The Global Poker League Has A Popularity Problem, And That’s A Good Thing

February 19, 2016
The Global Poker League Has A Popularity Problem, And That’s A Good Thing

To say the Global Poker League draft slated to be held on February 25 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., is going to be a pretty big deal is an understatement.

Thus far the GPL has over-performed on every metric, particularly when it comes to the commitment the poker community has  shown for the upstart league.

For example, I don’t know anyone who thought 20% of the Global Poker Index Top 1,000 players would register for the inaugural Global Poker League Draft. They did. Nor do I know anyone that thought 50% of the Top 50 players would register. They did.

The excitement around the GPL is now palpable, but this unexpected support from the poker community also creates some unanticipated problems for the GPL.

The GPL’s popularity problem

According to Alex Dreyfus, over 300 players registered for the draft (203 of these players were draft eligible) and with Season 1 boasting 12 teams of seven players — rosters were just enlarged — he was already talking expansion. And for good reason.

Following the draft (four players will be drafted by each franchise) and the wild-card selection by the team manager, there are going to be about a lot of players who registered for the GPL draft that were not selected to participate.

Knowing the poker community, expect to hear all kinds of complaints, from the team managers selecting their less talented friends, to behind the scenes politics in the poker world. Some players are probably expecting they won’t be selected, but others may take the news harder, which could create some animosity towards the GPL.

The best thing for the GPL to do is place as many players as possible on teams to diminish the number of disillusioned players. My thinking is, the more players drafted, the fewer bruised egos there will be.

However, straight expansion creates two problems:

  1. More teams equals more events and more hosting and travel expenses for the GPL;
  2. Too many teams at the outset could be confusing and hard to follow.

A possible solution I proposed was to expand the number of players on a team — even more than this week’s expansion. And I’d go so far as to add as many as five players to each team.

Even if these players are never selected to actually play in a GPL match during Season 1, it will lessen the hit to their egos, and you now have another 50 players traveling the tournament circuit and posting on social media, touting the GPL and promoting their team’s matches, instead of badmouthing it as a cesspool of nepotism.

Further, you never know what poker players’ availabilities are going to be, or when one is going to flake out on you. Because of this, having five extra players who could fill in for one of the core members of the team on short notice seems like a pretty good idea to me.

The way the GPL works, team managers can change just two players per year (contracts are for two years), but the five additional players (I’ll call them the AAA roster) could be on the equivalent of 1-year contracts, and become free agents (or reenter the draft) for Season 2.

What motivated players to register for the GPL draft

So why did the draft get such good numbers?

Idealists and poker promoters

For established and successful poker pros like Antonio Esfandiari, Vanessa Selbst, and Phil Galfond, the Global Poker League offers them a chance to promote poker and hopefully, advance the game.

These players are also going to come off the board very quickly, as a players’ value to the GPL is about skill AND marketability.

The payoff for players who don’t need the money and whose legacies are already cemented is to achieve the long-held dream of poker prize-pools being made up entirely of, or augmented by sponsorship money. As Galfond noted in this tweet, it’s more about supporting what they see as good for poker.

As Daniel Negreanu noted in a recent blog post about sponsorships and the GPL, the GPL is essentially a freeroll (actually it’s better than a freeroll as GPL players do get paid for their time) and if Dreyfus’ end goal comes to fruition, everyone stands to gain, for two reasons:

  1. Poker tournaments with sponsors adding money to the prize-pool are an absolute game changer, capable of increasing the number of profitable players, and what the top ROI’s can be exponentially;
  2. All of the GPL players will have a chance at some profit sharing, so getting in on the ground floor could pay off very well in the long run.

For some, it doesn’t make much sense, but for others it certainly does. Which brings me to the next group of players who entered the GPL draft.

Players trying to establish themselves or revitalize their career

There are plenty of poker players out there who made plenty of cash as sponsored players during the poker boom who would love nothing more than to boost their resume a bit, and perhaps once again prove their sponsorship bona fides.

Likewise, there are plenty of young players who have had tremendous success, but just need that little something extra to land on the radar of potential sponsors, and the GPL may be their opportunity to shine.

The up-and-comers, provided they’re not toxic, are highly likely to be drafted. The former superstars with a bit of name recognition are less likely to land on a roster, unless rosters are expanded beyond five players.

Players who could use the extra income stream

Despite massive tournament successes, it’s no secret that plenty of the game’s top tournament pros are struggling financially. With most players only having small percentages of themselves in tournaments, makeup, and with the high cost of traveling the tournament circuit, a guaranteed $100/hour salary a couple times a month isn’t meaningless money.

In the high variance world of tournament poker, any type of steady income is a plus, and $100/hour is a similar salary to writing a column or book, or creating training videos for these players.

I’m not trying to say that players registered for the GPL to make money, but it probably did play a role in a not-trivial number of players decision to enter the draft.

I’m not sure how many of these players will be drafted, as, quite frankly, I don’t know which players are hurting financially.

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