‘What’s the use of complaining about something you have no intentions of changing?’– Mario L Castellanos
It’s a lot easier to complain than create, and that’s sad to me, because I do love a rant. That said, if I’m going to slag off a beloved cornerstone of British Poker, then I guess I’d best have a solution to the problem.
So what was my problem?
1) I went to a low stakes festival week as a committed, low-stakes recreational player and felt like it wasn’t designed for me at all, when it really should have been.
2) It makes me angry when I see any poker managed in an unsustainable way, it is not the way to ensure the 2nd Poker Boom, which is my total obsession.
I’m going to put forward a solution to the 1st problem, because maximising casino income streams is probably not going to excite a readership of poker players.
Kat’s Fantasy Micro Festival Week
The main fantasy here is that I want to live in a world where all poker operators fully unclench about their “brand”.
Let me tell you something… are you ready…? POKER PLAYERS DO NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR BRAND. THEY ARE VALUE WHORES, THEY WILL ABANDON YOUR BRAND THE SECOND SOMETHING MORE ATTRACTIVE APPEARS.
Brand identity must be important to some products, but not poker; nobody gives a fuck, especially at the bottom end. It makes me laugh how often I speak to players who don’t actually know which company owns the casino they’re playing in. Poker players like structures, facilities and good staff, not logos.
Can you imagine how fantastic it would be if all the major operators actually had a meeting once a quarter and made sure all the schedules worked really well together? Shared rules debates so we’re closer to working from the same book? Did everything to make sure that possible leisure money is walking in through one of their doors as opposed to walking round a golf course?
What a dream, eh? I appreciate this is an unlikely outcome as the larger companies are usually run by ex-hotel chain execs who have never even had a punt; that rant would fall under solving problem No2, so that’s for another day.
Start that shit early. I mean early; ideally it should be a year ahead.
It does sound a bit crazy, but if you’re trying to establish an annual event, then why not start the drive to get people to commit as soon as possible?
Working people often have to book holidays at the start of a calendar year. If they have already booked all their holidays, how are they going to get an extra week off to come to your event?
Shift some marketing budget from print/blast costs to active man hours, because nobody gives a shit about the generic emails they get anymore and how many leaflets did you chuck in the bin after the last event? Direct Tweets, individual posts to locally influential players on FB, speaking to local notables outside your own area and getting them engaged; they will do that work for you, and other local players will listen to a known face over a faceless brand poster every single time.
Don’t just market to poker players at the micro end. If you’re running a £5k buyin event, it’s unlikely to attract total noobs anyway, but if you’re running 1p satties to a £500 event, you will probably pique some interest among the type of people who watch “SharkCage” but think that actually playing poker is expensive and dismiss it on that basis.
Chess groups, DnD players, bridge players, golfers, darts groups, book clubs, AmDram groups… the list goes on. Anywhere you find a group of marginally intelligent people who can be arsed to put their pants on and leave the house for an activity, you have a potential pool of poker players.
Hammering the same doods who come in your door anyway can be a bit of a waste of time, and does nothing to increase the income at the bottom end.
A micro festival’s focus should be as a doorway for new bodies, not an attempt to impress the top-end players, there’s plenty for those guys already.
Have a “face” of your event, preferably one who is active on social media. If you convince a well known player to be “the host” of the event every year, or however regularly it’s held, it gives players a chance to go home and say “I met (namedrop)”, “I know (namedrop)” and makes the players who didn’t come feel a bit left out, encouraging them to come next year.
A £500 main event is a great level, especially if there’s a sick guarantee. The bigger players will see value in it if the field has been actively stuffed with micro-qualifiers. Okay, they will also see value in it if there is a massive overlay, but that is not sustainable! Lower stakes players will see an opportunity to play a “big event” and not have to re-mortgage the house.
There should be trophied side events that tie in with that level, around 25%-50% of the main event buyin. It’s worth these events being available because people are on holiday!
They may not routinely play £100-£250 events, but they have saved their beans for a poker holiday, and people behave differently on holiday! Once they are there, you do not want them leaving to play elsewhere/visit historical sites.
