Recently, Phil Hellmuth has been making appearances on TV and at tournaments without his once-ubiquitous UB patches, including a “Poker After Dark” taping and a visit to the WSOP’s November Nine final table. Obviously, this is leading a lot of people to speculate that Hellmuth’s long-term relationship with UB may be coming to an end.
Hellmuth has been seen with logos for Aria casino, and may have a deal with them at this point. But I doubt that Aria “stole” him by outbidding UB for Hellmuth's services. Either Hellmuth tired of his relationship with UB and wanted to leave, or UB didn’t want to pay him any more.
We may never know the specifics of how the relationship soured, but the more interesting discussion is where will Phil Hellmuth go from here? As one of the most iconic and recognizable poker players in the world, he carries a lot of potential value for sponsors.
Neither of the two big sites in the U.S. (PokerStars and Full Tilt) really seem like a great match for Hellmuth. Sure, he’d be an asset, but he doesn’t really match up with their current marketing, and Hellmuth, as we know, always likes to be featured front and center -- something that wouldn’t happen at either Stars or Tilt.
However, one site would be a perfect match for Phil Hellmuth -- WSOP.com.
With online gaming legislation floating around Congress, this is a horrible time to start a new online poker site, or even a skin. There are too many uncertainties out there. But if Hellmuth signs a short-term deal with Aria, or somebody else, he may be just biding his time until poker is (hopefully) legalized and regulated in the United States. (At which point UB may be shut out from regulation due to past transgressions.)
I’ve contended before that one of the first sites likely to pass the Commerce Department’s regulation board would be WSOP.com. Harrah’s has done everything “right” in terms of respecting the UIGEA, and as a corporation, they already have legal and regulated casinos scattered around the United States.
If and when WSOP.com goes live as a real-money poker site, they’re not going to need a “team” of pros like Full Tilt or PokerStars to market their brand. With all its history and TV exposure, the WSOP has been pre-sold to the American gambling public. But what the site would need is a face, and a spokesperson. And all-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth would fit that role perfectly.
Obviously, this is all speculation on my part. (See the title of this entry.) But WSOP.com with Phil Hellmuth at the forefront of their marketing campaign would be an extremely powerful combination.