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The Business of Poker: Part Two With Brian Balsbaugh

The Business of Poker: Part Two With Brian Balsbaugh 0001

This is part two of my interview with Brian Balsbaugh. If you missed it, might I suggest you go back and read Part One of the interview first. Enjoy.

Brian Balsbaugh represents some of the biggest names in poker. With a roster that includes Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Erick Lindgren, and many more, Brian has filled a role in the new world order of poker - The role of agent.

Brian started his company, Poker Royalty, about two years ago in the basement of his Minneapolis home. Since then, the poker explosion has brought him to Las Vegas. In part one of this interview, Brian and I discuss the state of sponsorship, and what being an agent to the fastest rising group of celebrity nouveau - the professional poker player is like.

John: Let's talk about how the government. I was just told yesterday by Fox Sports, apparently ESPN and Fox aren't gonna grant any more interviews to websites that link to .com {gaming sites}because they claim they've just gotten a memo from the Department of Justice saying we're gonna start crimping down on this stuff and you guys need to watch your p's and q's. Have you heard anything more about the government starting to wake up to this, which I think is an event that has to happen, right?

Brian: Yes.

John: It's just a matter of when and what they do about it, and how they handle it.

Brian: Yeah. You know I certainly have noticed, and was just talking with an online poker industry guy last week actually about this, that it feels like the mainstream media and the big media, in the last six to eight weeks, has really picked upon the online poker thing.

John: Right, right.

Brian: And you know, certainly with 60 Minutes. I saw an article in Time Magazine, and there was an article in I believe the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times, and I saw you guys maybe pick something up on that as well about celebrities...

John: Yes, right.

Brian: Right, celebrities, why can Jesse Ventura endorse this? So, you know, I wholeheartedly expected that if there was going to be that media effect, memos would be sent out. If there was gonna be another round of those memos, then I certainly was thinking that probably now is when it would happen. But it's interesting it the sort of thing that nobody really wants to talk about on the record, you know? Let's just let that sleeping dog lie, and whatever the rules are let's just try to all do the best we can to play within those rules so that our industry can survive and you know continue to grow.

John: Right. If you asked me one thing I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out the most in the next three to five years, it's gonna be how the government and when the government decides to get involved.

Brian: I agree 100%.

John: I don't care what anyone says, they will not be able to stop individual users from gaming in their homes f they choose to do so, it's not gonna happen. It's just an issue of how they choose to finally get around to regulating, and how they take that approach.

Brian: I 100% agree. Yeah.

John: Yeah, so. It's fascinating.

Brian: It certainly affects us, because online poker companies are the ones that are spending the most money in sponsorships and endorsements, and it's really driving the industry right now.

John: That's right.

Brian: If you look at who's making money in poker, you know, it certainly isn't the World Poker Tour. It's the people who are making money in online poker, everyone who will be making money at the end of the day, it always comes back to online poker.

John: That's right. And you know it's funny, because I'm very conflicted, just my role and what we do, and what we do for a living. It's very conflicting for me because if and when it's regulated, and mainstream advertising is allowed, you could argue that our role will change greatly, and we'll become a lot less important to those online rooms.

John: So I think that it's very conflicting because you know in one sense for poker obviously I want it to happen and I think it's gonna be fantastic. For what we do, I think it may be cutting our nose off, but we shall see.

Brian: I 100% agree.

John: How long until you think there's going to be sort of a universally accepted schedule? The PGA is like a military operation. You know? The way they schedule their stuff out, it's all really smoothly run and really well done. Is that something we can see in poker, and how far away are we from it? I wrote something about this in five or six columns ago, because it was a conversation I had a top pro. You literally could travel or play a $10,000 event every single day for this particular six or seven week stretch. I think that that probably has to back itself out a little bit, and become a bit more consistent and scheduled, and we need to start to recognize big events from little events. I'm shocked at what's happened to the WSOP Circuit, and how that's kind of, in my opinion, sort of lost some steam.. So, is it even possible to have a consistent circuit number one, because of all the new money that comes in constantly and new ideas, and if it is possible, when do you think it can take place? And does it need to in this business?

