A poker sponsorship is the ultimate goal for some aspiring poker stars, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

What does it take to get an online sponsorship deal these days? Jeff Lisandro tells Michael Kaplan how difficult it can be

One of poker’s ultimate perks is the freebie. As it relates to tournaments, this is all about having your buy-in waived (or picked up by somebody else) and keeping all the money you win. For Greg Raymer, it’s long been a major component of the deal he has with PokerStars. For prodigious tournament pros, such an arrangement can be very lucrative, as it turns the game of poker into a no-lose proposition.

Freerolling is pretty much envied by the majority of poker players. They’re the ones who have not been sprinkled with online fairy dust and offered opportunities to freely waltz into Main Events and $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournaments. They must dig into their personal bankrolls before posting blinds.

Jeff Lisandro, who’s as famous for wearing a fedora as he is for snagging a trio of bracelets at this year’s World Series of Poker, is most definitely not alone in needing to pay when he wants to play. But he may be the only poker pro openly griping about a lack of online sponsorship. ‘Before [the WSOP] started this year, I could not get a sponsor,’ Lisandro said soon after winning his third bracelet of the 2009 Series. ‘I made the usual rounds to see if anyone needed a player. I could not get a response. There was doubt, and maybe an excuse, that I had not done enough to deserve [being sponsored].’

No Logo

According to sources from inside the online poker world, Lisandro’s lack of sponsorship has nothing to do with his poker skills. After all, prior to the start of the 2009 World Series, he’d won nearly $2m in tournaments, over a three-year period, without being a tournament specialist. But, like most guys who earn handsome livings by snagging other people’s chips, Lisandro is simply the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Beyond poker skills, the sites are looking for young, handsome, charismatic players or recognisable faces (Jason Alexander, of Seinfeld fame, is not a ‘Friend of PokerStars’ because he’s a genius at the game). They want to make deals with people who can serve as superheroes to kids at home. Site executives are seeking the ElkYs of the world rather than the Ylon Schwartzes. In the eyes of online decision-makers, male poker players of a certain age are akin to mid-40s actresses trying to snag plum roles in Hollywood motion pictures. 

Making things tougher for Lisandro and those of his ilk – talented, journeyman players, wanting their piece of the online rainbow – is one hard fact of this year’s World Series. ‘Only four events are being televised,’ says Rich Korbin, director of events and sponsorships for PokerStars. ‘That’s contributed to making one-off sponsorship for this year’s World Series very difficult.’

Moneymaker Effect

During the halcyon days of online poker, things were a lot different. Back in 2003, after Chris Moneymaker changed everything by outplaying Sammy Farha, promotional deals were handed out like presents on Christmas morning. Full Tilt staffed up with its coterie of brainy pros (Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer) while PokerStars focused on recruiting big-name tournament winners. UltimateBet simply signed the most famous man and woman in the game: Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke.

In all instances the strategies worked.
‘One hundred and eighty days after Chris Moneymaker was on ESPN, we grew by 1,000 percent,’ says Korbin. ‘So that made him a great investment. What he did for PokerStars and what he did for poker is huge.’

Korbin points out that recent PokerStars signings such as Daniel Negreanu and Vanessa Rousso define the current requirements. Rousso is smart, beautiful, approachable and, as evidenced by recent showings in Vegas and Monte Carlo, one of the top female pros. ‘Somebody like Daniel,’ says Korbin, ‘is the complete package. He’s great at poker, popular with the fans and good with the media. He’s an ambassador who’s never needed anything in the way of coaching before an interview.’

Getting back to Lisandro, as of this writing he remains woefully logo-free and miffed. ‘Even after winning three bracelets, the sponsors have not approached,’ he said. ‘Maybe there is a little bit of jealousy. Maybe it’s because I have knocked out so many high-profile players.’

Or maybe it’s something else….

If you want to improve your poker game to get a sponsorship then you should be reading PokerPlayer magazine HERE

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