“Huge” Full Tilt Poker Sponsorship Deal With UFC Off Table After Indictment

April 18, 2011

MMAPayout detailed what it meant to the MMA landscape after Friday’s shocking news that Full Tilt Poker, along with other online poker sites, were seized by the FBI and indicted for bank fraud, illegal gambling, and money laundering.

Today, CNBC’s sports business reporter specialist, Darren Rovell, reported the following on his twitter:

“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.”

MMAPayout spoke to members and managers within MMA industry, all sharing the same sentiment. They claim that the new deal would have been huge for the UFC, Strikeforce, and the fighters, but specifically, it really hurts the fighters as Full Tilt Poker is one of the better paying sponsors out there for those trying to make a living from the sport.

On Friday, MMAPayout reported that Full Tilt Poker was ramping up their promotional efforts with Strikeforce after Zuffa had acquired them, not to mention the big deal made between Fertitta Interactive (also owners of the UFC) and Full Tilt Poker a few weeks prior pending on legalizing online gambling in the United States, a bill that is being pushed by UFC/Station Casinos/Fertitta Interactive backed Nevada Senator Harry Reid.  With the growing relationship, Full Tilt Poker was going to be heavily involved in future UFC events and promotional efforts that would have brought a good money to Zuffa and the fighters.

MMAPayout has also learned that Full Tilt Poker was expanding their sponsorship efforts within MMA (outside of the UFC) and was working on some other pretty big sponsorship deals that have since fallen through as well.


Payout Perspective:

As to what type of money MMA gets from Full Tilt Poker, Rovell discusses it a bit more here in his write-up breaking down the poker FBI bust. Brian Belasbough of Poker Royalty talked about some of the ramifications for the poker industry after Friday:

When Pokerstars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker left the US market, 95 percent of the market share for US poker players absolutely disappeared and with that so did $200 million worth of marketing money and advertising money that these companies spent in order to acquire new customers. What that means is basically poker television shows like “The Big Game” on Fox and “Poker After Dark” on NBC are completely gone. So the poker landscape has changed dramatically in a very short period of time.

In addition to the poker television shows going away, there are a number of other sponsorship opportunities which have disappeared as well. There are 100 online poker players with sponsorships which likely will disappear. In addition to that there’s an entire industry of covering poker tournaments in the media in conjunction with that. ESPN had a $22 million deal with Pokerstars, which has to be over now and then the live events like the World Poker Tour, like the North American Poker Tour.

The other question that you have to ask here is that with the big sponsorship void left by Full Tilt Poker in MMA, what type of companies will step in and take their place?  We also have to wonder what it says about MMA as a sport considering that one of its biggest sponsors was an illegal gambling company that had been operating and generating revenue through banking and legal loopholes.  Big mainstream sponsors is something that the UFC and MMA has coveted for years, but luring them in hasn’t been as easy as once expected.  The addition of new sponsors and TV networks could reveal a telling story about the ceiling of the sport in the next few years.

Focusing on the fighters, they have been taking bigger blows outside of the ring/cage than inside as of late.  The removal of Full Tilt Poker as one of their bigger sponsors wasn’t the only blow dealt to them in the past year. When Authentic Brands Group purchased Sinister, Tapout and Silver Star (MMA apparel) and then decided to scale back their sponsorship money in MMA, it dealt an equal sized blow.  One has to wonder with the lack of big MMA promotions outside of Zuffa and with the recent trend of dying sponsors, how difficult it will be for fighters to make a living in the sport, which wasn’t an easy task before either.

4 Responses to ““Huge” Full Tilt Poker Sponsorship Deal With UFC Off Table After Indictment”

  1. George on April 19th, 2011 7:10 AM

    I received this email from fulltilt today:

    “We’re contacting you following the recent actions by the U.S. government last Friday 15th April.
    As you may be aware, Full Tilt Poker is unable to accept “real money” play from U.S. players at the current time, and this includes any deposits or withdrawals. We are working to resolve these issues as soon as possible and will keep you updated as information becomes available to us.
    We are deeply sorry for this inconvenience, but these events are beyond our control. Please be assured that your funds are safe, and we thank you for your patience while we do everything in our power to have money returned to those who have requested it as soon as possible.
    Please note, that this action only impacts players based in the U.S. and Full Tilt Poker is still fully operational elsewhere. Players can currently access our site at http://www.fulltilpoker.co.uk which is available using the normal login details.
    As always, we appreciate your continued support, and we will provide additional information to you as it becomes available.
    The Full Tilt Poker Affiliate Team”

    and it made me feel much safer now that they are issuing an official statement, i hope they enable real money games soon.

  2. Jose Mendoza on April 19th, 2011 11:01 AM


    Here is what Darren Rovell said about the matter:

    “I don’t care what the poker sites are saying, I don’t think online poker players can COUNT ON getting all their $ back.”


  3. BrainSmasher on April 19th, 2011 11:29 AM

    I dont see anyone getting their money back. It is basically illegal gambling money. THe feds shut down their connections with banks to deposit your funds. A check in the mail would be considered mail fraud to use it to send illegal money. The only way i could see getting it and the poker sites not breaking a law would be if the customer set up an offshore account. But that would assume they even wanted to give the money back which im sure they would rather not. Maybe even an offshore account wouldnt be possible. Im just guessing.

  4. Jose Mendoza on April 19th, 2011 12:50 PM

    UPDATE on ESPN’s Poker Content:


    ESPN “will remove poker advertising and programming after the U.S. indicted gambling websites that sponsor televised tournaments and froze their bank accounts,” according to Andy Fixmer of BLOOMBERG NEWS.

    The network said in a statement, “For the immediate future, we are making efforts to remove related advertising and programming pending further review.”

    ESPN Poker’s Andrew Feldman “clarified that the upcoming World Series of Poker will still air on ESPN.”

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