Alex Dreyfus, the serial entrepreneur who co-founded Winamax and now owns the Global Poker Index (GPI) and The Hendon Mob, is on a crusade to “sportfiy” poker and give the game the look and feel, and perhaps respect, that other professional sporting leagues are bestowed.
Through his company Mediarex Sports & Entertainment (MSE), the London-based parent company to his current portfolio of gaming enterprises, Dreyfus has raised $4.9 million in Series A funding from private investors who share his passion of creating an international framework for developing the sport of poker.
“Poker is an old game, but a young industry,” Dreyfus said in a press release. “It’s a game that continues to grow… It’s a large audience and the best way to aggregate it is to promote poker like a sport.”
According to Dreyfus, the leading challenge in giving the sport label to poker is to make it more of a fan-first entertainment experience instead of the player-first mentality currently being witnessed.
That means more live streaming content and television broadcasts covering a more centralized professional poker league, effectively raising the profiles of poker’s elite.
GPI’s Hendon Mob Database shows there are currently more than 450,000 active poker players around the world in nearly 100 countries.
Bringing the top-tiered players together from that pool would create the excitement and buzz required to make poker a sport fans will deem worth watching.
Last year’s 2014 World Series of Poker saw a modest decrease in viewership on ESPN in the states, but that was likely due to the three-hand matchup featuring three non-Americans.
This year, ESPN and the WSOP are betting on a surge, expanding its November Nine coverage from two nights to three beginning on Sunday, November 8th at 8:30 PM ET.
What does it take to make a game a sport? Upon review of other major professional sporting leagues, it appears poker already has met many of the most prominent stipulations.
Money: Kobe Bryant pockets $25 million a year in the NBA, Clayton Kershaw $30 million in MLB, Aaron Rodgers $22 million in the NFL.
Though not quite as rich as those figures, poker’s elite aren’t exactly slouches as Daniel Colman snagged $22 million in 2014, Martin Jacobson $10.7 million, and Negreanu $10.2 million.
Sponsorships: Nike, Under Armor, Gatorade and countless other corporations bathe professional sports with multi-million and sometimes billion dollar sponsorships. Poker isn’t far behind, attracting ESPN, Pepsi, Hershey’s and many more.
History: Baseball is called America’s pastime due its rich history. The popularity of the sport surged in the 1860s, but poker has been played in the US since the late 1820s, and historical tales and accounts of the card game are plenty.
Scandal: Golf has its Tiger Woods, baseball its steroids, and football its under deflated pigskins. Call it scandal or controversy, public embarrassment is a much-required necessity, and poker certainly has it with chip counterfeiting, Dan Bilzerian, and rogue online networks.
Though many might be a little suspect of a global effort to sportify poker, upon further review the bet doesn’t seem that much of a gamble. With huge stakes, a rich history, plenty of headline-making stars, and a platform for worldwide growth through Internet play, perhaps now truly is the time to make the game a recognized and respected sport.