Fine print can ‘muck’ poker deals

Apr 18, 2006 2:00 AM

The marketing of major league poker events is no longer anyone’s idea of a walk in the park. No longer is it enough to merely announce a tournament promising big money and then quickly stand back to keep from being trampled by the hordes of entries.

Poker’s new reality complicates things.

The first question out of most mouths now is what kind of TV deal do you have?

And then there is the matter of sponsors and their expectations.

Sponsors invariably (and understandably) want to limit the presence of competing logos. Does Chevrolet fill its TV spots with shots of Toyotas?

Sponsor problems forced World Series of Poker champ Joe Hachem to skip the next big TV poker event, an invitation-only, CBS special filmed at the Palms last week. The marketing hook — everyone’s GOT to have a hook — was that it features 21 players playing for each of 21 different countries in what is to be known as the Intercontinental Po ker Championship.

Sounds a bit like the sponsors are trying to nurture a World Series wanna-be.

Never mind that most of the players had to travel no farther than from their own comfortable living rooms in the Las Vegas area. Even those coming from as far as, let’s say, Southern California or Houston, spend a lot of time in Las Vegas poker rooms anyway.

But their international roots were genuine enough.

Lebanese-born Sammy Farha of Houston represented his homeland. The Bogart look-alike may be the best known second place finisher in the history of the World Series of Poker’s main event, as a consequence of his televised duel with winner Chris Moneymaker three years ago.

The popular Daniel Negreanu, a former Player of the Year, has been a Las Vegas resident for a number of years but his Canadian birth made him an easy qualifier for the CBS tournament.

No problems at all with Doyle Brunson. The Texas-born Brunson seemed like a natural to represent the good old U.S. of A.

Yosh Nakano spends his working days as a host at L.A.’s Bicycle Club Casino, but he was born in Japan, or somewhere close to it. C’mon down Yosh!

Marco Traniello was a successful Las Vegas hair stylist when he married poker princess Jennifer Harman. She usually gets the headlines because of her constant presence in the biggest cash games. Traniello made the not surprising decision that the time was right to tune up his poker skills. He’s done all right for himself winning more than $100,000 in tournament prize money over the last year or so, but his Italian roots were what got him a seat in the CBS event as Jennifer cheered him on from the stands.

So that was the hook this time — creating a cast with the strongest possible international look.

Which was why Hachem would have seemed like a natural. He’s from Australia and won bragging rights as the world’s top poker player when he beat more than 5,600 to win $7.5 million at last summer’s World Series of Poker.

So what’s the problem?

Hachem followed his World Series success by quickly signing a lucrative deal that casts him as a spokesman for PokerStars.com.

That’s the problem.

PartyPoker is the other big online poker site and just happens to be a major sponsor of the Intercontinental Championship.

It would not do, the great minds concluded, to have a PokerStars spokesman rubbing shoulders in a PartyPoker event.

It’s part of poker’s new reality.

That’s not the first time something like this has occurred as lawyers, agents and sponsors explore the fine print in tournament plans and player release forms like it has never been explored before.

Poker personalities such as Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer have already opted out of the televised tournaments of the World Poker Tour, which forces players to surrender all rights to the use of their likeness or image.

Among their possible concerns: They are both consultants and spokesmen for FullTiltPoker.com, another Internet poker site that schedules its own television events.

Poker’s new reality has generated bigger tournament paydays. But that fine print ”¦ it can be a killer.