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PCA 2014: Let's think big

I'm just coming off one of the more fascinating PCA Q&A sessions we've ever had. Daniel Negreanu and Andre Akkari talked about the business of poker - where it's been, where it is, and where it's going. I assume one of our bloggers will provide a good synopsis of what happened in the session, but as will often happen in these things, I had an "Ah ha!" moment.

The epiphany came when Daniel talked about people being professional poker players in large part because they don't want to follow the rules enforced on people with "normal" jobs. He also talked about how that can hurt us as an industry and community because we don't act as a team.

Let's consider a simple and obvious example: attire. When the James Bond franchise wanted to portray a high-stakes poker game, what did they show people? Tuxes, fine evening gowns, and opulent settings. PokerStars' TV people go to enormous lengths (and cost) to create an elegant, engaging, and visually riveting set. Alas, most of the people sitting on that set look like they can't afford a pair of jeans, much less a $10,000 poker tournament buy-in.

I can hear the objections and disapproving tweets cuing up now: "It's our money in the tournament - we'll dress however we want!" and "I'm a poker player because I want to be myself and not have to dress the way The Man wants me to."

Well, okay, but you might want to listen to Andre Akkari. He's a poker player - a very good one. But during the Q&A session, he said something really important: "Poker players are thinking about the $10K or $100K or even $1 million score. That's a lot of money in some ways, but in other ways, it's not so much money. When you think about the money outside the poker world, it's much bigger and we should be thinking about that money."

Let's go back to our discussion of attire at the poker table. Do you think that Lexus wants to sponsor a poker tournament where the participants look like (forgive me here) slobs? I'll give you a hint: I doubt it.

But consider what corporate sponsorship could mean to our game. How would you like to attend the "PokerStars PCA, brought to you by Lexus"? I'll give you a hint: you'd love it. At the very least, you'd have a bunch of Lexi transferring people to and from the Nassau airport. The "Lexus Player of the Festival" might drive away in a new $120K Lexus LS Hybrid. In fact, it's not unthinkable that Lexus would add money to the main event prize pool as part of the overall deal.

And I was just talking about corporate sponsorship of the event there. What if Lexus (/Rolex/Versace/Johnny Walker/Nike) sponsored individual players? Their advertising and marketing budgets are larger than your wildest dreams. Imagine having all your travel costs, your buy-ins, all of it covered by somebody who wants you to wear their clothes (drive their car, rock their watch, use their mobile phone, etc).

I was thinking about this as I walked down to Starbucks, where I ran into my old buddy and fellow Duke alum, Chris "Genius28" Lee and Jesse Chinni. I asked them, "What would you think about a clause in the terms and conditions for this tournament that set a dress code for the final table?" The answer from both gentlemen was instant: "Absolutely." "Sure."

I got the same response from PokerStars Team Pro David Williams when I saw him in the hall. "It doesn't have to be an Armani suit - you can be individual but still show some style and class."

And to be honest, the attire discussion is just one aspect of a bigger picture. Yes, poker is an individual game and it attracts a certain breed of people. But as Daniel and Andre pointed out, there is much bigger success, recognition, and (let's admit it) money out there if we can gain the same traction with the corporate world that the PGA, NASCAR, and ATP enjoy.

Imagine at the 2018 PCA, we have to replace the Q&A session about "Swapping action and buying pieces" with a session called "How to obtain and retain corporate sponsorships."

Think big, people.

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Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's.

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