SBJ/Feb. 10-16, 2014/In Depth

PartyPoker sponsorship with 76ers, Devils raises stakes in gaming category

The home pages of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils now dedicate space to their newest sponsor: nj.partypoker.com.

Inside the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, two signs promoting the online poker company occupy prime real estate on the floor between the court and the front-row seats. During the game, instant replays are sponsored by nj.partypoker.com.

At the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., fans attending a Devils game can visit booths to learn how to play poker online.

PartyPoker’s deal includes promos on the Wells Fargo Center scoreboard.
Photo by: John George
Those are some of the traditional ways — along with arena signs, tickets and hospitality opportunities, and radio
and television advertising — that the Sixers and Devils have activated their multiyear marketing partnership involving Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, which operates nj.partypoker.com.

But Scott O’Neil, CEO of the Sixers and Devils, said the deal is anything but traditional.

“This deal is much more about digital media,” said O’Neil, noting the organizations meet regularly to discuss ways to tie the brands together through mobile apps, social media and other online activities. “One of the great things about doing promotions online is if it’s working, you can double down on it. If it isn’t, you scrap it and move on to something else.”

The financial terms of the multiyear sponsorship are being kept confidential, but O’Neil said the value tops $10 million.

One of the cornerstones of the partnership is the “Dream Seat Series,” a chance for New Jersey residents playing poker at nj.partypoker.com to compete for what O’Neil describes as experiences that money can’t buy.

“It could be a trip with one of the teams on the road, a ‘meet and greet’ before practice, dinner with one of our legends, or courtside or VIP suite seats,” he said.

Already awarded were seats to a recent Jay-Z concert at the Prudential Center.

“We are excited to be working with the Devils and 76ers and to be able to offer their fans great digital content and unique game-day experiences,” Norbert Teufelberger, CEO of Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, said last month when the deal was announced. “There is an affinity between playing in online poker tournaments and sports — winning is about having intense focus, stamina and a great competitive spirit.”

The Sixers and Devils are the first two major professional sport teams in the United States to sign a sponsorship deal with an online gaming company. The two teams, both owned by groups led by Josh Harris, draw fans from different parts of New Jersey — which late last year became the third state in the country to legalize online gaming.

O’Neil said they did not encounter any major obstacles from either the NBA or NHL to get the deal done, but he noted minor adjustments were needed.

“The NBA and NHL are both progressive leagues and worked with us throughout the process, to the point that both leagues made changes to their guidelines in order to recognize and accommodate the legalization of online gaming,” he said.

Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner and COO, said no monitoring of the partnership will be required going forward. “As long as the gambling site doesn’t include sports gambling or sports betting, it’s now allowed within our rules,” Tatum said.

Eric Smallwood, senior vice president at the Philadelphia-based sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics, said he wasn’t surprised to see an online poker company partner with a professional sports team — or in this case, two teams — in the United States.

“I think it’s been a matter of when, not if,” Smallwood said, noting that teams already have sponsorships with casinos. “Think of the lotteries. You can look across all four major sports and find many teams that have relationships with state lotteries.”

John George writes for the Philadelphia Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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