Much of Poker’s intensity is down to how much a hand or a game is worth to a particular player in the context of their actual wealth. Everyone’s rooting for the player who’s had to save up to buy-in over his or her rich, wastrel counterpart. Of course, on the world poker scene no one is particularly hard of cash, but losing out on a $10 million pot hurts whoever you are, and it’s stakes like these that have made professional Poker the spectacle that it is today.
So what happens when you take personal (financial) investment out of the game? Does Poker become more of a sport if players are on an even playing field? And if so, is this the aspect of the game appeals to spectators?
This is the thinking of Malta-based entrepreneur Alex Dreyfus, who aims to ‘sportify’ the game in a bid to make his Global Poker League the equivalent to the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, PGA or UFC. The 38-year-old hopes to reinvigorate a poker industry that he believes is too static and too old, moving it beyond the stuffy, slow-paced World Series of Poker already reasonably popular on ESPN2.
While the whole thing may sound a tad ambitious, Dreyfus has certainly done his research. Having bought the Global Poker Index (a website that tracks tournaments and ranks players) in an effort to build relations and launch his brand, Dreyfus partnered with Repucom to calculate the sponsorship potential.
According to recent research from Repucom, there are more than 100 million casual poker fans across the globe, with 51 million based in the USA. Today, a quarter (24%) of the US population already consider themselves poker fans and of that figure, 81% watch live poker tournaments as a spectator.
Set to commence in April 2016, The Global Poker League (GPL) will see 12 franchise teams (L.A Sunset, Berlin Bears, Moscow Wolverines et al.) play in two conferences; Americas and Eurasian. Each team will consist of five players, three of which were picked by team managers during a GPL Draft Day in February (only the top 1,000 GPI ranked players were eligible), whilst the remaining two players will be selected as ‘Wild Cards’.
Over and above turning an inherently individual pursuit into a bizarre team sport, Dreyfus has scrapped Poker’s principle tenet: gambling. Largely down to online gambling being illegal in most of the US, players won't be staking their own money; instead, they'll earn $100 an hour, an even-split of 30% of league revenue and a $20,000 championship bonus. Players will start a game with an allotment of points and will use these points to bet on hands. Will this limited gratification sap the zeal with which players play? Time will tell the motivation which fuels the tops players. Is it competitive spirit or greed? Perhaps this is what has separated Poker from the rest of the sporting world until now.
Breaking a number of ‘codes’ in order to make the gameplay more dynamic and engaging for fans and players, GPL matches will be fast-paced, featuring a chess style clock. Following extensive research with Poker fans, the GPL has decided introduce duel matches of 30-40 minutes with a table featuring digital cards (using RFID technology) and real chips. This new format will allow four times more hands to be played per hour than current live poker.
And the novelty certainly doesn’t end there. Taking inspiration from arena staging such as the UFC’s Octagon, the Global Poker League’s live events will feature the its own signature arena. “The Cube” will be a 400-sqaure foot one-way sound proofed Perspex box in which players will stand to play. Not only will standing allow for sponsorship on player’s back but it will also encourage amateur dramatics; Dreyfus is hoping for rage, excitement, chest bumps, high fives and the odd hissy-fit. By staging matches in this way GPL hopes to move Poker outside of its traditional casino environment, hosting live events at iconic venues across the globe. In addition, all matches in the GPL season will be live-streamed online, with a number also due to air on TV, in real time. Whether championship matches will ever become a pay-per-view remains to be seem but Dreyfus expects to make massive revenue on ticketed events.
By creating engaging stories, promoting the top ranked players and delivering immersive, engaging events, the GPL hopes to “‘own the sport of poker”. While the futuristic format should breath new life into a game that has stuck by tradition, if Alex Dreyfus thinks can emulate Dana White’s monopoly with the UFC, he may well be bluffing himself.
Contributor | SAMSON