Gus Hansen and Viktor Blom have parted ways with Full Tilt, as the online poker company ditches its last sponsored poker pros and begins a new chapter in its colorful and infamous history: as a site that is as much about casino games as it is about poker.
Full Tilt said that, while it wished Hansen and Blom all the best, it has decided to move away from “pro-centric advertising” to “focus on the experiences and stories of the vast majority of our players,” adding that the move had come following a yearlong review of the Full Tilt brand.
“Full Tilt will celebrate the excitement, fun, and intrinsic enjoyment of playing our poker, blackjack, roulette, and slots games,” said a statement. “A new TV campaign will launch imminently, representing this new approach. There will be more news on this later in the week.”
Full Tilt began rolling out casino games at the beginning of 2014, but this is the first indication that its marketing focus is to shift so dramatically towards its non-poker offering, although we might have guessed by the company’s decision in July to drop the world “poker” from its domain name.
The termination of Hansen and Blom’s association with Full Tilt spells the end of “The Professionals,” a group formed in 2012 to celebrate the site’s return to operations following its buy-out by PokerStars, and in particular the return of the nosebleed stakes.
The Professionals also initially featured Tom Dwan, whose contract was not renewed in December 2013. There was speculation at the time that he was failing in his commitments to his sponsors; Dwan was once publicly blasted by Daniel Negreanu for turning up late to a Full Tilt event, and he and Hansen were criticized for skipping the 2013 WSOP Main Event in order to play a game of high-stakes Chinese poker.
In fact, the success of The Professionals as a sponsorship package was mixed for Full Tilt. While Blom and Hansen were both huge fan favorites, Blom’s flat refusal to do interviews makes him an odd choice of brand ambassador, while Hansen’s current status as the second-biggest high-stakes online poker loser in the history of the game (after Guy Laliberte), doesn’t quite chime with the “Professionals” tag.
It seems that the days of the sponsored pro are numbered, as more and more online poker sites grapple with constrained marketing budgets. At the height of the poker boom, which was arguably the 2006 WSOP Main Event, you could survey the fields in the Amazon Room at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and it seemed like almost everyone was wearing some kind of logo. Sponsorship today is reserved for only the most marketable of players, and it seems PokerStars is the only site that can afford to have more than a handful.