All aboard the WSOP
Four words. And two simple logos screened on reams of mass-produced merchandise - from tank tops and money clips to leather jackets and whiskey snifters. The sum total: millions of dollars in sales, a marketing juggernaut and an international mega-brand.
When Harrah's swooped in and bought the rights to Jack Binion's Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp. in September, 2003 - World Series of Poker included - for around $1.45 billion, who knows if they really had any idea what they were getting.
With 800 players and a top prize of $2.5 million, the 2002 WSOP was a far cry from the 8,773 and $12 million Main Event payout to Jamie Gold (and his pal Crispin Leyser) of 2006.
Whatever the case, they certainly know now.
Beyond the poker itself, the television deals, the Web casts and the ad sales - all beefed up with more and more revenue generating concepts every year - there's another cash cow always prominently on display in the Amazon Room: World Series of Poker merchandise.
With sales jumping to $46 million in 2005 and growing exponentially since then, the WSOP-branded merchandise market is no small matter, even given the bottomless coffers of the world's largest casino entertainment brand.
And this year - given the void in online poker room gear created by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act - the Amazon Room has, indeed, been awash in WSOP gear.
(Well, that and sports jerseys. For a decidedly un-sporty activity, poker does seem to involve a lot of people dressed like athletes - among the highlights seen so far: Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, the dynamic Cleveland Browns duo of Brady Quinn and Tim Couch, an old school Dominique Wilkins number, a Jalen Rose Bulls jersey and Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo (represent Terrence Chan.
With two kiosks and the main WSOP gift shop spread around only about 200 yards of turf, there's no shortage of opportunities for fans to stop in and pick up a WSOP hoodie to wear at the table or a branded money clip to take back to Podunk, Nebraska.
Among the selections: the "Player" red and white warm-up jacket ($75), a silk-like WSOP polo ($90), the popular "sweat and tee" bundle ($50), the less-popular his and hers WSOP leather jackets ($900 apiece), and the sunshade and seat cushion pack ($55, but cushion sold separately for just $25). You can also "enjoy your tasty beverages WSOP style," with the fluted whiskey and tankard glasses of your drinking fantasies.
Or, of course, the ubiquitous WSOP baseball hat with the new 3D chip logo. Which, according to the Web site, "announces you are fun from far away."
Official figures are obviously yet to be tallied for this year, but a quick survey of the crowd day-to-day and the guilty looks of the gift shop staff make it clear the merchandise gravy train is chugging along nicely.
According to two young staffers who looked rather sheepishly at each other when asked: Their average cashouts for a day were about $2,000.
Each. A day. Same with the other ten. From just one tiny shop. Which obviously doesn't include Web sales, outside retail outlets, etc, etc. Multiply times 40-some days of World Series action, and you're looking at a substantial chunk of change.
There's no doubt about it. Harrah's is holding a monster and the 2007 WSOP is proving - in all regards - the World Series of Poker is as much brand as it is event.
You can peruse all the goods for sale at the WSOP store online at www.shopwsop.com. Keep your eyes peeled for the soon-to-come WSOP tam - perfect for the World Series Europe this September.
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