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Lars Kollind All In With Poker Icons

Poker Agent To The Stars Discusses The Changing Face Of The Business

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Lars Kollind, Poker IconsLong before the poker boom, childhood friends Lars Kollind, Anders Bengtsson, and Måns Ullerstam took a keen interest in poker and started a club for their friends. Tournaments would take place at weekends in friends’ apartments until the game spread like wildfire across the world, and this small group began expanding rapidly.

With grander things in mind, the young men rented a beautiful venue in the centre of Stockholm where they could fit up to 160 players at the same time and named the club “Sviten” (“The Suite”). This soon became one of the biggest poker clubs in Europe with more than 2,000 members.

At this time, the team also set up a poker production company called Real Events with Martin von Zweigbergk, Martin Trang, and Mikko Hirvonen, and a poker event company in Sweden called Vegas Event.

After three years, Swedish legislation got in the way, and the poker club had to be shut down, but this did not stop Kollind and co. as they then turned their focus towards setting up a small poker agency for Swedish poker pros, launched under the name Vegas Group.

After a few months, the team found out about a Norwegian-based poker agency and approached it in the hopes of buying the business. They brought with them to the table expertise in poker event management and production, and in February 2009 the two companies merged together to make Europe’s biggest poker agency, Poker Icons.

Most players dream of getting signed by a big poker site and proudly wearing its branding as they travel the world doing what they love best. This will indeed happen for some hopefuls but unfortunately not for all. For those interested in taking the next step in their poker career, an agent might just be the way to go, but what do these agents do and how does the whole business work? More importantly, what are they looking for and what has changed since the boom? Rebecca McAdam spoke to Lars Kollind and Martin “Franke” von Zweigbergk, co-founders of Poker Icons, to find out.

Rebecca McAdam: What does Poker Icons do exactly?

Lars Kollind We are like a sports agent for poker players; this means that we handle all things surrounding the player so he or she can focus on playing poker. So basically we work with public relations (PR) and media, negotiating sponsor deals, actively looking for sponsor deals for the player, taking care of the groundwork like travel bookings and all other things to help the player in his/her daily life. Poker Icons also has business segments that work with poker productions, PR and media consultancy for online companies.

RM: Why did you want to be a poker agent?

LK: I have worked with marketing and sales all my life and I realised that poker players need agents as much as any sports star. I have all the skills that an agent needs and love poker, so the choice was easy for me.

RM: What do you like about it?

LK: I love the fact that it’s a very unusual job to have and the freedom it brings to be able to work within a very new line of business that poker is. I also like the fast pace and all the travel it brings, which gives me the opportunity to see the world more so than if I had worked in a normal office job.

RM: Franke, what were you doing before Poker Icons and how did you get involved in poker?

Martin “Franke” von Zweigbergk: From a management background at Nokia and commercial film production to becoming a serial entrepreneur with four companies founded and still running in various business areas, it was in reality just a question of time before combining a private past time hobby, poker, with real work-life. When co-founding Poker Icons my key competences as a project manager was utilised mainly in our poker productions such as the national poker battle between Sweden and Finland and different poker cruises sailing out from Sweden or Finland to international water. Now lately I have stepped up also as the main side-kick with Lars Kollind in our Poker Agency branch.

RM: As a poker agent also, and general manager, what is it you like about what you do?

MZ: The best part is of course to work with some of the best and most interesting poker players in the world, as well as having a group of founding partners at Poker Icons that have a truly professional approach to the work we do for the players we represent.

RM: Is being an agent in poker similar to being an agent in any sport or do you have to take into consideration more factors due to the nature of the game?

Poker Icons: We believe it’s very similar and that we do more or less the same work as a sports agent. The difference might be the clients, a poker player is by nature a person who values his/her freedom very much, and many of our clients are young.

RM: What do you do as an agent? Explain what you would do at a tournament for instance when looking to recruit players.

PI: Well take WSOP as an example, during the main event we are doing what is called patch deals where we help collaborating major brands to get media exposure by adding their logo on players when they make a TV table. We, as an agency, then contact and approach the players that we know will be on the “feature table” and offer them a deal if they agree to wear the “patch”. Another thing we do is look for players who stick out and could be of interest for the major brands for sponsorship and marketing. Matt Jarvis from Canada is a perfect example of that. We signed him during last year’s WSOP, and looked for possible deals for him throughout the event.

