It has been well over a month since the November Nine was determined at the Rio in Las Vegas, and one of the major points of speculation since then has been the sponsorship of each of the players. While the focus of most of the fans will be the skill level of the players and who among them have the best chances of winning the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, it has been interesting to watch the sponsorship deals emerge.
Sponsorship of players at any final table can be a lucrative business. Televised final tables bring opportunities for online poker sites to gain visibility, as players wearing their logos give the impression - whether true or not - that the player with the gear supports that site and may have even won his/her tournament seat through a satellite on the site. Sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and UltimateBet are thus willing to play the players for advertising on their clothing. In most cases, representatives of those sites approach players and work out a financial offering that gives the players bonus money for wearing patches on their shirts and hats.
The World Series of Poker Main Event final table situation is a bit different. When it comes to any of the tournaments broadcast to such a wide audience on ESPN, especially with so many eyes on the Main Event, it can become a bidding war to claim players for each of the sites. And that is where agents come into play. Agents who represent poker players swarm the finalists who make the coveted November Nine and offer their services, which include bartering with the online sites to give the players the most money and the best opportunities involved with representing the sites.
The 2009 Main Event was different for one reason; a new rule had been implemented at the WSOP since the prior year’s final table, at which the vast majority of players - six of them - were wearing PokerStars logos. The new rule stated that online poker sites were restricted to no more than three players each. That presented a problem when the final ten players found four players wearing Full Tilt logos. When Billy Kopp exited the tournament in tenth place on July 15 to set the November Nine, those four Full Tilt players remained, opening them up to explore sponsorship deals elsewhere. It should also be noted that most final table players signed deals up to and excluding the November Nine, so those deals could be made anew or renegotiated after they were guaranteed spots at the final table in November.
First, let’s take a look at the chip counts and sponsorship deals from the late-night hours of July 15:
|Seat 1: ||Darvin Moon (none) ||58,930,000 |
|Seat 2: ||James Akenhead (Full Tilt Poker) ||6,800,000 |
|Seat 3: || Phil Ivey (Full Tilt Poker) ||9,765,000 |
|Seat 4: ||Kevin Schaffel (PokerStars) ||12,390,000|
|Seat 5: ||Steven Begleiter (Full Tilt Poker) ||29,885,000 |
|Seat 6: ||Eric Buchman (Full Tilt Poker) ||34,800,000 |
|Seat 7: ||Joe Cada (UltimateBet) ||13,215,000 |
|Seat 8: ||Antoine Saout (Everest Poker) ||9,500,000 |
|Seat 9: ||Jeff Shulman (Spade Club) ||19,580,000 |
The most interesting person in the sponsorship mix was Darvin Moon, the amateur poker player who dominated the final day of action at the 2009 WSOP Main Event and turned down all offers for sponsorship or representation as they came his way. While it was curious that he was shunning the opportunity to make anywhere from $20,000 to upwards of $100,000 on that day by wearing logos on his clothing, many assumed he was preparing to allow the bidding war to commence for his sponsorship at the November final table. However, it seems that is not the case. The 45-year old logger from Maryland, whose first major tournament and visit to Las Vegas was for the 2009 WSOP Main Event, opted to steer clear of any sponsorships. In a video interview with Bluff, Moon stated that he didn’t “want to be tied up to anything.” He said, “I’m laid back, and I don’t want no obligations to anything.”
Since Moon seemed to be serious and has stayed as far away from the poker media as possible since the end of July, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker moved on in their quests to secure three final tablists each.
However, one of the players who did accept a sponsorship deal and stayed comfortably with the site that started him on his journey was Antoine Saout. The Frenchman was a regular player on Everest Poker prior to the WSOP and won his Main Event seat through an online satellite. When he arrived at the WSOP, he wore the Everest gear and continued to do so despite offers from other sites to switch logos. And once he secured his spot as a member of the November Nine, he signed an official sponsorship deal with Everest to take him beyond the Main Event final table as a representative of Everest.
Jeff Shulman also stayed out of the PokerStars/Full Tilt bidding war, as he clearly represented one site throughout the Main Event and intended to do so at the final table. Spade Club is a membership-only poker site that was established and is run by CardPlayer Media, of which Shulman is the President and COO. His alliance to his company is unquestionable, though it is likely that not many other sites would have made offers for sponsorship deals when he made his now-famous comment that his animosity toward Harrah’s and the WSOP has inspired him to throw the gold bracelet in the trash should he win it. Nevertheless, his representation of Spade Club is solid and will remain so through the final table action.
Full Tilt had a job on its hands from July 15 going forward. With four players seated at the final table wearing its logo, they were going to have to give one up. But one player assured to stay with the team would be Team Full Tilt member Phil Ivey. The long-time professional player, who many classify as one of the best poker players on the planet, has been with Full Tilt Poker since its inception. One of the key players who was involved in the design and development of the site, he has been one of its star players and representatives in its many years as one of the top online poker sites in the world. Phil Ivey and Full Tilt are inseparable.
Of the other players at the final table, James Akenhead was one of the most experienced after Phil Ivey, and the Londoner quickly secured a deal to represent Full Tilt Poker as one of its signed pros going forward. At the age of 26, the young pro is dedicated to his career as a poker pro and has millions of dollars in tournament winnings to show for it.
Steven Begleiter will go to the final table third in chips, and despite his lack of tournament experience in the past, the 47-year old New Yorker displayed solid playing traits at the table and wore Full Tilt Poker gear on the last day of action at the WSOP this summer. When approached to continue doing so for the November final table, he accepted and will round out the trio of Full Tilt pros for the remainder of the Main Event.
Eric Buchman was wearing Full Tilt logos on July 14 and 15 but decided to entertain an offer from PokerStars when the final table was set. He told Poker News Daily that he hired an agent but found that the deal-making involved “a lot of lying and manipulating,” though he wasn’t clear if that was on the part of the agent or the online sites. But in the end, he made the decision to go with Top Set Player Management and PokerStars. “I’m very happy with them. They’re a company with high integrity,” he said. And the player who sits in second place on the leaderboard and has more than $1 million in earnings from tournaments before the Main Event will attempt to bring the victory home to PokerStars.
Joseph Cada was wearing an UltimateBet logo on July 15 but decided he was also up for negotiations. After the 21-year old also recently secured representation with Top Set, the company proceeded to work out a deal with PokerStars for sponsorship. The year-long deal will go beyond the November Nine appearance, no matter the outcome. A press release quoted him as saying, “I’m proud to have been chosen by [sic] to represent PokerStars. Their reputation and prestige are second to none. I look forward to bringing even more accolades to their already decorated team.”
Kevin Schaffel was the only member of the November Nine wearing a PokerStars logo when the final table was set, and he made the decision to stay with the site and represent the site through the Main Event conclusion. The 51-year old from Florida has played poker on a recreational basis only since he was a youngster, but amateur he is not, as he recently proved by finishing second at the World Poker Tour Legends of Poker Main Event in August, where he picked up more than $470K and came close to winning the title.
With sponsorships in place all players at the WSOP Main Event final table, it is now up to the players to display their poker prowess in online games and live tournaments leading up to the big event in November. As a reminder, they are all playing for the phenomenal first prize of more than $8.5 million dollars. All of the payouts are as follows:
1st place: $8,546,435
2nd place: $5,182,601
3rd place: $3,479,485
4th place: $2,502,787
5th place: $1,953,395
6th place: $1,587,133
7th place: $1,404,002
8th place: $1,300,228
9th place: $1,263,602