This is the full opinion piece started on Gulf Coast Poker.Net, the Gulf Coast best poker news site. Scan down a couple of paragraphs if you began reading there and got shipped here.
Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollacks new league is on first blush kind of a pratical attempt to settle the debate I (Wild Bill) have been having with a lot of poker players/contributors to the site. I think a PGA league with sponsors supplying the prize money and covering the entry fees is the logical next step for poker players. On the most basic level, rather than rakes taking money out of the poker economy there would be injections of cash into these freerolls which would be good for us all.
I think in theory it should have been done long ago. Unfortunately, I also think the greed of poker players will keep it from happening... again. Though I should distinguish the argument, some contributors feel a league would be bad for the game, not that they think it couldn't work. I think a league would be good for the game, I think it could work, though I don't think it will work.
As it stands there is a great deal of supplemental income that the most players don't get much, or any of, meanwhile tours, casinos, and sometimes broadcasters benefit from all the risk assumed by the players. Why not a PGA-Nike tour kind of circuit for poker players where they assume control of the game. Win-win-win for everybody but those who currently "win" with the game in the state that is (casinos, tour operators, and online sites though increasingly those three are all become one).
Questions to the converse: would a tour of freerolls, that tend to play a little bit different than tournaments where players have to put up their own money be as appealing a product to casual fans of poker viewers? Afteral, part of the allure of poker is players gambling for high-stakes with icey calm. For game play in general would there be greater incentive to chop or perhaps play a different line of strategy that would hurt appeal the game? Also, will tournament poker lose its appeal without the every-man if the tours offers barriers to entry?
This league is chaired by Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack (former WSOP commissioner) which could be worrisome or positive depending on your opinion of the two. To be fair, opinion is split on both personalities. Duke hopes to solve the problem of the freeroll by still requiring players to pony up cash but offering Main Events with seven figure overlays. As for the everyman, there will still be a small number of seats to satellite into a given event.
Listening to them on a recent ESPN poker edge podcast offered new insight on some of the recent failures and why this time the league could work and not fall prey to the same things. Some negatives it sounds like it will be easier for live pros to get their "cards" than online pros---Duke calls them two separate skill sets. Though she admits, somewhat begrudginly, that many of the best online players can and do excel in live poker as well. Thus, she contends they wouldn't be under-represented.
They want to try to be neutral and a friend of everybody, but where is there room for another live Poker Tour, in the already congested schedule. The online sites are now trying to grow their businesses by owning the live tournament markets too, what's the incentive for them to fund (yet another) third-party that wants cut into that area of growth.
This is a great idea but probably five years too late. Shame that politics, greed, and mismanagement stymied earlier attempts when the marketplace was ripe for such a reorganization. As it stands poker players will likely continue to fund other people profiting from the game instead of any other sport/game where it is mostly just the opposite. This league will likely fail, not that it was that much an improvement for players in general when you really get down to it.
There are few name players in the poker world, and they represent only a thin slice of the game, unfortunately they are wealthy due to their (mostly online poker) sponsors so they are also beholden to those sponsors. Expecting them to rock the boat and advocate for the bottom tier grinders is setting yourself up to be disappointed. Without them you are merely creating a new league that will be destined for failure. While the current model obviously injects some money into the economy it is on a far smaller scale then a well-run players league would do. Not sure if Duke's league is going to pump any more money in, either, because it looks like it's a for-profit business too, and not a players' organization.
Right now, the top handful of players probably make more than they would under a new model, so no incentive to for them to change, the next tier of pros and everybody else (even us grinders) make far less than we could in an optimal model. Arguably players 50 to 150 might make more in Duke's league, might, but as they don't control the league per se, they could just be used as persuasive point of entry for a new entity that could change the rules once they earn a big enough market share.
What's best for everybody, but those top-tier players that either own the big poker sites or essentially owned by them, would be a PGA model. Won't happen, even though it should. Arguably, the only way it could happen would be for players to create a league, somehow find some sponsors outside of poker (yeah... that'll happen), and create new stars because they aren't going to get the back sites to release their guys to play in a league that competes with their own. Then, the PGA league will have to some how lock up the new stars from joining the payrolls of their competition. Maybe one day, I'll champion that cause, which is like saying maybe one day I'll bash my head into a cinder block because there is a chance I could break it.
Still, as I've said before, the optimal league would be four to five majors and a few circuit type events. Players sponsors or players themselves would buy-in for a set number of seats (tour cards are a good idea for say the top 200). League revenues would cover the prize pools in addition to the buy-ins, so overlays could be generous. Then allow, an unlimited number of satellites for people to get into the events (with a juice that helps fund the league until advertising or broadcasting dollars could handle it on its own). In this model, the players would finally get rich from poker instead of everybody else getting rich off the players.
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