Pools Spin Doctor
by: BLAIR THEIN
Deﬁnition of a spin doctor;
A person responsible for ensuring that others interpret something from a particular point of view.
So how does this apply to what Per Hagen, once voted one of the worlds top 20 «most inﬂuential people» by BLUFF Magazine, is now trying to achieve in the pool world?
(BLUFF Magazine, the worlds leading poker magazine)
To give this context, we have to go back to 2007. That’s the year Per decided to start a management agency for professional poker players. He could see that poker was booming, but the «sport» was lacking in professionalism. Mainstream media was not quite sure how much air time they should devote to this new phenomena. It was all very messy. Companies was throwing good money after bad ambassadors, and the way they marketed their own brand was somewhat lacking.
The agency Per founded had a clear mission; they would sign the best up and comers, coupled with some already established stars. But they would only get signed if they fulﬁlled the strict requirements to what it actually means to be a brand ambassador. Slowly, but surely they signed a few up and coming poker professionals. Only 6 months into the venture, one of them won the world championship (WSOP main event) and a ton of money.
It was quite surrealistic, I was actually negotiating with 3 separate brands about a sponsorship deal for our player while the player was playing the ﬁnal table! Normally, the WSOP winner did not get a great sponsorship deal automatically. But we had already built up the name of this player during our ﬁrst 6 months. This included both media attention and a lot of followers already. That meant that when, and it was only a matter of when, this player made a big result, we could negotiate on quite different terms compared to if an unknown would have won. We also know that this player was willing to put in the work as an ambassador, and could therefore guarantee the sponsor a great return on their investment.
Long story short, the player got a deal worth $500 000 per year + all expenses paid to play big events all over the world. This was almost unheard of at the time. Shortly after we signed 50 new players since they had seen how we built up this player, and got this great deal. The snowball had started rolling.
My agency also facilitated a live poker event via stream for the ﬁrst time in Europe. Now, these days this is not a big deal, but back then it was. It had tens of thousands of viewers that weekend alone. Shortly after, Pokerstars launched their «EPT TV» which was a huge success.
1 year later we organized a charity poker event at a castle in Cannes. Paris Hilton and a few other celebrities attended. Maybach provided the transport. Good times.
One of the things we also focused on was giving access to media to our proﬁled players by facilitating interviews, podcast and whatever they needed. That resulted in over 50 front covers and hundreds of interviews. The sponsors were happy.
Part of our job was to identify good candidates, sign, negotiate sponsorship deals – but perhaps the most important role was training the ambassadors. It’s not natural for a talent in a sport to also be a great spokesperson for a commercial company. So we trained, sparred and followed up almost on a daily basis. We also helped with investments and other small or big matters.
On top of the world
4 years later, his agency had 150 professional and sponsored poker players from all over the world, agents in 14 countries and his agency also did all the world wide marketing for some of the worlds biggest online gambling brands. That’s when Per got his nickname «the Spin doctor of Poker».
In fact, eventually the companies were actually asking him to go to x country and ﬁnd them a great ambassador. Business was booming, but the political landscape suddenly changed and Per sold the agency 6 months ahead of «Black Friday» in 2011. That’s when the DOJ came down hard on the industry and more or less had it on lock down for 2 years.
Back to how this pertains the sport we love.
What has this got to do with pool? Well, Per was an avid and competitive pool player up until he started that agency. He had to quit pool to focus on the startup.
Getting back to pool
After selling the company, and getting back to pool in 2017 I made a discovery. I could see that the sport had not changed a whole lot. Sure, there was now break mats, some new rules and other minute stuff. But the sports commercial value was at a standstill and the community had not grown.
I could not believe that the sport I loved so much had not progressed. I was aware of the funds the gambling companies had put into it, but I also knew projects like that the IPT had ran into some trouble with sponsorship and other failed ﬁnancing options.
Besides that, I could see that the Eurotour is a great series, but without the big paydays. You had to make it to the semis to break even on expenses. I was also astonished that the prize pools were so small.
So, I ﬁgured I´d give it a go. I wanted to see (on a small scale) if there was willingness to inject funds in the sport. I reached out to a sporting brand outside the industry. Boom. They signed a deal worth $60 000 over the coming years for my country’s pool federation. And my federation is really small potatoes. So next, I reached out to Eurosport, by far Europes #1 TV platform. Boom. They aired the Nordic 9-ball championships. And that’s after many years of absence of pool on TV in Europe. Why did they do it? Well, the package I presented looked great. There was no way they were going to miss out on this.
(Images: Televised event on Eurosport)
(Images: Televised event on Eurosport)
(Images: Televised event on Eurosport)
I then shortly after got elected as the leader of my local club (600 members) and that was exhausting. We have 27 tables, but no alcohol is allowed and it operates as a strictly sporting arena (regional laws).
I’m done with doing that now and recently founded the agency Supr Charged (www.suprcharged.com). We specialize in marketing of players, brands and pool in general. I could not get out of my mind how similar situations poker and pool was in.
