We bring you Part 2 of UK Poker News’ exclusive interview with leading poker agent and brand creator, Catman (of The Poker Agency). If you haven’t read Part 1, now is the time to do it by clicking on the UK Poker News tab.
Amongst the fascinating subjects Catman covers in Part 2 is the relationship between poker on the one hand and the corporate world, the showbiz world and the TV world on the other.
It seems quite clear that poker is a fast evolving business, and change is coming for the considerable benefit of the players, and not just the elite ones!
UKPN: You have recognised at an early stage the potential for providing corporate events involving poker, whether through branded tournaments or simply providing a social event for a company’s staff. Can you give us some examples of these events and how you believe your client benefits?
CM: I am presently in negotiation with one of the world’s largest non-alcoholic drink brands who will at some time make the move. If they do, it will only be a matter of time before others follow. Aston Martin has just come on board the poker train; Pepsi and Toyota have already had major involvement in the States. As soon as poker is fully accepted there will be so much more corporate involvement in poker, which will be a blessing to every one who plays. Sex is the world’s biggest seller and poker is just naughty enough to get there too.
I just wrote an article for Poker Pro magazine on University poker; the location was the Rector’s Cottage at Exeter College, Oxford, at a student game. The fact that the world’s greatest educational institution openly accepts poker as an intellectual game of skill (no rake, so not illegal) is a point I will be pushing in all future sponsorship negotiations.
There is no game that mimics life and business as does the decision making of poker and in turn poker is becoming a great outlet for business entertainment. Of course learning the absolute basics of Texas Hold’em is fairly simple and corporate poker events allow for socialising and something the ladies can enjoy too. So far our main social poker events have been for TV companies. This side of the business is great; you actually get to watch people playing poker purely for the enjoyment of the game.
Whether it is for hospitality, motivation, fundraisers or poker and golf, there is a lot of corporate money becoming available which in turn will provide employment for dealers, poker professionals and future sponsorship.
UKPN: The Poker Agency also provides opportunities for clients to invite star poker players to events. What is the usual format for these events and what feedback have you had from clients and also from the players themselves?
CM: So far, corporate clients and a few individuals have thought the idea of playing against the pros has been a great idea. We have had a fair few enquiries for players to attend events later on this year, some to talk at and some to play at. But our most exciting poker event scheduled for November is a poker/golf trip to Vegas for 60 bankers and their clients. They have not yet quite understood how much the big American poker stars want as fees (one is asking $50,000!) or indeed play for in wagers at a golf game. I cannot wait for an event where I can tell a UK company it will cost them twenty grand to play a round of Golf with Barny Boatman!
UKPN: There is a large crossover nowadays between poker and the showbiz world. How has The Poker Agency exploited this and are you able to give us an idea of the calibre of showbiz star you act for?
CM: It should read The Showbiz of Poker, poker is the star and anyone who plays it is the star. Sorry, but it is not about Jade playing poker; now Paris Hilton is another kettle of fish! I adore the American showbiz-style TV events; they really can play the game, but I am not into Trash TV Poker. I hear Teddy Sheringham is hosting some big home games and my respect goes to him; the same goes for Beppe. When requests come we deal with them but we are not really about showbiz celebrities.
Poker has got to keep its credibility unless we are talking a game of poker with Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Pamela Anderson, then we will talk show biz stars for sure.
Our role is developing and promoting poker-playing Stars. For the up and coming player to get anywhere in terms of sponsorship it is all about image and personality (winning games too of course).
Successful European players all have powerful brand images; think Hansen – “Brad Pitt”, Devilfish – “The Shark”. The Daddies of European poker; The Hendon Mob – “The Sopranos” (quiet but deadly), Tony G – “Don’t Mess with Me” and El Blondie – “The Lizard”. Devilfish and Hansen relish the showbiz celebrity, but I don’t think the others want all the showbiz glam, I think they are poker athletes and of course very successful businessmen too.
Don’t forget in Hollywood, every A list Lady from Anniston, Stone, Carey and Hilton are deep into the game.
We are working with TV and the media, in developing formats and promoting real poker players. The showbiz element is vital for mainstream TV, but maybe we could call it another name rather than poker.
