YOU DON’T HAVE TO! IT PAYS OUT TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS!

/end rant

I admire the people behind the International Stadiums Poker Tour for what they are trying to do. Their mission tangents ambitions I have as well. Poker presented and consumed in new ways is definitely the right medicine.

What the game doesn’t need however is companies that kill their ideas by drowning them in monetary promises and forgetting what the idea was in the first place.

Online poker players are experienced hoop-jumping artists. Money stuck in cyberspace? People being de-frauded? Rampant cheating? Complex sign-up procedures that includes sending governments snail mail? Cashouts that take twelve weeks? If the action is right and the offer juicy, they’ll take it on the chin and keep smiling. And playing.

If you guarantee 20 million euros in a tournament featuring a €600 buy-in you can pretty much demand anything. Host it on the moon and watch the space program be revived by eager ROI hunters and angle shooters. Demand that everyone play naked from home and well… maybe that will not change much. Reveal that prizes will be paid out in increments of $10 a week and dedicated poker players will discover eternal life before deciding not to play.

There is nothing inherently positive about offering guarantees. When you decide to go down that route you must have a plan for how to use this potentially very effective but also treacherous marketing device. One such often used plan is to stick with a minimum risk guarantee that prevents participation in events from dropping  below the guarantee.  Another is to calculate a realistic prize pool target and use gradually increasing guarantees to slowly build participation until the target is reached. A third seems to be to just pull a giant number out of a hat and get the most expensive press coverage ever.

Offering guarantees is a market device that can work in tandem with other attractors such as the chance to win titles and the bragging rights that come with it – or the opportunity to play poker one minute and drink Pina Coladas under a palm tree the next. But once it takes center stage, the cat’s out of the bag. And it can claw your business to pieces if you don’t leash it.

When the ISPT team sat down and decided to host a poker tournament at Wembley stadium I’m assuming their thinking was that being part of such a spectacular event in such a grand location would intrigue players. Once they decided to slap a 30  20 million euros guarantee on the event (or the series – noone seems to know at the moment) they need not have bothered. They might as well have planned to host it in the sewers.

Everything else surrounding the event is now borderline irrelevant. Only the euro 20 million guarantee really matters. In addition to taking an substantial financial risk – which it will require 33,333 buy-ins, rebuys and addons to mitigate (assuming the guarantee is for the main event as first promised) – the ISPT team also faces the risk of  having the event branded as a failure despite attracting say 16,000 players. Lastly, they risk never knowing what actually motivated players to show up in the first place. And this is where it gets poisonous.

Eventually, if the first event spawns a successor, there will be a meeting where someone will ask what the guarantee will be next time around. This undermines the entire stadium experience concept and leads straight into a hamster wheel. Lower the guarantee and the event immediately gets a loser stamp. Raise it and you’ll eventually push too far. Ask Patrick Partouche.

Years of hard work establishing a poker tournament series that impressively reached  far beyond French borders didn’t help the Partouche Poker Tour once players smelled a broken guarantee promise. Noone came for it. But they all barred their teeth once it wasn’t there.
Whether the promise was the result of man’s tongue slipping, the result of a flawed analysis of how big the PPT Main Event could become or the result of being stuck in that hamster wheel I don’t know. I just know that I do  feel for the PPT.  They didn’t deserve that beating. But they didn’t have enough faith in their product’s inherent appeal so they continued to play with fire. And got burned.

The ISPT is probably next.

There’s nothing wrong with using the allure of big prize money to get publicity and drive traffic and players. But if you’ve spent time and money developing a concept that transcends that basic attraction, so must your marketing of it.

The sad part is that the initial promo reel introducing the ISPT  is a true work of art by this industry’s standard. It pushes all the right buttons and provides a sense of the magnitude and awesomeness of the event. When it was first released in ended on a great note. Now it ends with that one devastating message: “20,000,0000€ Prize Pool”.

Anyone can make a tournament sporting a 20 million euros prize pool guarantee attractive to players. But few can make a business out of it. Especially if you have to rent a stadium along the way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm0B4gPrP1A