Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment (HIE) announced Thursday that its World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand would be renewing its contract with IMG Sports and Entertainment for five more years through 2014. The two groups have worked together since 2005 and IMG has helped to bring major non-gambling sponsors like Jack Link’s Beef Jerky and Planters Peanuts to the popular tournament series.
Within a press release distributed by HIE, the company also placed emphasis on its efforts to grow the WSOP brand internationally into something larger than just an annual series of poker tournaments. “We are looking to emphasize the ‘World’ in World Series of Poker as our vision of the brand extends beyond the annual events in Las Vegas and London,” explained HIE Chief Executive Officer Mitch Garber. “By tapping the global reach and expertise of IMG, we are confident that together we can take the brand to new levels on the international stage through new international bracelet events and other WSOP licensed poker events.”
IMG has long been a power player in the representation game and has a client roster that includes Hollywood celebrities, Olympic and professional athletes, and several major athletic brands like Major League Baseball, the Ryder Cup, and the PGA. With offices in over 30 different companies, HIE is hoping IMG’s global presence will serve them well in the next five years.
“The World Series of Poker is an impressive property that we believe is well positioned to expand successfully into international markets given the increased activity in the online and offline poker business in key international markets,” said David Abrutyn, Senior Vice President and Global Managing Director of IMG Consulting.
Harrah’s has been taking steps to position itself for this transition into the international poker markets. First, it launched HIE earlier this year and hired former PartyPoker CEO Garber to run the operation. Earlier this month, HIE also announced it would be teaming with 888 Holdings’ business-to-business venture, Dragonfish, to develop online content for the casino conglomerate. Although the legality of online gambling remains up for debate in the United States, Dragonfish will supposedly create online gambling ventures branded for WSOP and Caesars Palace in European and other global markets. The WSOP’s longstanding relationship with ESPN was also renewed recently, with a contract guaranteeing coverage of the event on the ESPN family of networks through 2017.
HIE and the WSOP are not without their critics, though. Despite plans to make a grand entrance and participate in this weekend’s WSOP Europe, 11-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth recently spoke out against the company on the Hardcore Poker Show because of the steps being taken to expand the brand into online poker ventures. Hellmuth, like many other top pros, has a sponsorship deal from an online poker site and fears HIE’s attempts to create a WSOP-branded room will jeopardize lucrative television logo deals that players use to subsidize their income.
“You know, there’s going to be some mistakes made by Harrah’s and just mark my words - they’re going to risk losing the World Series of Poker, which is estimated at $200 million,” Hellmuth said in his interview. “It may actually become worth nothing if they force the players and all the great internet sites to say, ‘Look, we’re going to start our own deal because Harrah’s is restricting logos.’ They’re actually taking logo use out of the picture, or trying to press their position as a site owner.”
To date, there has been no official announcement of a WSOP-branded online poker site, but the hiring of Garber and recent steps taken by HIE lead many to believe that is the direction the brand is heading. (Credit: Poker News Daily)
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