Yesterday evening, the Global Poker Index (GPI) announced that it has struck a multi-year content partnership with the USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Among other things, this means that USA TODAY Sports will be one of the places you can watch the Global Poker League (GPL), the first season for which is slated to kick off early next year.
“The Global Poker Index has done more than any other organization to unify poker and to see the possibilities that exist for creating a ‘big league’ atmosphere around play,” said Jason Ford, VP of Sports Marketing for the USA TODAY Sports Media Group. “We’re looking forward to working together to create a 24/7 digital poker destination, and to providing coverage for some of the groundbreaking events that GPI is launching.”
If you haven’t been keeping up with the buzz, the GPL is an attempt to create a new, “sportified” paradigm for poker, in which the focus is on competition rather than money. There will be twelve teams in two conferences – Americas and Eurasia – each associated with a particular city. Players will be drafted by team coaches and will compete through a regular season and playoff post-season modeled after major American sports leagues such as the NFL.
The poker community’s reaction to the idea of the GPL has been mixed. Some see it as an opportunity to breathe new life into a foundering industry, but many also have grave doubts about its potential to succeed.
Poker, in its natural state, will never disappear entirely, because as long as there are people who like to gamble, there will be money to be made by the most skilled players, and where there’s money to be made, people will come. This is not the case for the GPL, because the money is not going to come from the players, but from the teams and from the league. For that to work, then, the team owners and the GPL itself need to be able to generate income through sales of merchandise, sponsorships, broadcast rights and ticketing. That’s the sticking point for the GPL’s critics: Are there really enough people out there who are interested in poker as a spectator sport to make such a project sustainable?
In that regard, the USA TODAY deal is huge for the GPL. Whether or not the poker community believes in the GPL is mostly irrelevant to its success, so long as it can find enough players to sign on with the teams. Much more crucial is whether the sports community believes in it, because that’s where the eyeballs – and ultimately the money – are going to come from.
“We’re extremely pleased to be announcing this multi-year content partnership with USA TODAY Sports,” said Alexandre Dreyfus, CEO of the Global Poker Index. “The partnership will provide an essential platform to showcase our innovative new events and to promote the players ranked in the Global Poker Index. It’s great to have the support and passion of an industry leader like USA TODAY Sports, whose team shares in our vision to ‘sportify’ poker. We’re looking forward to working closely with them over the coming years.”
USA TODAY has a “digital non-replica” circulation of 1.4 million. That is the number of individual users who at least occasionally view its articles through mobile apps. If the GPL manages to engage even a small percentage of those customers, it will already have more of a following than most online-streamed poker content, where concurrent viewers for most streams number in the three and four figures.
That’s not to say that we can call the GPL a success quite yet. The first season is likely to be a hit or miss proposition, and even if it makes a splash, a number of other things will have to line up in order for it to be a viable business in the long term. Regardless, receiving a bid of confidence like this from a major sports news outlet has to be seen as a strong first step on that road.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.