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Two-way Growth for WSOP and Sponsors

The World Series of Poker is enjoying unprecedented popularity in its 2006 season, drawing in record crowds, participants, and not to mention sponsors.

With the new commissioner Jeffrey Pollack at the helm, the WSOP has forged new valuable partnerships. And having formerly worked for sports giants NBA and NASCAR, Pollack surely knows that sponsorship is key to staying in the game.

"The NBA doesn't stop marketing in the off season, and these sponsorships will keep our product in the public eye during our off season, which is about 10 months, " Pollack, Harrah's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing said. "Our goal was to partner with companies that work well for both products."

For Pollack, the WSOP is a "37 year-old startup venture", owing it to the fact that the WSOP has been around for that long, even before Harrah's has put it to the mainstream. The Las Vegas giant purchased the World Series of Poker from the Binion family in 2003, when the game of poker began considerably tickling the fancy of the nation. Pollack said that the WSOP has never been leveraged before, and the goal now is to have products looking to grow along with the WSOP.

"Poker is an authentic piece of Americana as much as baseball, " he said. "Poker is not a luxury property and we're not the NFL. But by some accounts, poker is the number one participation game in the country, and that's the market we're hoping to tap into."

This year, the WSOP has extended its contract with sports network ESPN through 2010. ESPN has been broadcasting the World Series of Poker on and off since 1993, expanding its coverage considerably in the past few years.

David Carter is a professor of sports business at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, and is also an author of sports business books. He said that the range of sponsorships support the tournament's audience.

"The World Series of Poker is a very solid brand that is attracting the right demographics and a loyal following that corporate sponsors are looking to reach," Carter said.

"There is an alphabet soup of poker tournaments and events out there. The World Series, with Harrah's backing, is in a much stronger place, " he added.

He views the tie-up with ESPN as a critical component to the future of the WSOP. "Having a tie-in with ESPN is a bellwether in itself, " Carter said. "If you're trying to be an authentic sports brand, then there is nothing stronger than ESPN."

This year also saw the WSOP's partnership with Miller Brewing Co., with its Milwaukee's Best Light serving as the WSOP's official beer.

"Miller is planning to produce World Series of Poker themed television spots for Milwaukee's Best Light, plus they'll have a World Series of Poker promotion on packages in stores, " Pollack said of the 3-year agreement. "This is beer product that Miller has made a priority for growth, which makes it a perfect partner for the World Series of Poker."

Rob Yowell, vice president of sponsorship sales for The Bonham Group, a Denver-based national sports and entertainment marketing firm believes that Miller Brewing would not have attached Milwaukee's Best Light to the WSOP if the sales figures hadn't risen along with it in the 2005 series, where the beer brand was a sponsor and advertiser.

"I don't think I've drank Milwaukee's Best since I was in college, " Yowell said. "But the needle must be moving in that category. There's no way (the sponsorship) would have happened unless the sales are coming from World Series of Poker fans."

Sponsors for this year include Corum as the official timekeeper, Bluff Media which will air the competition on radio for the first time, and Activision among others.

"There's a financial benefit but it's about doing the right thing for the brand and the property, " Pollack said.


09/03/2006, Sunday
Sherry Barlow

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