Poker has progressed to being a regulated multi billion industry a long time ago, and I’m not comparing the revenue potential of the two sports. I do however see that pool is where poker was in the early 2000´s. It has growth potential, but its somewhat scattered all over the place. There are a lot of opinions on what will «make pool great again», but I don’t think matters like identical rules and rating systems worldwide is the solution alone. Sure, that’s probably smart. Make sure that we are all playing the same game, but that’s not gonna solve the biggest issue. The biggest issue is that pool is not televised.
If pool were televised it would do wonders for recruitment and, most importantly the prize pools. That again would lead to more players being able to make a living from the sport, and more youngsters seeing that they can actually to the same! Only televised sport gets the big bucks. Even Cornhole and Timbersports is televised!
So how do we get pool to be a regular televised sporting event?
I don’t have all the answers, but we nowadays There is a bunch of sub-channels on each network. All the broadcasters has at least 3-4 sub-channels on top of their streaming options. So why should pool not be on one of them!? There is a few indicators that the broadcasters is looking for.
– First of all, the sport has to be interesting for the audience. Bring on the shot clock! You can not have players spending minutes on a shot, or every single shot!
– The audience should be more like during the Mosconi Cup. Let them make some noise and cheer for their favorite! Players just have to learn to play in those conditions. I love what Matchroom is doing. They have great productions!
Also, the «Billiards 2024» project is great! Billiards 2024 is the structure in charge of the promotion of Billiards’ bid for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. It is composed of senior members of Billiards’ different managing bodies, as well as players and industry giants. If billiards was to be part of the Olympics – we will see an explosion in interest.
Unfortunately, the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games 2024 (OCOG) on the 21st of February announced their proposal of four additional sports to join the 28 already scheduled for the event. These are break dancing, climbing, skateboarding and surﬁng.
I love the initiative from the group behind the bid. It´s been fronted by ambassadors like Florian «Venom» Kohler, Jasmin Ouschan, Shaun Murphy and others. Hopefully they will keep ﬁghting for the sport.
– The sport needs proﬁles. And this is an area I feel comfortable talking about. I’m not saying the pool stars of today are boring and without personality, but if you take a look at almost all other popular sports, they have really interesting characters all around. They engage, they liven things up, they show emotions, they are professionals making a living from their sport. These stars is a product of a cooperation between the media, sponsors and by them being great ambassadors (more on that later). This motivates the up and comers to work even harder. «I want to be like HIM/HER!»
So how do you get great ambassadors?
Well, they don’t magically appear. They have to be trained, groomed, mentored and willing to put in the extra effort for their sponsors and the sport. I witnessed so many poker brands throwing money after players who did absolutely nothing in return, and at the same time I could see struggling massive talents putting in tons of work, but barely making ends meet. I see a lot of similarities in pool today.
Sorry, I’m not trying to offend anybody here, but I see a player like the greek Damianos «JumpmasterD»
Giallourakis. He’s traveling the world, plays almost all events, ranked #9 in Europe. He had over 1 million views on his amazing jump and other shots last year. The Finnish tip, glove and chalk company TAOM early identiﬁed his talent, and that he was really working hard to be a good ambassador, and it paid off. They sponsored him. But, one single sponsor is not enough if
you are traveling the world to compete. Someone like him deserves that also another one of the big brands recognizes his talent on- and off the felt, and sponsors him additionally. It’s those kind of ambassadors you want! It’s those ambassadors that will help the sport to grow. On the other hand, I see players getting rather big money (yes, I know the numbers) and they have less than 1000 views in 2019! How can a sponsor resonate that this is the best return on their investment??!
So, the moral of the story is that the brands needs to be very selective when they add a new player to their pro team. These guys and girls very much decides the future of pool.
My words of wisdom to sponsors; Its much better to have a player working like a champion for your brand, than a champion player not working at all for your brand!
You got to set high standards to your team pros. You have to demand that they deliver for you. It’s simply not enough tagging the brand on social media and wearing a logo patch whilst playing. And these ambassadors who is going to be scrutinized by mainstream media when they decide whether or not to put pool on their platforms.
My agency Supr Charged has adopted a lot of the methods and techniques we used in sponsorship relationships for poker players. It works. We will also on behalf of a brand perform a due diligence on candidates, interview them, negotiate the sponsorship deal, and most important; we constantly train and follow up making sure the player delivers to the sponsors and represents the sport in a professional manner. A-Z. The sponsor can leave it to us to ensure a great return on their investment in a pro team. It also sets an industry «standard». It shows aspiring players craving that sponsorship what it actually takes.
This helps professionalize the player, and the sport. If pool is ever going to get back on TV, it has to appear professional.
So basically, my theory to how to make pool great again; get on TV. Only then will the sport attract sponsors outside the industry. We can not expect that the brands inside the industry will put in even more funds than they are already doing. I do however think they are willing to put more funds into it once it gets on TV.
So, what now?
My agency will help the pool brands who wants a great return on investment from their pro team. We will make sure they only work with ambassadors that we are certain will deliver for their sponsors as well as for the sport. Next, we will make sure the brands are portrayed professionally in the public eye. We will be a bridge between players, event organizers, sponsors and media. When the time is right, we’ll package the sport and approach the mainstream media. We’re better than Cornhole and Timbersports?!
We did it with poker, and we can do it with pool!