is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.