Are poker agents like football agents? We spoke to the biggest agent of them all to find out the true story

Poker Icons president Per Hagen explains why the poker world needs poker agents

I am often asked: ‘Why is there a need for poker agents?’ I don’t know if it’s a need that suddenly presented itself but I think, just like in any sport, there’s always the need for someone to manage the talent so they can focus on doing what they are good at. These players get so much media attention, that if they had to do all these things themselves they would hardly have time to play poker or study the game. It really is a win-win situation for the player and the sponsor.

The first poker agency was Poker Royalty in Las Vegas, which started about six years ago. I started Poker Icons three years ago and, at that time, Poker Royalty was 99% focused on the US market, so I saw an opportunity to take a position in Europe.

Between Poker Royalty and ourselves we maybe have 95% of the market. There are a few minor agencies that don’t provide such a broad range of services. Within three years there will probably be just two or three agencies in total. There aren’t enough big, marketable players to go around.

Things have changed so much since we started. Before, it was all about having a logo on the player – now it’s about aligning a sponsored player with the brand that’s sponsoring them. The area where I’ve seen the biggest changes over the last three years is getting players into reality TV shows or cameo appearances in movies. Once the US market opens up again it will make times interesting for us all.

A Day In The Life

A normal working day for me is protecting my own players because, unfortunately, some of the agencies don’t really respect the code of honour. So stopping poaching is a big part of our daily operations. We have such a good relationship with our players that there is no danger of them being lured over to somebody else, but it’s confusing for the player and it undermines the poker agency industry.

In the past we used to have to approach the players ourselves but today things have changed and the players approach us. We have to turn most of them down because of our overall policy, which is to work with the best. If players come to us who are well-known, we’d prefer that they didn’t already have a sponsorship deal because we make money by getting the players a deal.

There are actually a lot of criteria that come into play when taking on a player. First of all, they have to have a clean sheet. I’m talking about no history of collusion and things like that. You don’t have to have a clean-cut image though. Take someone like Luke Schwartz, who is loud and puts on a show. If you can combine that with winning, they are definitely someone we would like to work with. But if we started working with someone like that, we would try and clean up the edges a little bit.

Second is marketability. If you sit online and can make £1 million a year but can’t be a good ambassador for the brand, doing weekly blogs and writing posts, then that’s not good for us unless we can give you a lot of media training. Are you willing to do interviews every time you go to a tournament? Those things are important for the sponsors because you can’t always depend on a player reaching the final table when the fields are so tough. They have to be proactive and get out there and give something back to the sponsors who have put a whole load of money into them.

Lastly, you might be marketable but you also need to have the results and the respect of your peers. You have to have the right combination of everything. Annette Obrestad is a perfect example. She’s a great player and everyone on the circuit talks so highly of her, how she’s so friendly. She’s not hot-headed; she’s not a prima donna.

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