The Epic Poker League
(EPL) kicked off its inaugural season at The Palms in Las Vegas and the Main Event wrapped up last weekend with Chino Rheem defeating Erik Seidel heads up for the impressive $1 million first place prize. The event set the poker world buzzing, not only because of the questionable reputation of the winner, but also because of negative comments by pros that boycotted the event – namely Daniel Negreanu.
PokerStars sponsored pro Daniel Negreanu has openly stated he won’t play in any EPL events even though he qualifies to do so. Kid Poker recently blogged that he felt the EPL was doomed to fail, therefore he wouldn’t lend his name to the enterprise. His blog can be read in its entirety here.
In response to Negreanu’s negative opinions on the future success of the EPL, many in the poker community believe his lack of support comes from a conflict of interest. Since Negreanu seems to believe that the EPL is merely a start-up operation eyeing a place in a future legalized online poker market in the US, it could be a competitor to Kid Poker’s meal ticket – PokerStars. If that is the case, it is easy to see why Kid Poker would feel his support of EPL and their future plans (if any) would conflict with his current lucrative sponsorship. All of that of course is in addition to his well publicized dislike of one of the leagues founders – Annie Duke.
The reason naysayers say the league will fail is not for the concept, but for money. It is obvious an undertaking of the sort the EPL has embarked on needs a lot of capitol. Not only are the expenses of running live tournaments astronomical, but the EPL recently launched a first class website loaded with information about their events, poker news and league players. This all takes a steady influx of money - and money comes from sponsors.
Rich Ryan, a writer at PokerNews shares his opinion in the debate, also thinks the EPL will be an Epic Fail citing many of the same reasons as Negreanu. In part, Ryan’s opinion of the recent EPL event included; “the field was stacked, the final table was incredible, there was a seven-figure payday, and the buzz that was created was tremendous. The only people happier than poker fans were the players and the media in attendance. Duke and Pollack pampered their customers, offering them free rooms, supplying $100 food vouchers for each day of the tournament, and, of course, adding $400,000 to the prize pool. This all sounds fantastic, but where is the money coming from? And once that money dries up, where is the next batch going to come from?”
Regarding sponsors, Ryan states, “The most important point is that if the World Series of Poker struggles to pull in major sponsorships, and they’re syndicated on ESPN, running hundreds of hours of programming a year, then how is a tour with just seven hours on CBS going to find enough sponsorship money to keep it afloat? Sasquatch isn’t going to be willing to shell out enough money to cover the $400,000 being added to each tournament, and no other major companies are lining up to attach their brand to poker after Black Friday.’
But to be fair, besides the powers behind the EPL, who really knows what kind of deals they have in the works with sponsors and investors? The Palms in Las Vegas is the League’s biggest supporter, you can’t drive by or walk in The Palms without seeing EPL banners and advertisements everywhere. It is hard to imagine The Palms is going all out for the EPL and gaining all of that valuable publicity for their resort without a mutually lucrative deal with the EPL. If Duke and Pollack did in fact pamper their customers with free rooms and meal vouchers, did the EPL really absorb all of that cost or was it at least shared by The Palms? Since those and other answers are unknown, it is hardly fair to assume the financial status of the EPL is not solid enough to withstand its long term success.
On the flip side, Eric Ramsey of PokerNews disagrees with Ryan and thinks the Epic Poker League will be successful.
Ramsey says he thinks it will work because of the people behind the scenes like Executive chairman Jeffrey Pollack. Since a poker tour is only as good as the people who run it, Ramsey thinks the EPL has scored big with Pollack, “who played a major role in the poker boom, guiding the World Series of Poker through its biggest growth spurt. Pollack bowed out of the way after the wheels were set in full motion, and the WSOP brand has gone on to become a multimillion-dollar, global phenomenon with an enormous marketing presence.”
Another driving force behind the EPL is commissioner for the league Annie Duke. As Ramsey says, Duke is “a bracelet winner, an active proponent of legalizing poker, and one of the most well-spoken and well-respected minds in the game.” Then on the floor, there is tournament director Matt Savage, who Ramsay says “runs a handful of the most successful tournaments in the world, and he has the poker world hanging by his every tweet. Savage is on the Tournament Directors' Association Board of Directors, and his name on the EPL docket adds instant credibility with the players.”
As for the whole premise of the league, Ramsay says, “since the beginning, Pollack and Duke have said the league would be about the players, and having an exclusive, invitation-only club makes that vision feasible. Throughout the inaugural event, Twitter and the tournament floor were abuzz with praises raining in from every angle. In fairness, it's pretty easy to make fans when you wave the rake, add $400,000 to the prize pool, and hand out lots of swag on the way in the door. But the continued commitment to the player first (rather than the viewer) is a refreshing break from the norm in televised poker, and it's one that seems to please some of the best players in the world.”
Then there is network television. The EPL has struck a deal with CBS for their Season One events to be broadcast in the USA. Since Black Friday, the future of poker on TV is bleak as most sponsors were online poker rooms who are now banned from the US market. Poker fans hungry to see their idols battle on the green felt will have a new outlet from which to get their poker viewing fix thanks to 411 Productions. Adding to the winning recipe mix is Pollack, who has a track record with 411 of producing some of the most famous and watched poker moments in history. It is one thing for poker to be broadcast on ESPN and GSN, channels many basic TV subscribers can’t get, but every household in the country gets CBS, one of the ‘big three’ networks which could be huge for the EPL and poker in general. Even if the CBS deal is ‘buy-time’ the exposure for the EPL will be mammoth and hopefully lead to bigger and better TV deals.
According to those who attended the EPL’s event at The Palms, it was first class all the way and was well put together, drawing praise from players and spectators alike. The tournament ran like clockwork and the big names drew fans, controversy and contained all of the exciting elements of a big poker tournament.
Whether this new poker tour concept succeeds or fails is yet to be seen, but with all of the negativity surrounding poker since April, it would be nice to see players and fans give the EPL the support it deserves. After all – is there such a thing as too much positive press for poker? We think not.