State of Poker Sponsorship: Who Was Patched Up at WPT HyperX Esports Arena Final Tables?
At the beginning of the week, the World Poker Tour (WPT) hosted a trio of final tables at HyperX Esports Arena inside the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. In total, 18 players returned from their respective tournaments to battle down to a winner in front of television cameras.
Of those, the WPT Gardens Poker Championship and WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open had been on hiatuses of five and seven weeks respectively. Meanwhile, the WPT L.A. Poker Classic was less than a week removed from determining their final table of six.
When the World Series of Poker introduced its now-defunct “November Nine” concept back in 2008, one of the benefits was that it gave players an opportunity to enrich themselves off the felt by seeking sponsorship opportunities.
Sponsors in poker have become increasingly rare, especially compared to the “Poker Boom” years. Back then online sites didn’t hesitate to offer six-figure deals for final tablist to wear their patch. Those days are long gone, but if players look hard enough, some can still find sponsorship deals.
Was that the case at the recent WPT final tables, which permit players to wear up to two pre-approved sponsorship logos? It definitely wasn’t for the WPT L.A. Poker Classic final table. None of those players were patched up, nor were any wearing any sort of apparel promoting outside entities. It wasn’t much of a surprise though given they had less than a week to prepare for their appearance on the big stage.
But what about the other two tables that had several weeks to prepare?
Trio of Players Patched for Gardens Poker Championship
The second final table to play out, and the one with the longest hiatus, had three players patched up. Shannon Shorr promoted his good friend Jonathan Little’s PokerCoaching.com, as did eventual winner Frank Stepuchin.
“I thought about calling Tabasco, Coors Light and Charmin toilet paper."
“I heard from my cousin’s husband, Brian Park, who plays poker,” Stepuchin told PokerNews when asked about sponsorships. “He saw I was at the final table. He works with Jonathan Little, who is good friends with Shannon Shorr. Brian asked me if I would support Little’s PokerCoaching.com. I guess Shannon was already going to wear a patch, and I’ll also be sporting a patch for Jonathan. He’s a really intelligent guy.”
It wasn’t the only patch Stepuchin wore. He switched out between a couple others and eventually settled on a “Frank’s Chop Shop” hat. It’s not known whether Stepuchin was representing the brand in an official capacity or was just a fan, but either way it was a good plug for the New York City upscale barbershop.
If Stepuchin, who isn’t afraid to joke and entertain, could have had his way, he’d have found some more mainstream sponsors.
“I didn’t look into it,” he said. “I thought about calling Tabasco, Coors Light and Charmin toilet paper. There’s a reason those three are together. First of all, I put back quite a few Coors Lights when I play. But I didn’t contact any of those companies.”
Another player patched up was Ray Qartomy, who was representing bestbet Jacksonville.
“Ray is a very charismatic and happy poker player. He plays for the love of the game, spirit of competition and general enjoyment,” bestbet Jacksonville tournament director Jesse Hollander told PokerNews. “Before the final table of our WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble last October, he asked me if he won the event would I make him a bounty next year. I said absolutely. He ended up placing fourth in our event, but I said ‘That’s close enough, you can be a bounty next year.’”
"Ray represents the game of poker very well as someone who plays for fun and is also an enjoyable person to have at the table."
Hollander continued: “Ray and I spoke again after he made the final table of the Gardens event where he expressed interest in wearing the bestbet patch. We worked out the details and there you go. Ray represents the game of poker very well as someone who plays for fun and is also an enjoyable person to have at the table. As it turns out, he’s also a pretty good poker player.”
Qartomy’s deal was reminiscent of the current sponsorship landscape in poker – if you want it you have to be willing to go out there and get it. Though that can be easier said than done.
Steve Sung, who busted in third place for $259,880, tried to find some sponsors but didn’t have any luck.
“I did pursue sponsorships, but things fell apart with those sponsors because of some legal issues,” Sung revealed. “I will be representing my company Game Over Music. It’s a music label with a purpose to give artists a fair portion of revenue. These artists in the music industry really get screwed and taken advantage of. We want to change that. It’s a start-up right now, but we’ll be ramping up in the future.”
Nothing Flashy at Borgata Finale
Jonathan Little seized the moment again at the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, the last final table to play out, as Ian O’Hara was sporting a PokerCoaching.com patch.
Aside from him, the only other player wearing a patch was Daniel Buzgon, who was making his third WPT final table appearance. However, his Borgata patch didn’t come as a result of his televised appearance opportunity. Instead, it carried over from a separate sponsorship deal established last year.
“Being a newly-sponsored Borgata pro, I didn’t really look into too many avenues,” Buzgon explained. “That really wasn’t a thought of mine to venture out there.”
Limited By the WPT
Of the 18 players who played under the bright lights, only five had any sort of sponsorship connection. The WPT allows for pre-approved sponsors, so the opportunity exists. That likely means finding companies to engage is the hard part.
For those wondering, the WPT guidelines on sponsors, which can be viewed in full here, include the following:
- Players are allowed to wear up to two (2) pre-approved sponsorship logos at a Final Table. However, only one (1) logo may be for a gaming company. If a player would like to wear two (2) pre-approved, non-gaming sponsorship logos, such logos may not be for the same company or affiliated companies.
- Each logo may be no larger than eight (8) square inches (e.g., 2”x4”, 4”x2”, 1”x8”, 8”x1”).
- Players may wear logos on their left and/or right breast pocket, on their shirt sleeves, and/or on hats or caps. No other sponsorship logos will be allowed anywhere on a player.
- No more than two (2) players at a World Poker Tour Final Table may wear logos from any single entity.
- No logos representing illegal activity of any kind, pornography, firearms, tobacco, personal hygiene, sexual aids, or hard liquor will be allowed.
Images courtesy of WPT/Joe Giron/PokerPhotoArchive.
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