Friday, December 24, 2010

The Search for New Players (and Hats)

Santa ShamusHappy Xmas eve, peoples. Somehow I have misplaced my fedora and thus have had to wear this silly cap to keep from freezing. Have been getting a few strange looks here and there, but I suppose I’m fitting in for the most part.

Wanted to share a couple of items today. One was something I heard on Jesse May’s nifty poker podcast, The Poker Show, now sponsored by PartyPoker.

May, of course, is the author of the great poker novel Shut Up and Deal and has been writing and reporting on poker for over a decade now. I first met him at the WSOP this summer, then had a chance to catch up with him again a few weeks ago when he visited Marrakech during the WPT event I was helping cover.

If you have never heard it, The Poker Show is a fun and informative podcast, often filled out with lots of well-executed interviews. Like Gary Wise, May doesn’t shy away from asking not-so-easy questions, and thus often gets his guests to talk in meaningful ways about issues of genuine interest. On the 12/6/10 one May interviewed some folks there in Morocco, including tournament director Matt Savage and PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Matthew Parvis. (May actually mentions me on that episode, saying some nice things about the blog.)

The show I wanted to refer to, though, was the following one, the 12/14/10 episode, which features an interview with Joe Sebok, sponsored player and “media and operations consultant” for UltimateBet.

May started the interview asking Sebok about the now-cancelled “Poker2Nite,” the magazine-style poker news show he’d co-hosted with Scott Huff. You might recall that “Poker2Nite” debuted on the Fox Sports Network in late 2009, soon moved over to the smaller VS network in February, then was shelved in the late spring. May had been watching some of the old episodes online and complimented Sebok on the show, asking him why it was it had been cancelled.

Sebok noted that “whenever the online sites do a show, they want it to turn into acquisitions,” alluding to the show’s sponsor -- UltimateBet -- and how UB had hoped the show would cause new players to sign up to the site. Sebok speculated that “Poker2Nite” “was a show that really wasn’t built for that” -- namely, the direct promotion of the sponsoring site. I believe Sebok is right on that point. Although I didn’t watch every episode, I never felt like the show was unduly biased toward UB or even let its pitching of the site to intrude that much on the presentation of the show’s content.

Sebok went on to say that since the show didn’t deliver players, “it was a little disappointing” for UB despite the fact that “the poker community received it really, really well.” He added how the show was also a lot of fun to do and that all involved were sad when the plug was pulled.

The Poker Show with Jesse MaySebok’s response inspired May to make a comment that I found fairly intriguing. It was a point about poker media that we’re all more or less aware of, I think, especially those of us who are involved on the writing and reporting side of things. But for some reason I was hearing it a little differently this time.

“There’s this big disconnect right now,” said May, “between the need [for...] the sponsors to show a return on their money, and the fact that the poker community wants something different than what they are getting these days.” In other words, when it comes to shows like “Poker2Nite” or really just about all poker media, what is being “sold” isn’t really the product at all -- that is, the reporting or content produced -- but the sponsoring online sites who cannot realize any sort of return unless new players sign up and their player pools increase.

“It’s exactly that,” said Sebok. “Everything is ROI and how many acquisitions [are secured]... everything is driven by [the targeting of] these new players,” he explained.

Others -- Bill Rini springs to mind -- have written before about this subject and with more insight than I can bring to it. I’m talking about this model by which online sites need to keep acquiring new players to thrive and the various problems such a model creates.

Like I say, though, the exchange between Sebok and May got me thinking a little bit differently about the issue, perhaps because of the recent “Reid bill” which caused us all to think for a couple of weeks about how the current online poker model could suddenly be fundamentally changed.

Obviously the stream of new sign-ups has dried up considerably. The UIGEA has had something to do with that, but is not the sole cause preventing new players from joining the games. And I think in the case of a site like UB -- where a major cheating scandal remains a big part of the site’s legacy -- there might well be other reasons why new players aren’t rushing to deposit money and play.

The fact is, even without the Reid bill coming in and taking it all away, the “affiliate model” relied upon by both the poker news sites and the online sites for so long is becoming less and less viable, anyway. Sebok said his TV show “really wasn’t built for that,” i.e., the bringing in of new players. But really, even sites and shows that are “built” according to that type of promotional strategy probably aren’t going to function very well for very long. (Never mind May’s additional point about how some of these shows/sites may consequently be failing to produce content the poker community really wants.)

The other item I wanted to share was a new piece over on Betfair poker running through the “Top Poker Stories of 2010.” I listed 10 big stories, then added a quick rundown of 20 other items of note. Am sure even with that long list I probably left out something, but hopefully I managed to cover things well enough.

Okay, gotta go look for that hat. Maybe Santa will bring me a new one.

’Cos, you know, Santa rocks.

Santa rocks

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