Lynn “Queen of Hearts” Paris
Our readers want to know what’s going on with the Global Poker League. As far as I know, the GPL is on a scheduled break for about a month, so this is a good time to bring everyone up to speed.
As a blogger who’s been following and writing about the new League since before their highly professional inaugural draft in February, I’ve made no secret of how impressed I’ve been with Alexandre Dreyfus and the GPL. The innovative team concept, the use of web cams, the fan-focused experience as opposed to an experience focused on professional poker players . . . all came together incredibly well in just 14 short weeks. The GPL had half a million unique viewers, with sustained average viewing times of 17 to 21 minutes per viewer throughout the summer.
Could they have done even better? Absolutely, if they’d wanted to spend millions of dollars on television and online advertising which they obviously did not. Probably a wise decision too, since they now have “proof of concept” without exposing the whole ball of wax to the world prior to doing some very necessary tweaking. Plus they got some free marketing every time someone said or wrote: “Congratulations to Jason Mercier of the New York Rounders”. You can’t buy better branding than that.
It was clear from the start that there had to be a GPL TV studio in Vegas, the mecca for poker players. And, to accommodate all the GPL team members also playing in the 2016 WSOP, they needed the convenience of a TV studio in close proximity to the Rio. I admire Dreyfus and his team for taking the calculated risk to break out their signature platform, The Cube, during the Summer Series, instead of waiting for the reveal originally set for September. In fact, Dreyfus wrote on Facebook that “it was a last minute decision to bring The Cube . . . to Vegas to form the centerpiece of our 2nd TV studio.”
I felt validated reading that, since at the time I had written in my blog: “No surprise, either, that he decided to break out the much-hyped, but not quite ready-for-prime-time Cube ahead of schedule.” It was no surprise because it was obvious to anyone paying attention that The Cube set-up, even in its pared down version, provided the perfect contrast to the play at the WSOP: up close and personal, fast-paced, poker standing up, innovative and fun!
The players seemed to agree, saying they enjoyed the pace, the slightly intimidating electronic music and SFX — the loud beat, beat, beating of their hearts — the intensity of the heat and lights in the isolating sound-proof glass enclosure. Personally, I think they got a kick out of the jock-like activity of standing and sweating after the passivity of sitting at the poker tables in the air-conditioned Rio for hours on end.
In the meantime, we fans got the rare opportunity to enjoy the “other side” of some of the biggest names in poker – Fedor Holz, Jason Mercier, Sorel Mizzi, Jonathan Jaffe, Anatoly Filatov, Bryn Kenney, Fabrice Soulier, Randy “Nanonoko” Lew, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, Byron Kaverman, Tom Marchese, Faraz Jaka and the list goes on — as they “let it all out” against their opponent in The Cube.
Many of these matches were not only good heads-up poker but also incredibly engaging entertainment. And for a newbie like me, the expert commentary provided by Joe Stapleton and Eric Danis broadened my poker education without delving too heavily into higher level strategies like range and variance. Their poker knowledge, humor and great chemistry, along with interviews by the smart and sexy Laura “Corndog” Cornelius, made for a highly enjoyable few hours in my day.
By the way, based on comments made by Dreyfus in several interviews, I imagine that what we saw was The Cube in its most basic iteration . . . many of the bells and whistles are still to come.( I’ll cover much more on the improvements I hope to see in The Cube in an upcoming blog!)
So now what?
I’ve been trying to figure that out and according to the schedule that appears on the GPL website, inter-conference play begins again on August 16th. Unfortunately, a note on the homepage of the site also says “Thank you for joining us in the Las Vegas Summer Series – Back in September.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Dreyfus and team if they want to hold on to the fans they have acquired and continue to grow the way they need to. I’ve been saying for months that the website needs to be overhauled (design and programming) and then maintained consistently. Stories and features need to be updated regularly, a less cumbersome schedule and video archive has to be developed, the site has to load faster and it MUST be optimized for mobile. There’s enough content to fill ten websites, so that’s not the problem. It simply needs to be handled by developers who can deliver a high class, high-functioning professional site.
Conceptually, the GPL‘s vision of poker as a team sport is what sets it apart. It began with players being drafted onto a team representing a major city, and it was that team concept that was supposed to build the fan base.
Unless the mission has changed, I don’t believe the GPL did enough to reinforce the team concept. If this was being marketed as a Team Sport, the logos of the teams should have always been prominent. Instead, the way in which the graphics were designed for the online matches made the team logos difficult to see. Viewers could easily see the players and the hole cards, but sadly, the team names were covered up.
And when play progressed to the Summer Series in The Cube, the players should have been wearing their team t-shirts sporting their team logo. Had the GPL been on time with their team merchandise (a costly misstep) fans of the teams could have worn their t-shirts all over Vegas, including at the heavily attended WSOP, where tons of attendees might have been tempted to purchase an LA Sunset or Las Vegas Moneymakers team shirt — free advertising! Dreyfus commented, “We also didn’t connect with the WSOP fan-base as deeply as we had the potential to do.” He’s right; they blew it. In addition, team branding as well as GPL branding were mysteriously absent from The Cube, at least from the online audience’s vantage point.
Because of the GPL, I grew to know and like some of the players personally; I feel a kind of crazy proprietary interest in many of them whenever I see them playing poker anywhere. But in the end, if I don’t know what GPL team Fedor, Nano or Mercier play for, there’s something wrong with the marketing plan. Bottom line: it’s the team that grows the fan base and excites those who root for them with a passion, motivating them to buy team banners, t-shirts, caps. . . and ultimately bring in sponsors.
Dreyfus has promised to “amp up the adrenaline inherent in many of our matches and focus more on the players than the game.” Maybe so, but if he still wants the team aspect to be the GPL’s hallmark, then some good old Yankees/Red Sox, Celtics/Lakers team dynamics have to be built up as well.
I have tremendous faith in the brilliance of Alex Dreyfus and his team to make the necessary adjustments to the GPL in ways I’ve suggested . . . and in ways I’ve never even thought of. I look forward to the immediate improvements I hope will be made as they finish out this year with the league playoffs and the Season 1 Championship at Wembley Stadium in London. And I can’t wait to watch what happens next year and in the years to come. I got hooked on poker because of the GPL, so I’m rooting for it to evolve into everything Dreyfus envisioned — poker “sportified” to appeal to millions of old and new-generation poker fans.
And I’ll be blogging about it all as soon as the next half of their season begins in August . . . or September.