Only running live satties for the main event is a terrible plan, because it dents the micro-psychology of “the one great shot”. £50 rebuy live satties for a £500 event are for higher-stakes players, and may lead to your regulars recommending to visitors that they go round the corner to a club holding a £50 freezout donkfest! Have the donkfest in your club, or if you really can’t staff it/seat it, actively associate with another club and let people know how and where you have their needs covered.
Have a cash table that’s £20 to sit at, 50p/50p blinds and buy every player a drink when they sit down. Have rake free vouchers, stupid prizes and general silliness: this game is not about the poker, it’s about the fun. It may not make you a fuckton of money, but it allows your micro players to say they played live cash at a poker festival. If micro-guys sit down at a £100 min buyin £1/£1 game with stacked up sharks, they are going to get bum-raped and they know it, nobody goes on holiday for that.
Staffing a big event is a nightmare, and there is no easy solution.
I would love to see a situation where every poker club in the country sent their top department team member to a festival week.
DTD and Genting’s best club dealers for The Goliath, Grosvenor’s best valet for the WPT500 etc etc.
The host company pays for their travel, hotel and the minimum wage that these guys earn; these people are needed anyway, why not have the best in the country?
In truth this will be probably be more cost effective than freelance/agency staff but the real point is customer and team engagement.
If local club customers vote for the best team member, and these guys get to do something “special”, something aspirational and coveted, then this benefits the local team immediately. Most companies have some sort of American style staff engagement strategy underway, and this ties in very nicely with that ideal.
Equally, it creates real local advocates for these events, because they have a personal reason for being excited and that will be infectious. If local players vote for a team member to go to a festival event, then it means that they’ve heard about the event in good time. I appreciate this idea will not benefit individual “brands”, but it will massively benefit the poker industry as a whole.
It’s also worth adding to the media team with an area TD or notable player who knows the faces from that area.
Invite them to join in and blog exclusively about the local players who are there. It can be an expenses only position, because there are a lot of folk who would enjoy doing it for a free week in a hotel at an event. It will increase awareness of the event, traffic on your site and overall social-media engagement.
Professional media teams are traditionally obsessed with the big players, and poker blogging is becoming repetitive and dull enough to turn-off everyone except real poker geeks- not ideal for a micro-event. These guys just want a photo of their mates at a poker table, they will repost the shit out of it. For a low-stakes event, updates through FB are preferable, because non-pokerers will be exposed to it.
Darts tournaments, table football, roulette/BJ tournaments, toy car races, CoD tourneys, blah blah blah. One event cannot have everything at once, obviously, but there should be plenty to distract a micro player who has busted and has to hang around for a mate.
There is nothing more depressing than busting early, going back to the hotel alone and crywanking yourself to sleep because you’ve had enough poker for that day, and nothing else was going on.
Time and time again I see groups of lads at these type of events, and only one or two of the friends are “serious” players, the others have tagged along for the ride and the chance of a lads holiday. Not everyone who comes to a micro festival wants to play poker all week; the reason this is a problem for micro-festival organisers is that if these “hangers on” are bored, they won’t agree to a poker holiday again, and that means that money will be on the plane to Magaluf next year, and not being fed into the industry.
Organisers should be in touch with local nightclubs, strip clubs, general party venues and create a viable itinerary, a week long “customer journey”, if you will. To be blunt, there’s not a lot of point having a party at your venue if 90% of the attendees are heterosexual males, the party market is looking to get laid on holiday, and a micro-festival organiser needs to facilitate that.
I would even go so far as to say that transport should be arranged, discounts with taxi companies organised, vouchers for free drinks etc agreed with the venues.
Online: Start small, but start early, and for the love of cheeseburgers, keep the format consistent! There could be rebuy structures, and freezeout structures, but have them available all the way up. Meaning, if the £5 qualifying stage is a freezeout, don’t then have the £20 qualifying stage as a rebuy.
Also, keep the jumps small, eg 1p>10p>£1>£5>£25>£100>£500. This allows for all players to buy in at their level, and also means that early guarantees can be smaller.
1p-£5 means that if you guarantee one seat, you need 500 rebuys/addons to make your money, and these tiny overlays add up for an operator. I know value is potentially sexy, but it’s not great if the event doesn’t even run the following year because on the face of it the guarantee was met, but actually 20% of those seats came directly from the operator’s pocket.