Brian: I think we're pretty close honestly. It's my understanding that the World Series of Poker, they're gonna 100% focus on those six weeks. And they're gonna become in their words, the Wimbledon or the Masters of poker. And I think that's an admirable and viable opportunity and goal for them. They should do that. And so they've got this one big event that lasts six weeks, and the poker year is going to revolve around that one big event, right? So, if you sort of look at that as the Indy 500, as it was when it was the glorious Indy 500, then you can also have the opportunity for NASCAR. And the World Poker Tour I've always counted and viewed as NASCAR. And they've set up a pretty solid schedule. Then you also have things like the NBC Heads Up, and then the occasional Poker Super Stars, and a couple of other special event, type things that pop into the schedule. So if you're someone new and you wanna get into that schedule, you have to do a couple of things. You have to, number one, get a better TV opportunity and exposure opportunity for the players. You have to be on a bigger or better network than what's already on. Right?

John: Right.

Brian: From the conversations that I've had, NBC's not interested. I can't speak for NBC, but it's my understanding that they're not interested in adding anything right now.

Brian: CBS isn't interested. I've actually spoken with them. They're not interested in adding anything right now. ABC, if you look at ABC, and they're ESPN as well, so you know that doesn't make any sense. ESPN, literally talked to them, they're not interested in adding any new product right now. Fox is doing a great job at what they're doing, and they're adding events, but it's my understanding they're booked throughout the rest of this year and next year.

John: OK.

Brian: So if you're going to create a new property that's gonna come in and compete on a regular basis with what the schedule is as it stands today, you're gonna have to come up with a better network, and that's gonna be a real uphill battle. You're gonna have to pay someone to get on the network. A network's not going to pay you to put your poker tournament on television. You are going to have to pay them. So that's hurdle number one. Hurdle number two, you just have to make a bigger and better deal for the players. You know? You probably have to pay the players probably to show up. You have to have clear defined sponsorship rules. You have to make it easy on them from a travel perspective. Most of the players live in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. And, you know, I hear over and over and over again if we could play every tournament out in Las Vegas, that would be fantastic.

Brian: They're tired of traveling already.

John: Sure, absolutely.

Brian: I certainly don't have a crystal ball. But I don't think that the poker landscape's going to change significantly from a tournament perspective for at least the next year to year and a half to two years. I'll be surprised if it does.

John: When can the players unite? When can they figure out a way to have a viable association that can speak for them on a unilateral basis, and help their interests? And I assume this is something you would support. I assume it's something that would help you greatly with what you do.

Brian: Yes. 100%. I think the model that um has the most of the player support right now would be the PGA Tour model. Where the tour itself is owned by the members. That's the model that has support widely among the players. There's no group licensing rights on the PGA Tour. They're all independent contractors. It's evolved over a number of years and it makes sense. So, when someone comes with that model and the money and the wherewithal, that's probably going to be enough to change the landscape a little bit. But I haven't seen anyone who has come up with a model like that, that is viable enough to actually make it work and has the clout to do so as well.

John: Anything special you have been working on lately?

Brian: Well, the big news probably right now is Daniel's website.

Another thing I'm trying to do is to find a new home for the Daniel Negreanu Challenge.

John: Interesting. Because that kind of, I noticed that those matches sort of stopped.

Brian: He's been busy. You know what I mean?

John: Ok, so that's really what it was. It seems like the matches stopped in August or something like that.

Brian: He has been so busy. I mean he doesn't have, you know, it's, it's ridiculous with the launch of Full Contact Poker, and everything that's going on right now. But the Daniel Negreanu Challenge is alive and well, and we're looking for a new venue in Las Vegas.

John: Ok. And, are you in active discussion?

Brian: I'm talking to three or four people right now, and I would expect within a month, we'll have a new home for it. We hope to continue the Challenge.

John: Just my opinion, if he truly is, and I don't wanna know and I'm not prying, if he truly is backing himself in this, I can't see why you wouldn't have people fighting over him.

Brian: Daniel Negreanu 100% is backing himself, and he always has. There was always a lot of rumors and speculation that Wynn was putting money in. Wynn never once put any money up for the Daniel Negreanu Challenge - it's his deal. It was his idea from day one, and it's his money, and he believes in it, and I think it's one of the coolest stories going.

John: Brian, thanks so much for your time today. Its been really great.

Brian:: Anytime.

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