Monday, November 22, 2010

Signs of the Times: Hellmuth & UB

Hellmuth is UBBeen marveling some over the last couple of months at how much the logos worn by professional poker players seem to pique the interest of many observers.

As this year’s WSOP Main Event final table demonstrated, the whole “patching” thing has clearly evolved into a highly intricate set of maneuvers, perhaps not quite as complicated as the game itself, though similarly informed by intricate strategies developed from partial information. Like poker, the advertising game involves a lot of “calculated guessing,” one might say.

The patches also provide another set of symbols to consider when taking in the “story” of a particular tournament, occasionally adding further richness to the already interesting narrative being related. Each player primarily represents him or herself, but may also be associated with others via the display of similar patches. Thus does the main “plot” concerning the tourney’s outcome occasionally get fleshed out further with these “subplots” regarding sponsorships.

For instance, when Jonathan Duhamel -- a “PokerStars guy” -- won the WSOP Main Event, it was viewed by some as a victory by Stars and a loss for Full Tilt. The fact that a lot of us play on these sites, and likely have our own preferences or even “allegiances,” perhaps adds (in a kind of arbitrary way) another layer of significance when it comes to the business of interpreting the final table story.

The patches are also great for gossip, too, it seems. In fact, we have recently witnessed how even the absence of a patch can, in some cases, be enough to get the rumor mill crankin’ in high gear.

I’m referring, of course, to all the talk about Phil Hellmuth having recently made a few appearances without his usual set of UltimateBet -- now “UB” -- logos. Surely it is testament to the marketing power the “Poker Brat” wields when people take notice what patches he is not wearing. Not to mention speculate so extensively about whose patches he might wear in the future.

You’d think this guy were Ralph Lauren or something, the way folks are getting so caught up in the business of following his fashion.

As you probably have heard, when Hellmuth showed up to contribute commentary over on ESPN3’s live stream from the WSOP Main Event final table a couple of weeks ago, he was not sporting any UB logos. Was a bit conspicuous, especially since Hellmuth never ever misses an opportunity to play the salesman.

Indeed, during the heads-up portion he annoyed many viewers by the way he’d ignore the action and instead talk about himself and his various money-making endeavors. If I remember correctly, he even interrupted himself one time that night -- very close to the final hand, I think -- to say “Let’s see... What else do I have to promote?”

Might have blown over, but when Hellmuth turned up at the NAPT Los Angeles shootout event without the usual “UB” stampage, the wondering got louder. Could it be that Hellmuth might be stepping away from the company with whom he has been associated for over a decade? And if so, with whom might he sign next? Stars? Tilt? Party? His own new skin/site? Harrah’s/WSOP? (For more on that latter possibility, see this recent post by B.J. Nemeth.)

I think it is obvious that the still-unresolved insider cheating scandal at UB adds further intrigue here. The fact is, ever since the scandal at UltimateBet first broke in the spring of 2008, wearing a UB patch has taken on special meaning.

Regardless of the wearer -- and indeed, despite the good intentions and/or best efforts of some of those who have donned it -- the UB patch has become a unique symbol. It yields various interpretations, but for many it evokes certain, specific themes, including greed, fraud, self-interest, and other negative and/or detrimental associations for poker.

What will Hellmuth do? Hellmuth has worn the UB symbol longer than anyone, I think. According to the UB site, “Hellmuth was instrumental in creating the UB poker software in 1999,” and most believe he has always had some sort of significant financial stake in the site.

One has to believe it would take a lot for him to move on at this late date, especially after so many better spots to act seem to have passed. Then again, for all his bluster, we all know what a nit Hellmuth can be. He will let himself get blinded down sometimes.

Love him or hate him, Hellmuth is himself a symbol, the meaning of which in a lot of ways coincides with the UB one. Which for me tends to suggest that it doesn’t really matter much if he wears the UB patch again.

In truth, Hellmuth is -- and always will be -- UB. And you can decide for yourself what that means.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Opinionomics said...

I would love to see the expiration date on Hellmuth's contract with UB, if that's how endorsement deals are done. That might say everything.

11/29/2010 2:46 PM  

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