Run more tournaments, with smaller guarantees. Do 5×1 seat as opposed to 1×5 seats. The reason for this is that recreational players can’t play one satty everyday, they only have two days off a week; let them play 5 satties in their available 6 hour poker allowed time, not one.
Live: Run events that keep the sharks away. I ran a very low stakes cardroom, and it used to piss me off so much when I ran a satellite for a bigger event. Regular sharks from another club would turn up and take the seats away from my wide-eyed micro-regulars. If you use any version of CardRoom Magic (the software that runs the clock) then it has a very good database function. Use it.
Get a list of your top 100 freeroll/low stakes players and invite them to a private satty. Sell it with micro-pride and forget the notion that it is only your big-guys you need to impress; when they complain at your desk, remind them that skanking satty overlay value is not helping the industry, and unless they want to only ever play top-end sharks who are better than them, they need to support the drive to engage recreational players too.
In all cases of online/live seat winners, phone them, see them or write to them personally and get their hotel/transport booked in. If they have a twin room booked, they will likely encourage a friend to join them. Make good connections with local hotels and get good prices, if a lot of players are staying in the same hotel, it creates an environment that is worth more than its financial value.
Packages: Packages, packages, packages. It’s not only that micro-players don’t have loads of money, it’s that poker is not their whole life, most of them work at least 40hours a week, and they can’t be arsed to organise stuff.
Organise the hotel, find out the travel options and let them know, put coaches on from major cities at cost or marginal profit, get these fuckers in, make it easy for them.
It’s very hard to get any leisure money out of people if they feel they have to do all the work and then pay you for it.
Get in touch with foreign casinos, they all speak English. Get them to market your event to their players, and do the same for them, encourage the idea that “poker holidays” are quite the thing. The truth is, the bigger players, the cash table hounds, will follow, because pro-players follow soft money, why wouldn’t they?
Cheap, easy and quick. There is no selling a standard casino F+B product to people who will never, ever pay £6 for a jacket potato and beans, especially if there is a McDonalds/KFC/BurgerKing within spitting distance.
You don’t need 100 valets to serve it, or plates, or fancy places to sit and eat. Think about a Greggs in the corner of your venue, and you’re thinking for the micro-market. It’s cost effective and gets the job done, it may not be what happens at high-stakes festivals, but we’re talking about a different market of people.
Things that can be held in the hand and eaten whilst standing, drinks in bottles that can be saved for later, fruit cups knocked up in the kitchen for £1 cost, a bag of chips sold for £1, a valet scooting about with a bucket of pre-wrapped bacon rolls for £1 etc etc.
A gambling/poker tourist would rather spend £2 on a steak-bake and £8 on roulette than £10 on food. They will most likely go hungry, get a bit grumpy, and then inexplicably associate the venue with that grumpiness. Feed them and water them as cheaply as possible; cheap both to yourself as the organiser and to them as punters. Your profit will be marginal, but you should be geared up to deal with volume at a low stakes event: £500>£1m means there will be far more bodies than normal!
Micro/new players just don’t expect it, and there should be no operator cost at a micro-festival that does not have a direct purpose, whether that is income or engagement. There is no value in having a gorgeous man/woman stood gormlessly by cash desk while the poor cashiers get inundated with a million questions about times/structures/extra events etc.
If there is a budget for promo staff, it is better spent on some hosting staff who are approachable, actively look for confused faces, and have all the relevant information at their fingertips. If they happen to be fit as well, great, but that shouldn’t be their purpose, because micro-players aren’t interested in paying for it, so you’re wasting money.
This is one of my longer posts, and honestly, I could go on! I’m very passionate about this issue, I believe my micro-dollar is vital to the industry, and I don’t like feeling like no-one cares about me.
If you don’t understand a market, you cannot sell to them, and if the poker industry cannot sell to micro/new/recreational players, then the long term future of UK poker is as bleak as a funeral on a Scottish beach.
If we see lower-stakes festivals dying off, we know that it’s the beginning of the end, because to ensure longevity, we should be seeing a growth here, not a decline. Poker, like any financial structure, is a pyramid, and if the few at the top like the view from there, they need to be consider the bottom feeders; individually, we may not be worth much, but in totality, we hold the whole structure up.
If the foundations crumble, the house of cards will eventually collapse, and I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want that to happen.
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