Annette ObrestadRM: When you see someone you’re interested in, what happens next?

PI: We contact the player and let him/her know what we can do for them and the possibility to sign with us. When the player signs the agreement with us, we do our best to find a sponsor for the player in parallel with maximising the PR and media coverage.

RM: Can any player seek an agent or what does a player need to have or do to get the attention of an agent?

PI: Of course we are very happy when new possible clients contact us and then it is key to make sure the player is a match for our portfolio and if we are the right agent for him/her. The sponsors are looking for players that are very active in the social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc. and also have a persona that will attract other players to sign up with the particular brand.

RM: What does Poker Icons look for in a player?

PI: The criteria are: consistent winnings, lots of media attention, active in social media, likeable personality, and ready to work hard to build its own and the sponsor’s brand.

RM: When a player gets an agent, what should he/she expect from him/her?

PI: We always stress when we sign a player that it’s very hard to get a sponsorship deal. It’s not a given that the player will get a deal just because they sign with an agent but it will increase the chances drastically. Besides the possibility of getting a deal, the player shall expect us to handle ongoing things and help the player build his or her brand with different media and PR work.

RM: When a player gets sponsored, what is the importance of continuing to have an agent?

PI: When the player gets a sponsorship we help both the player and the sponsor create media and PR. This is of course very important since this is a major part of being sponsored. We also make sure that the player gets everything that is stated in the sponsor contract such as salaries, rake back, and buy-ins for tournaments. Besides that, we continue the ground work with travel bookings and the other services we provide to make the players life easy so he/she can focus on their game and perform at best at all times.

RM: Has the business changed much over the last few years?

PI: Yes, three to four years back it was more amateur-like and players got sponsorships left and right, but the brands had a hard time capitalising on the investment of sponsoring a player. Today there is much more work done by us as an agency, as well as higher demands on sponsored players, and thus the return of investment from sponsoring a player has increased drastically.

RM: Are players looking for sponsorship as much as they were in the past?

PI: Yes, to be a sponsored player is proof that you are a very good poker player, so there is a lot of prestige in having a deal. A lion’s share of poker players are dreaming of being a sponsored player.

RM: Are players being sponsored more or less than before?

PI: According to our figures it’s more or less the same but the deals have decreased in value and higher demands are put on the player. This is something we think is a good thing since the brands are getting their money’s worth and therefore will continue to sponsor the player.

RM: Last year, Poker Icons went through a big change with the departure of a key agent can you talk about what happened and what changes the company went through?

PI: Per Hagen decided after many years in the poker agency business to leave the company for other ventures, so we as a company bought his part of the shares. We all parted in good faith and are now moving forward on different paths. The most drastic change was that two co-founders Måns Ullerstam and Franke have stepped in to a more active role in the company’s daily routine. This has developed the company and we have now a stronger presence, for instance at live events to be of assistance to the players on location.

RM: Have there been many new developments with the company in the past year or two?

PI: Poker Icons has recently started a collaboration with Hastoplay to handle their poker agency with players from the Iberian countries and players that we co-represent from South America. This is a very exciting and huge step forward for both companies and we believe this has made Poker Icons one of the biggest agencies in the world.

RM: Tell me about the players you currently have.

PI: Poker Icons represent around 60 players from every continent. We have 35 sponsor contracts running at the moment; this puts us very high up when you look at the ratio of signed players contra sponsor deals. The players that we represent are dominating the media and winning major tournaments regularly so we are very happy with the roster we represent.

RM: Can you give an example of what you have done for one or two of your players?

PI: Poker Icons signed Annette Obrestad to Full Tilt Poker a while back; this is one deal that we are very proud of and Annette is and was very happy of the outcome of that deal. We also got Chris Moorman, David Sands, and Alex Kamberis a spot each in The Brunson 10, this was something new where online superstars got a chance to be sponsored without massive live winnings.

RM: What’s ahead for Poker Icons?

PI: We will try to find new strategic partners to expand all over the world; our focus will be on the agency where we now are looking to expand our roster with new, up-and-coming players. At the moment we are planning WSOP 2011, the Poker Icons team this year will be stronger than last year with more people on location to be of assistance to our players, and hopefully we will get two players on the final table of the main event like last year.