Poker Marketing Lessons from the International Stadiums Poker Tour

Poker Marketing Lessons from the International Stadiums Poker Tour

imagesLast week the International Stadiums Poker Tour cancelled their online day 1s . Lock Poker cancelled theirs when only two people registered, Poker770 cancelled two satellites which failed to get enough runners, and so far only 13 places have been awarded to an event which originally promised 30,000.

I have been uber critical of the ISPT from the very start. I hate being negative about anything, but the ISPT has been such a ridiculous idea from the start I have been unable to keep my mouth shut. You could write a book about why it was such a preposterous idea and how badly organised it has been from day one, but instead today I wanted to point out some of the critical poker marketing mistakes that were made, because I have seen these happen on less grander scales many times in poker and think there is a lot that can be learned from it.

Not defining the audience

imagesThe critical error from the get go, which I think was the catalyst for all their problems, has to be not conducting any market research. In fact the only research they seem to have undertaken was finding out how many seats Wembley Stadium had.

The biggest attendance for a poker event in the UK was only about 2,000, and the biggest one worldwide was 8,773. These figures suggest a critical mass would not be much higher. I’m not even sure there are 30,000 players who would travel to play a live event in the UK, especially somewhere as expensive to stay as London.

The original proposed buy-ins were relatively low, so I could almost envisage this being feasible if the event was marketed to a more mainstream audience, but the only marketing that was done was in the poker media. With TV and national newspapers you might have had a shot, but the people who read poker websites make up the 2,000-ish players who attended the biggest events in the UK. If that audience was bigger, we would have known about it by now.

Reneging on the guarantee

imagesNothing in poker immediately destroys your credibility quicker than back tracking on a guarantee. The ISPT did this at least twice, from $30,000,000 to €20,000,000 to nothing. It didn’t help they were aligned with the Partouche tour, who were also receiving bad press for doing the same thing in their main event.

The purpose of a guarantee is to give players confidence. The only shot a ‘if you build it, they will come’ type of event like the ISPT has is if you have the confidence of the audience. Removing the guarantee destroys that in one fell swoop.

Questionable partners

imagesNot only is 30,000 players ridiculous for a live event, it is also incredibly lofty for an online partner too. The only online room with the infrastructure to make an event like this work is PokerStars. Had they been involved, the poker world would be getting very excited right about now.

It’s bad enough Stars were not involved, it is abysmal that Lock Poker are. In a post-UB world, Lock Poker are the new kings of shady in poker. Just check out this thread, or do a Google search if you don’t believe me. Partouche are another questionable partner, though at least they did finally pay their guarantee. Having Lock Poker as a lead online partner sends the message out that none of the other legit poker rooms wanted to touch this event.

Not responding to feedback

imagesThe response about the ISPT within the poker community was overwhelming skeptiscm and negativity. There is a 70 page (and counting) thread on 2+2 about it with hardly a positive word spoken. This in itself should have been a warning sign to the organisers that their idea should be revisted.

As negative as the thread was, this was a huge marketing opportunity. The thread has over 100,000 views on it, and handled correctly it could have been a great chance for a spokesman for the site to come on and answer questions, and put some confidence back in the event. This week PokerStars appointed Lee Jones to do just this for them, word of mouth is so powerful these days that good customer service is much stronger than paid advertising ever will be.

The ISPT have mostly ignored this thread. At one point they hired Stephen McClean to go on and answer questions for them, but they didn’t equip the poor guy to answer anything people wanted to know and didn’t even tell him that they were reneging their guarantee, embarrassing him in the process when he found out via the thread.

Mindlessly sponsoring players

Mizrachi_MichaelHuge pet hate of mine and something I hope people learn from. I’m not a fan of player sponsorships most of the time anyway, but I don’t see how sponsoring anyone but a handful of well known players would have helped the ISPT.

No offence to any of the ambassadors but all of them have been known to wear any old patch. Michael Mizrachi is now more poker patch than man, he looks like a NASCAR driver. Most poker players are not even remotely famous enough to persuade anyone to part with a large sum of money to play poker, and none of these ambassador’s seal of approval is enough to make the event look legit.

The only player who might have attracted some people to come is Phil Hellmuth. The only player whose endorsement probably means something to poker player’s is Daniel Negreanu. Other than those two, the only sponsorship I would have even considered would be a famous non player,  like Boris Becker or Shane Warne, but they were never marketing to a mainstream audience anyway, so that wouldn’t have worked. The amount of money they spent putting patches on players would have been better served on a PR rep who would have been on call 24/7 to answer queries on forums and also would have given them at least some social media presence.

Transparency

There have been so many changes from the very start, it is still to this day unclear exactly what the plan for the event is. These days you need to be able to describe your event in 140 characters or less if you want a chance of selling it. People don’t like being confused, and the plan for this event is  still confusing when you check out the official ISPT website now.

Bad timing

There are so many poker events on the calendar these days your event will always clash with something, but come on guys, scheduling it during the WSOP? That’s avoidable.

 

If nothing else, I really hope everyone learns from the ISPT. Nothing is too big to fail in poker and almost all of these errors were easily avoidable, especially if they had conducted some proper market research from the start.
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