Antonio Esfandiari

Ultimate Poker Signs Antonio Esfandiari as Brand Ambassador

Antonio EsfandiariNevada-based Ultimate Poker today announced poker pro Antonio Esfandiari has been signed as the online poker site’s new “Brand Ambassador.” The announcement follows news in mid-March of the site having signed poker pro and MMA fighter Terrence Chan as a sponsored player.

Esfandiari owns two World Poker Tour titles, the first coming in 2004 at the L.A. Poker Classic and helping facilitate his early emergence as one of several poker players achieving popularity during the post-Moneymaker “boom” era. The Iranian-born and California-based pro has also won three WSOP bracelets, including a WSOP Europe bracelet last fall and another in the $1 million buy-in “Big One for One Drop” in Las Vegas last summer.

It its announcement, Ultimate Poker underscored Esfandiari’s broader role as an ambassador for poker, generally speaking, when speaking of him “lend[ing] the voice and weight of a true poker champion to a brand committed to becoming the players’ choice for online poker.”

Thanks largely to his victory in the “Big One for One Drop” last July and the $18,346,673 first prize that came with it, the 34-year-old has begun to garner attention beyond the poker world of late.

An appearance on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show last September earned favorable response for Esfandiari’s representation of poker to a broader audience, with the conversation touching upon the skill-vs.-luck debate, backing arrangements and bankroll management, as well as the gambling culture and Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Esfandiari earned enough votes from poker industry representatives to sneak into the 20th spot on the annual BLUFF Power 20, a list comprised of those whom voters believe to have “the most positive impact on poker.” It was the first time Esfandiari had appeared on the list.

The announcement also alludes to Esfandiari’s “life of the party” reputation as communicated via his BLUFF magazine columns and elsewhere. “Antonio is the ultimate champion and modern poker player,” says Ultimate Poker Chairman Tom Breitling in the announcement (not incidentally employing the site’s name as an adjective). “He brings the gaming lifestyle to the online arena with his work-hard, play-hard attitude.”

Esfandiari’s previous stint as a sponsored player with short-lived Victory Poker likewise played upon the “baller” image in its ad campaign during its brief run from February 2010 to June 2011. Other online poker sites with which Esfandiari has had past sponsorship deals include Paradise Poker and UltimateBet (not affiliated with Ultimate Poker).

Ultimate PokerThe announcement heralds Esfandiari as “the first professional poker player to represent a U.S. licensed online poker company,” even though news of Terrence Chan’s signing as a sponsored pro preceded today’s announcement. In any case, it’s clear Esfandiari will be serving a primary role in the site’s marketing going forward.

While terms of Esfandiari’s deal with Ultimate Poker have not been made public, Paul Oresteen of BLUFF Magazine reports “Esfandiari has allegedly signed the second largest sponsorship deal ever given to a poker player.” In a 2009 interview with ESPN Poker during his deep run in that year’s Main Event when he finished 24th, Esfandiari spoke bluntly of both his desire to land a lucrative sponsorship deal and of his own notion of the worth of his “brand.”

“I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think a patch on me is worth more than one on a random dude because I’ve been around for a long time and have been on a lot of poker shows,” said Esfandiari amid what was then a much different, pre-Black Friday climate for sponsorships. “If they want me to wear a patch, they’ve got to pay me heavy,” he added. “Six figures or they can kiss my ass.”

Esfandiari is represented by Poker Royalty, the agency whose CEO Brian Balsbaugh was also voted onto a spot on the 2013 BLUFF Power 20 (at #14). Balsbaugh has appeared on the Power 20 list every year since it was first begun in 2006 except for one — 2009 — when Poker Royalty appeared.

Ultimate Poker is part of the Ultimate Gaming group owned by Fertitta Interactive LLC, a company that has been approved for an interactive gaming license (as a service provider) by the Nevada Gaming Commission. Fertitta Entertainment, Fertitta Interactive’s parent company, owns and operates the Station Casinos. Fertitta Interactive has been developing Ultimate Gaming since late 2011, launching the social gaming platform last summer with branding ties to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which the Fertitta group also owns.

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