World Poker Tour Finds Itself in Tune With Online Gaming Shift

    • Before the coronavirus outbreak, the World Poker Tour was already putting an added emphasis on Club WPT and an online event.
    • While a long-term shutdown of live events would hurt the World Poker Tour, the short-term benefits could be positive for the company's online efforts.

Daily Newsletter

Sign up and see why influential business executives call it a “morning must-read.”

Despite one of the chief business pillars of the World Poker Tour crumbling overnight, Chief Executive Officer Adam Pliska believes his company will come out stronger.

The WPT typically depends on 65 live events across the globe, but they’ve been canceled like most others due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Pliska, however, believes the WPT’s pivot earlier this year to put more emphasis on its interactive component, namely the subscription-based online poker platform Club WPT, will pay dividends now and in the future. 

“The tour is known for its events, but so much of the business is online, and that’s, quite frankly, saving us,” he said. “The company came together remarkably, and I do believe this will be a test case taught in business school in how we came together, repurposed jobs, and pushed everything online. 

Before the events hiatus, Pliska said about half the company’s revenue came from its online, interactive components like Club WPT. Now, that’s likely to increase, he said. He also said it’s a bit fortuitous the company had already put more effort behind Club WPT and May’s WPT Online Series with online poker room partypoker, which includes a $5 million guarantee for the WPT Online Championship. 

“We already had started those, but this is just allowing us to put more emphasis on building it,” he said. “[For the partypoker event] we were having it in May, just started promotions earlier and they’re that much more well-received considering the circumstances. Many people will probably look back and think, ‘What a brilliant decision,’ but we already had them in the works.”

READ MORE: GQ Sports Goes From Glossy To Digital With Athletes Assisting Production

Specific growth numbers in interactive users aren’t disclosed, but Pliska said there is daily growth now that was expected to take weeks or even months. World Poker Tour programming viewership on OTT platforms like PlutoTV, SamsungTV, and Xumo was up 125% in the first quarter year-over-year, hitting 8.2 million in total viewership.

“We’re all on a call every day, critiquing and adding new ideas; when a company comes together there’s a wealth of ideas,” he said. “There are ideas that are going from ideation to implementation within a week or days.”

Ideas like having pro poker players playing online on Twitch, or having users play against the pro players online and earning bounties for knocking them out. 

“It reminds me of high school being in a production club and filled with ideas, and there’s no wrong idea because everyone has to be out of the box,” Pliska said.

As large gatherings come back into the mix, Pliska said he also sees it changing the relationship with existing casino partners. He said the company is working on having casinos be able to engage their customers by having events on Club WPT.

READ MORE: Univision Moves Into Esports With Pro Soccer Players at the Controls

The refocus on the interaction between the two realms helps remind the company that, of the 130 million linear TV viewers of poker, most aren’t pros and can be reminded they like to play the game, both in-person and online.

“It might not be the same experience as a full casino experience, but it still allows them to have good interaction with their customers and allows us to be a good partner,” he said. “We are going to see even more focus on the relationship between online and offline, and that can be good for the overall industry. 

“We are reminded as an industry that the ecology of the entire market is better when we make this an interaction between online and offline,” he said.

While the short-term benefits could be a boon to the business, Pliska equates the experience to a violin string. Go on too long, however, and it might get too tight. 

“You want it tight enough, so there’s tension to make a nice sound, but not so tight it breaks,” he said. “We have a nice amount of tension causing people to be at their best, and it’s going well.”