(“I survived the Full Tilt Poker bust and all I got was this crappy jacket.” Too soon? Pic: WSOP.com)
The federal indictments lobbed at three top poker websites late last week – including noted fight sponsor Full Tilt Poker – continue to cause a troubling ripple effect in the MMA world, new reports indicate. You may have already seen the stories over the weekend about how much the sudden absence of such poker site dough may or may not adversely affect the bottom line of individual fighters, but notable sports business reporter Darren Rovell (who works a lot on ESPN) now says the charges against Full Tilt also mean the loss of an important upcoming deal for the UFC.
“The UFC had a huge new sponsorship deal on the table with Full Tilt that will now go out the window with the feds bust,” Rovell tweeted on Monday afternoon. This came on the heels of a story from MMA Junkie quoting agent Ken Pavia saying the poker shutdown “will severely impact fighters’ sponsor revenue, which traditionally matched their show pay for our televised clients.”
So yeah, any time big sponsors drop out (or get indicted) and their money gets taken out of the pockets of fighters and the coffers of the only important company left in the industry, we have to do the Dennis Hopper voice again: Bad things, man. For those of you who may have actually gone outside or done things with friends/family over the weekend, a short recap of the story and some reflection on what it might mean for MMA are after the jump.
Essentially, the feds charged Full Tilt, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker (basically every poker site you’ve ever heard of) with fraud, illegal gambling and money laundering last week. Uncle Sam accuses these companies of “tricking regulators and banks into processing billions of dollars of illegal Internet gambling proceeds,” according to the initial report from Reuters.
MMA has long enjoyed a weird relationship with poker, with a litany high profile fighters and at least one high profile veteran voice of the Octagon who fancy themselves quite the players. While poker sponsorships are reportedly not currently allowed in the UFC (possibly because it was working on its own sponsorship with Full Tilt? Just thinking out loud there …), the company’s website does regularly sponsor its own online tournaments (not for pay, we assume) and Full Tilt was already one of the major sponsors of Strikeforce.
For SF, the loss of that money can only be viewed as yet another blow against the embattled MMA company, though perhaps a less significant one now that it’s merely part of the Zuffa portfolio. Still, Pavia made the situation sound pretty dire for some of his clients: “I would venture to say the poker industry is equal to (the) apparel industry as the No. 1 sponsor of fighters outside the UFC,” he said.
Manager Sam Spira also called the indictments a “disturbing development,” though it should be noted that most Full Tilt fighter sponsorships were for the company’s free-play “.net” address, which is still operational. Zuffa of course will more easily be able to replace the sponsorship money than the individual fighters, so (surprise!) news of the indictments will likely have a much worse affect on the workers on the ground than the guys upstairs in the big glass offices.
Granted, it remains to be seen how any of this will play out, but (as is usually the case with federal indictments) our guess is: Not very well.