Sponsors + Darvin Moon just don't add up
LAS VEGAS -- And now, a word from Darvin Moon's paid sponsors:
(Cue chirping crickets.)
When the World Series of Poker Main Event resumed Saturday, all nine players wore black shirts with baseball caps, and there were logos everywhere -- mostly for Internet poker sites.
Phil Ivey, Steve Begleiter and James Akenhead had Full Tilt logos on their shirts and hats. Joe Cada, Kevin Schaffel and Eric Buchman were serving as real-life poker stars for Poker Stars. Jeff Shulman was repping Spade Club, while Antoine Saout was backed by Everest Poker.
And by backed, I mean paid handsomely: The Internet poker sites pay the players at the Main Event final table top dollar to serve as human billboards for their brands, with six-figure deals the industry standard and win-it-all bonuses that can reach seven figures, according to one poker agent. (As one of poker's biggest stars, Ivey has a long-standing deal with Full Tilt; Akenhead had signed on with Full Tilt, too, before the World Series began.)
As for Darvin Moon, he was wearing his usual New Orleans Saints cap with the team's fleur-de-lis emblem on the front and a black polo shirt emblazoned with subtle, stitched purple-and-gold logos for Wheeling Island, the West Virginia casino where Moon won his WSOP seat in a satellite tournament. "I'm just doing it out of respect," he says.
The Saints aren't paying Moon, either, but the team has sent him a bunch of free hats and shirts and has invited him to be their guest at multiple games. "We don't have any formal agreement with Darvin," says Greg Bensel, the team's vice president of communications. "I just reached out to him because he's a committed Saints fan who lives in the middle of Steelers country and has done something special at the World Series of Poker."
Surrounded by so many bigger, brighter logos, Moon looked a little bit like the guy driving the family sedan in a NASCAR race when the final table convened on Saturday.
The Internet poker sites wanted to land him, of course -- even if he's never played a single hand of poker online (and, in fact, doesn't even use the Internet, not even for email). The sites kept making offers to get Moon to slap their logos on his outfits, and he or his lawyer Jack Turney kept saying no, thanks.
The money was good (one even offered a small ownership stake), but it was never going to be good enough, Moon says, given that deals would have obligated him to travel to poker tournaments in places he didn't want to be and participate in other sponsor events that just didn't interest him.
"When I'm done with this tournament, I'm done," he says. "But these guys want to sign me for a year and say: 'You've gotta do this, you've gotta do that.' You become their" property. (Moon actually used a more forceful word that rhymes with "rich.")
"I've been self-employed my whole life. I've never had a boss, I never want to have a boss. I do what I want to do every day. I'm turning down a lot of money, but I don't really care about it. I told them: 'You don't have enough money to sign me and tell me what I have to do.'"
At least one poker site eventually offered Moon six figures for a final table deal in which he'd wear their logos on Saturday and Monday at the final table and then they'd be done with each other. But the deal stipulated that the company would pay Moon's $10,000 buy-in at the 2010 Main Event and give him a five-figure bonus to wear its logos again. "They said there were no strings attached, but I told Jack, my lawyer, to throw it in the trash. They'd have me tied up for next year. How is that no strings attached?"
Moon's stance has made him both a curiosity and a hero in the poker world, as he's been told repeatedly here how great it is that he's so principled and isn't selling himself out. Not that the overtures and offers have stopped; during a break at the marathon final table session on Saturday night/Sunday morning, for instance, poker pro Phil Hellmuth told Moon that he'd really like to find a way to get Moon signed to Ultimate Bet. Moon told Hellmuth that they couldn't afford him.
"My freedom and my happiness isn't worth all the money in the world," Moon said after Hellmuth walked away
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