As discussed in Part 1, poker needs to be rebranded. But dressing well is just the beginning. In order to effectively implement change, we are going to need help from the rest of the world.
The Problem: The Stereotype
1) More on Perception
First impressions are huge. The reason poker players are perceived as degenerate gamblers is we act like it. We show up to televised events and make our statement to the world by saying, “I’m too lazy to shave or dress up.” Just because we can stroll into the Bellagio in sweats doesn’t mean we should. Nowhere else in the Casino do people dress like they are homeless. It’s not professional and it’s not classy.
Behaving in public means treating yourself like a famous athlete, an ambassador for our sport.
Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer don’t walk around town acting like children, because it’s bad for their image, sponsors and industry as a whole.
Why are NBA players, some of whom come from the hood, considered respectable? Because when the athletes are doing an interview, injured, even suspended, they show up court side in a suit and tie. And who sponsors them? Legendary companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and American Express.
Who sponsors us, a Beef Jerky brand? Why isn’t Phil Ivey holding a Redbull container and saying “I drink this to help me focus?”
2) The Media
The media in poker is ruining poker’s reputation. Sadly, most outlets believe that people care more about failure than success, but this is the very gossip that portrays poker in a negative light. Reading that someone is broke and in debt makes for much better conversation than Phil Galfond winning another $1,000,000.
Let’s pretend that Rolex is actually considering investing in poker. The first thing the VP of marketing will do is google “news in poker” to see the relevant events. When the first thing they read about is “scum bags and cheaters,” it’s game over.
Personal affairs are personal. Take Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps. Does it really help their sport to know about unrelated events in their life, or does it destroy our role models at the expense of the media making a profit?
3) Beyond the Felt
We call for change in Washington. But politicians are at the mercy of the public.
Just like legalizing marijuana and gay marriage, nobody wants to risk their political career by being the one who says “yes” to change. And given the negative spin on poker, can you blame them for not standing up on behalf of gamblers?
THE SOLUTION: Batman
1) The Steps to Change
There is always hope. The fact remains, there are billions to be made in gambling.
If the perception were transformed in the public eye, the people wouldn’t begrudge, and the politicians could effectively implement change.
But we must follow the Ladder of Change. At the top is the desired result: change. Below are the steps to get there.
2) Poker Needs More Heroes
The stories that inspire change are the ones of triumph. Kurt Warner going from bagging groceries to Super Bowl MVP is much more profound than Ben Roethlisberger being accused of rape. Both draw equal attention. One shapes the lives and future of our youth. The other destroys it.
In poker, it’s hard to measure skill which means he doesn’t always have to be the best player, but more, the best ambassador. Luckily, a few people have both: Phil Galfond and Matt Glantz. They’re genuine, beloved, well spoken and want what’s best for poker.
3) Bring on the Rivalry
The anticipation in sports creates interest. Hoping the Lakers will play the Celtics, or that Rafael Nadal will meet Roger Federer in the finals creates a rooting interest for the fans. In poker, we have no rivals!
It doesn’t mean we have to talk trash, Nadal and Federer are friends, but rather create an environment when the audience has something to look forward to.
The Islidur vs. Haxton challenge is great start. The difficulty lies in making it popular for the masses.
4) The Past is Not the Way
Players should showcase personalities during interviews post tournament. In order for the audience to develop an interest, we need them to fall in love with the players themselves.
Rafael Nadal didn’t use to be able to speak English, but through years of practice, his fluency has allowed him to make appearances and holds press conferences. Because of this, he has evolved from a Spanish hero to an international superstar.
Poker is currently an individual sport and a cutthroat industry where everyone is out for themselves. Compared to more regulated sports where the players have an interest in making things happen collectively because they read the benefits. Many don’t see the value in making these sacrifices now, but we must ask what came first, the chicken or the egg? In order to attract the sponsors, we need to think long term and do what’s best for the industry.
To shift the general view, we need to do more than win tournaments. For the view of marijuana to become accepted, it was featured in movies and successful people were smoking it.
In poker, we have Ivy League geniuses who play the game: Brian Rast, Isaac Haxton, Scott Seiver, Jason Strasser, Vanessa Selbst, and countless others. If some of brightest and most capable people in the world are doing it, then maybe there’s a reason. All of us, especially those with influence, need to be more vocal in portraying the positive side of poker.
5) The Dream
How cool would it be to have a press room at the WSOP where fans could ask questions to their favorite players?Where the media focused its attention on the lives of successful players who have come
from nothing to make their fortune in poker.
I believe in a world where I see a Gatorade commercial with a poker player who says, “I drink this to stay hydrated at the table.”
Where schools use poker as a tool to teach children the fundamentals of math, expectation and game theory.
Where players participated in press conferences for ESPN and profile pieces are done so the viewing public can learn more about the intricacies of professional gamblers.
Where our heroes gave talks on what it means to be a poker player and what these experiences have taught them.
We say we want the rest of the world to take us seriously. It’s time we show them we are.♠
“Don’t give them what they expect. Give them what they never dreamed was possible.