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Medill grad deals World Series of Poker into big time25 July 2007
Poker is an age-old game that took on new-age significance once it was technologically molded into engaging entertainment for television. Previously unsung poker legends are household names today, and new stars continue to emerge.
It's the essence of the 38th annual World Series of Poker, which began June 1 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and will reach a crescendo next Tuesday (July 17) when players assemble at the coveted final table of the Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in Texas Hold'em Championship. The winner will walk away with millions.
When Harrah's Entertainment acquired WSOP from the defunct Binion's Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas several years ago, it reached out to the company's newly appointed vice president of sports entertainment marketing, Jeffrey Pollack, as the tournament's first commissioner.
In less than two years, the 1986 graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism has led a team that has transformed the WSOP into a marketing juggernaut.
Pollack brings an impressive background in sports media to the WSOP. Among other positions, including founder of The Sports Business Daily in 1994, he's the former Managing Director of Broadcasting and New Media for NASCAR Digital Entertainment and Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the NBA.
The Thrifty Gambler sat down with Pollack to talk about the exponential growth of the World Series of Poker.
The Thrifty Gambler: What are the unique challenges of marketing poker?
Jeffrey Pollack: The challenges are not unlike the challenges that almost any sports property faces when it's in start-up mode. And we are. I think of the WSOP as a 38-year-old start-up. Until my team's arrival here, there really wasn't much business behind the WSOP. It was really just the tournament. What we have done in the last 20 months is start to re-position the World Series, and really poker as a whole, as a viable, legitimate and high impact agent of change for consumer product companies.
TG: Can poker be compared to other sports?
JP: The WSOP is very much like an entire sports season compressed into 48 days. We have a beginning, middle, an all-star event (the $50,000 HORSE tournament), and we have a championship at the end, the Main Event. Over the course of those 48 days we encounter many of the same challenges and opportunities that any other sports league faces over the course of an eight or a 10 month season.
TG: How about the gambling aspect?
JP: It is poker, and it is Las Vegas, and that does make it a little different, but we think that's o.k. We are what we are and we're very proud of it. We're not for every company, but we're for a lot of companies, especially companies that are interested in platforms that are different, engaging and have a high degree of direct touch with its consumers.
TG: Is having the tournament covered by ESPN a major plus?
PG: It says a lot. We are what sports fans like to watch. And while it's not an athletic competition, it's still competition. And the great poker players are exceedingly smart; you have brilliant people. There's a lot of strategy and a lot of skill. It's very pure competition, albeit non-athletic.
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Best of John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp