(Note: SbB Senior Writer Tuffy, stranded in Vegas while waiting for the trial (thanks, Vegas Bail!), took in a day at the World Series of Poker and provided this report, sponsored by EA Sports. EA Sports: Screw you if you don’t want to play with us.)
The loudest cries entering the Rio came from the poker fans that weren’t there. Commercialization is ruining poker. Corporations are ruining poker. ESPN is ruining poker. Norman Chad is ruining poker. Frankly, it’s difficult to understand how anyone could ever shuffle cards again under that onslaught.
After a weekend at UFC 100, any amount of T&A in the service of your favorite sport’s sponsors seems downright tame. Still, one does not judge these matters by way of chatter on the Internet. (Except you, deeply intelligent and thoughtful reader.)
Therefore, we dove in to find out what sexy item is one of the best-sellers at the company store, why players really buy pictures of themselves playing, and what ESPN’s new actress/reporter thinks of the new poker paradigm.
The Milwaukee’s Best ladies are the first greeters on this down day in the tournament. (At this point, they’re not down to the final table nor do they have the many thousands of initial entrants, so there’s not a media or sales peak.) When the request for the picture comes to the charmers in the powder blue Oktoberfest costumes, it’s like shouting commands to the chorus line.
They snap into the above pose within three seconds, eyes bright and smiles plastered. They were actually standing three feet away next to the free tchotchkes (because who doesn’t want to sport the sign of the Beast on their shirt or beer cozy?), but they made sure to kick-step to the nearest banner for best exposure.
The long walk to the convention center provided many opportunities for signage, including the Gamma-O Plus Pomegranate. As you know, the Wild West was tamed all for a lack of the elusive pomegranate seed, causing poker to go dormant for 150 years.
Official stores could also be found every few turns. They provided not only nourishment for the body but comfort for the Western soul.
One store worker related that the top sellers at the stores were the two-for-$20 T-shirts, granola bars, and the sexy ladies’ tees (almost always bought by men, the clerk noted with a knowing chuckle).
The crowds boiled down to a hearty handful by this day in the tournament, many sporting the logos of their favorite sponsors. This left the booth minders alone during action to play at PokerStars on their laptops.
After a particularly hard loss online, a suggestion to hit the full-price poker teaching books behind the booth worker/player a little harder before diving back in earned a sharp retort: “But I shouldn’t have lost!” And the books took a bad beat themselves.
The Official World Series of Poker Photos booth didn’t have much business, either, leaving time for a fruitless search for a framed picture of Lou Diamond Phillips’ masterful run into the money during this year’s tourney. According to the booth minder, friends, family, and fans bought most of the photos this year. One more group: players purchased quite a few.
Not the stars, of course, though a few (including Mel Judah) indulged. No, many players of smaller stature purchased official photos to send to their sponsors to show they put the logos on prominently. After all, failing to do so can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course, ESPN had a ubiquitous place in the tournament’s flow. At least one break had to be extended ten minutes to give players time to shuffle their chips to and from the two feature tables, not to mention sign a release form to be allowed on the telly.
One way ESPN’s role has expanded this year (besides having two feature tables, just like UFC 100 somehow had two main events) is to add their version of Chris Connelly (moreso than Erin Andrews, despite appearances) to file human interest reports targeted at all platforms in a synergistic fashion that targets new media and you get the idea.
Her name is Heather Ankeny; she’s an actress and ESPN personality who has been providing video standups and interviews throughout the World Series of Poker, giving real-time responses to those unwilling to wait for the ESPN packaged shows to kick off in two weeks.
Asked about her work thus far, she said:
We found some really interesting stories here at the World Series of Poker. It’s not just professional poker players that dropped a little $10,000 and are playing; there’s actually… actually, I’ve been in tears a few times. I think those are interesting to the masses. They give poker an even better name when you see people like that playing and what it’s doing for families, individuals.
Asked if any part of the advertising/commercialism of the World Series of Poker stood out to her as particularly egregious, she related a tale from earlier in the tourney:
It’s not too much because I get it. I actually interviewed Jason Alexander; he even used that word. I said, “How do you feel about making it to Day 2?” and it was a lot easier to make it to Day 2 because there were only four levels the first two days of Day 1 (thus possibly extending the stay of many players one more day) and I think Jason Alexander put it best when he said, “I think the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is happy that there are only four levels today.”
(Bonus photo: How no one can notice Phil Ivey getting a special massage while at a feature table boggles the mind)