WSOP take a relaxed approach to success

WSOPNumerous commentators and writers are already writing off this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) as failing to build on past successes – even before the biggest poker tournament in the world begins tomorrow – following the events of last month’s ‘Black Friday’, where online poker sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were no longer allowed to accept US poker players.

Last year’s $10,000 no-limit hold’em main event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas attracted a healthy 7,319 entrants – only second on the all time list to the 8,773 competitors back in 2006 – while a total of 72,966 players took part in the WSOP in 2010.

Jonathan Duhamel became the first Canadian to lift the main event title last year, picking up a rather handy $8,944,310 after winning his heads-up clash with American John Racener, when the former’s As-Jh held up against the latter’s Kd-8d.

OK, it’s unlikely we’ll see those massive numbers this year – and certainly not the incredible $12 million collected by 2006 winner Jamie Gold.

However, while the doom-mongers out there are already suggesting – almost certainly correctly – that participant numbers will be well down on last year, with many potential players having their bankrolls tied up in numerous poker websites closed by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), WSOP vice-president Ty Stewart has definitely not been resting on his laurels as the 58-event series approaches.

Stewart has been working hard behind the scenes to keep this year’s numbers up and, while the organiser will readily admit that the many years of consistent growth will almost certainly be halted this time around, he does hope to assist the thousands of players who do turn up to relax just a little bit more over the next 50-plus days.

Dearfoams Slippers Official WSOP Footwear Sponsor

Stewart and WSOP communications director Seth Palansky have been putting in the hours to attract new sponsors, and their hard work has paid off handsomely with Stewart announcing that – wait for it – footwear company Dearfoams Slippers has been signed up as the WSOP’s official footwear sponsor for the next two years.

Yes, you read that correctly – the WSOP has sanctioned a footwear sponsor. And I’m all for it, to be honest. In fact, you could say I’m extremely comfortable with that decision – and many of the poker stars lining up to appear at this year’s event might just feel the same way, what with having to spend hours at a time sitting round a card table.

It’s not as if the WSOP hasn’t previously attracted its fair share of the weird and wonderful when to comes to sponsors anyway, with the likes of Helene Curtis’ Degree brand of anti-perspirant/deodorant one such unusual backer.

But there’s also been GlaxoSmithKline/Bayer’s Levitra erectile dysfunction medicine (possibly for those celebratory nights after a big success when fatigue has unfortunately arrived), as well as Pepsi’s SoBe Adrenaline Rush energy drink – again maybe for those occasions when tiredness has taken hold – and even the Hershey Company, and others that promote beef jerky and fast food.

Of course, many people will be left scratching their heads over what would possess Stewart and Palansky to take on Dearfoams Slippers, but the WSOP vice-president was able to immediately point to last year’s main event winner, Duhamel, who “won nearly $9 million while wearing flip-flops”. This, Stewart argues, proves that “poker players covet comfort in their pursuit of glory”. I reckon he’s got a point.

Stewart is certainly not going to back down over his reasons for hooking up with a footwear firm, suggesting that “flip-flops aren’t so comfortable”, while Dearfoams – “who make the world’s most comfortable slippers” – will allow players to “feel truly comfy as they pursue their dreams of winning the WSOP and going on to live a life of leisure, where it will be appropriate to wear Dearfoams slippers 24/7”.

Yes, that’s all promotional talk, but you can hardly blame Stewart for talking up the footwear company. They are, after all, joining the WSOP at a time when the poker industry – and particularly online poker sites – is under severe pressure from the US government.

Therefore, as part of the sponsorship deal, players and fans alike will see the Dearfoams logo and signage appear at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino during the extensive tournament. And thousands of pairs of slippers will also be available, of course, for those in need of some extra comfort for their trapped toes.

Not that any of the main event players will have to dig deep to purchase a pair as Dearfoams will be handing out free slippers to those signed up to the tournament-closing event. In addition, every Ladies’ Championship participant will be offered a complimentary pair of slippers, too. Nice.

The widespread wearing of slippers won’t stop there, however, as the WSOP has said it will permit dealers and camera crews with broadcaster ESPN to arrive for work in the slippers while the main event runs. Let’s just hope those guys on the cameras don’t get too relaxed and miss a thrilling all-in encounter while taking it easy.

Now, this all might seem a bit silly. But imagine, if you will, spending 12-plus hours hunched over a card table while wearing a pair of distinctly uncomfortable shoes. That’s not going to help you relax as the tournament progresses.

It’s such thinking that led Dearfoams to get involved in the first place. Well, that and the fact millions of poker fans across the globe will be tuning in to watch the action unfold, thus allowing their product to gain incredible publicity and coverage.

Certainly, Mark Zobel – the vice-president of marketing with RG Barry Corporation, which is Dearfoams’ parent company – is convinced that this deal will be beneficial to the WSOP and Dearfoams, as well as the players, of course.

Let’s not forget that hundreds of thousands of poker players – 420,834 to be precise – have participated in the WSOP since it first began at Binion’s Horseshoe back in 1970. I can just see 77-year-old poker legend Doyle Brunson – who has 10 WSOP bracelets – sporting a pair of those slippers. Can’t you? Now, that would be worth every cent of the sponsorship deal to Dearfoams.

Anyway, Zobel believes that the arrangement “is an exciting opportunity” and “a unique way for Dearfoams to reach a broader male audience” that “may not be as familiar with our brand as women”, while also pointing out that the slippers are “perfect” for wearing “at a poker table”.

I’m convinced – and might just invest in a pair as I sign on to my online poke account with the dollar signs in my eyes. But what could be the clincher for many poker fans is Dearfoams’ decision to run a promotion that will provide a seat at next year’s main event.

So, it could be a case of sit back, relax and slip into a pair of slippers as the dealer shuffles those cards and begins yet another hand of poker that could ultimately end in WSOP glory. Mmmm, nice.