Monday September 1,2014 : POKERSTARS AND U.S. FOOTBALL – AN EXCITING CONCEPT
But one which was a step too far even for the online poker giant's management.
Imagine the possibilities….and consequences…of an attempt by online poker powerhouse Pokerstars to buy a US National Football League team.
Apart from setting the NFL's teeth on edge, such an initiative would definitely generate extensive media coverage even if halted, and that was the main objective when it was suggested in 2006 by the company's communications chief, Nolan Dalla, now a high profile industry blogger and personality.
Dalla has revisited the proposal on his blog, acknowledging that the proposal was a little too ambitious and audacious, even for the daring and creative ownership of Pokerstars, which was at that stage playing second fiddle to industry leader PartyPoker and looking to gain ascendancy.
The team Dalla had in mind was the New Orleans Saints, a franchise that owned an 80,000 seat stadium regularly filled with loyal fans, despite struggling to succeed on the field.
Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints, considered selling the franchise for around $600 million following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina debacle that devastated much of New Orleans and damaged the stadium, and Dalla saw this as an unprecedented opportunity to put Pokerstars on the map in its biggest market…North America.
Dalla accepted that the transaction would probably be stopped in its tracks by the ever-sensitive NFL, but that by that time the initiative would have generated extensive publicity worth up to $20 million in a key market.
He argued that even if the project gained approval, there were enormous PR advantages to be had in saving the franchise and earning the loyalty of millions of fans.
After careful consideration, it was decided not to pursue the proposal, and in the event Pokerstars rose to completely dominate the online poker market internationally in the years that followed.
PartyPoker reversed out of the US market when the UIGEA was signed in late 2006 after a stealthy late night passage through Congress attached to a "must pass" security bill, and Pokerstars flourished whilst its former top rival shrank.
The UIGEA came less than a year after Dalla's proposal, and was executed principally through political deals and Congressional maneuvering, so it is unlikely that even Pokerstars could have pre-empted its introduction.
Whether Pokerstars would have been able to overtake PartyPoker commercially if the UIGEA had not come about is a matter for conjecture, and is now of only academic interest, but the financial transaction banning bill certainly had a significant and damaging impact on the industry, and probably set the foundations for the ‘Black Friday' federal enforcement actions five years later in April 2011.
That precipitated the exit from the United States of Pokerstars and other major online poker companies at great cost.
As is so often the case, future events would have vindicated a purchase of the Saints back in 2006; Dalla concludes his account of the project by revealing that three years after Benson mulled selling the franchise, the team made a spectacular comeback to win the Superbowl….and that $600 million asking price is currently dwarfed by the valuation of the franchise at around $1.5 billion!