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Palansky Looks to Expand WSOP's International Presence
One of the stated goals of World Series of Poker commissioner Jeffrey Pollack the last few years has been to turn the WSOP into one of the world's premier sporting events, an objective consistent with Pollack's background at NASCAR and the NBA.
New WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky is another transplant from the sporting world, having joined the WSOP after working for the National Football League's NFL Network. He was the network's first employee and oversaw the launch of the channel, and before that served as media relations director for Fox Sports Net.
I spoke with Palansky briefly a few days into the 2008 WSOP schedule.
Seth, you came to the World Series of Poker from the NFL Network not that long ago. What's the transition been like for you so far?
I took the leap about three months ago. I felt that the demographics and worldwide appeal of poker were very attractive. I was with a great organization at the NFL, but it's really an American sport, and it's not played or watched by people outside the U.S. in vast numbers.
I looked here at the WSOP and there were 87 countries represented here last year. To me this is truly an international event, and I wanted to branch out to something global, something that anyone can play. I love those things about poker.
Most everyone has played poker at some point, even if it was just home games with your friends. What's your personal background with poker?
I used to play a lot. I was a real "junior high junkie," playing home games with my friends.
I've stopped playing since joining the WSOP because there are too many good players who are always willing to take a donkey's money like mine. I've learned that if I want to make money in my new job, I have to stop playing poker. [laughs]
The global expansion of the game is big right now. What kinds of plans do the WSOP people have to reach out to new markets, not just in terms of having them represented here, but also taking the game to them?
I think we have a two-pronged approach. Obviously we want the WSOP in Las Vegas every year to be sort of the Woodstock of poker, where everyone wants to come annually from all over the world and play with the best and be among the best and take their chances on it. We want to continue to refine this event so that people are still willing to make the trek to Las Vegas.
And then it's about things like we did with WSOP Europe last year, starting that up. It's really a measured approach. Europe is just starting to catch up after the last five years of people playing and really improving their games.
We see that starting to happen in Latin America, too, with Asia a little further behind that. So I think you'll probably see the WSOP holding events like Europe, as well as in Asia or Latin America in the future.
How much of an effect do you think it has on these countries when someone makes a Main Event final table here, like when Joe Hachem kicked off the Australian poker boom in 2005? Do you see any countries starting to grow in presence here during registration and preregistration, like maybe South Africa because of Raymond Rahme's finish last year?
I was just going to mention South Africa as one of this year's examples of one of the [most strongly] represented countries in terms of media contacts and public interest. So it absolutely has a snowball effect when someone from a country that hadn't yet embraced poker makes the final table and goes home to become a national hero.
Again, I came here from the NFL because poker translates globally to everyone. It's an easy game to understand, it's an easy game to pick up, and people start playing in those countries as a result. They say, "Hey, if he can do it, I can do it."
Things have changed a lot at the WSOP this year. What do you think are the biggest changes you've made for the players this year?
I think we're at a point where we're leveling off a bit in terms of knowing about how many people are going to turn up. For instance, we had 55 events last year and we have 55 again this year. You can estimate within about 10 to 15 percent of the total how many people are going to come through the doors.
So it's really become about serving the player. We're trying to do things like not having registration lines, or not putting people in tents to start things off. We want to really look at everything and find ways to make this a smooth, fun experience from the get-go.
That's what the $10,000 (Pot-Limit Hold'em) event to start off was - you had the best players in the world here competing, and it was a great way to start things off on a small scale and sort of grease the wheels before opening our doors to 4,000 players in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event.
I think our team has been together long enough, myself obviously not included, and the guys have worked really hard to make sure that they've looked at everything that's gone wrong in the past or needed improvements. It's early, and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but I really think we're showing that we can manage this and prepare and be ready for it.
Thanks for your time, Seth.
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Seth Palansky joins former NFL executive Ty Stewart at the WSOP, and the two will be working to bolster the brand's international cachet even further as the flagship annual event in Las Vegas continues to grow. It's hard to say just yet how far this team can take the brand, but the worldwide appeal of the game suggests that well-timed moves on the part of the WSOP team could solidify their product for a long time to come.