UKPN: The “purists” of the game consider that the true test of a poker professional is decided during a long, drawn out game of slowly increasing blinds where skill and strategy can take precedence over the push-it-all-in merchants. How do you see the poker industry progressing from here especially given the tug-of-war that currently exists between the “purists” of the game and the “entertainers” who have a TV audience in mind?
You can’t have it both ways, it is as simple as that. Poker as TV is always going to be about drama and time and is controlled by the media. They want a fast hitting spectacle. For pure poker we will have to sit in serious games at The Vic or play in the hundreds of non-televised events as we have been doing for many years. Five years ago we all sat in card rooms begging for a new face. Thanks to No Limit Hold’em TV, they are here in their thousands, ready to fuel the purists for ever and a day.
I believe the poker industry will slowly do more to make the players happy, but TV poker has defined time and money issues. TV channels are not interested in how the game should be played but how much advertising they can sell around it. Come back “Late Night Poker”!
I don’t think we are ever going to see Pot limit take over from No Limit, can you tell me the other options, apart from a mass rebellion?
A top European was recently telling me how not only did he have to pay into a TV event but was then told where to sit, no draw for seat, just “you sit there”. Sorry, but this is making a mockery of the game and the players. Do you think Beckham should be charged to play for England then told to play in goal? It’s a catch 22 situation.
But along with the money we will have to go with the flow. An alternative would be a massive sponsor to fund a real players’ union or something like the FA that has to be listened to.
UKPN: Poker involves several variations, the main ones other than Texas Hold’em being Omaha, Stud, Draw and Razz, as well as the pot and fixed limit versions of each. Do you see a danger that No Limit Texas Hold’em will make all other variations redundant or is there an entertainment avenue to be exploited for them too?
CM: I don’t think it’s a matter of other games becoming redundant, I don’t think any of them have even touched the surface yet, especially in Europe. Razz and draw is not played in most European card rooms and 7-card Stud was pretty much laid to rest in Europe around 8 years ago. Omaha variations are available but they are simply feared. It’s a matter of education and cost too.
They say love is a drug; for me dealer’s choice is the ultimate natural high, but the swings can cost you a crack addict’s yearly income in a day.
Once hold'em players have tasted the excitement and action of Omaha style games, there is no turning back. I play a lot with the student community at The Gutshot and when they get a taste for Omaha they go for it like bats out of hell. Students and trends are a key component for any marketer so hopefully they might provide a route.
Let’s say The WSOP started of with a $1,500 HORSE event instead of the $50,000, the event would be mobbed from day one. A low cost HORSE event could well be the way forward for Media exposure; the new generation would love it after a few hundred hours play.
Finally you can see some of these other games on TV with The World Series of Poker, but watching someone play for $150,000 or $7 million prize is a no contest.
Most poker on TV is produced for entertainment of the mass audience, not just converted players. The basics of Hold’em make it the only game that is easy to understand. The problem is the complexity of the game for TV; in the world of media everything has got to be simple. Let’s face it, apart from Gary Jones, there are very few Omaha players who could hit you with the percentages instantaneously.
So far, all the poker on TV has been ad led (paid for) by the poker industry. I sat down with David Staite of Endemol, ITV and other companies prior to the likes of EPT to be told poker was too eclectic and not mainstream TV. Now there is unlimited Hold’em, so let’s wait and see.
UKPN: What do you have coming up in the next year and beyond? Do you have specific goals in poker or will you go with the flow as demand dictates?
CM: I won’t be going with any flow; I have got to create my own little tidal wave. The Poker Agency will keep knocking on doors and promoting poker and its players. It is just a matter of time before European pro players experience The American Dream. I hope within the year to provide sole agency to a dedicated roster of professionals and continue just in the way we have in our first four months of operation.
The poker companies are now realising that they really have got to create new incentives for players, give something back. The next year will see a huge battle between the major brands, and it will be the players who will gain profit from this. I believe there will be more and more opportunities for sponsorship and respect for the players. The Poker Agency will concentrate on building relationships with the brands and the media side of poker and then we will be able to offer players the opportunities they deserve.
Nothing is given to us on a plate; it is down to one thing, hard graft and doing what we are good at.
UKPN: Catman, it’s been good to talk about this aspect of poker. Thank you again.
CM: Thank you for considering us.
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