Deal Includes In-Show Product Exposure and Retail Co-Marketing

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LOS ANGELES -- The World Poker Tour, the highest-rated show on cable's Travel Channel, has signed up Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob Amber Bock as its first full-fledged integration partner.
The Amber Bock beer logo will appear in the center of the show's green felt card table.

When the show starts airing new episodes March 2, Amber Bock will receive extensive in-show exposure and co-market the series off-air through retail and events, such as the creation of a national poker tournament.

'Long-term sport'

"This partnership will help us extend our reach as we build this long-term sport," said World Poker Tour's executive vice president, Audrey Kania. "We're trying to build a broader and deeper affinity for the brand."

Anheuser-Busch started its relationship last season with World Poker Tour, putting its new brand, Anheuser World Select, on the show. There was limited promotion around that brand integration, however.

For the upcoming season, Michelob's Amber Bock will have prime real estate within the series. The brand's logo will appear on the green felt card table, and players will celebrate their win with an Amber Bock toast. The beer will be delivered to them on a silver tray.

DDB, New York

Additionally, Amber Bock will have on-air graphics and banners, special in-show features and sampling at the tournament's venues. The marketer is creating, through its ad agency, Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, New York, its first poker-themed ads. They are scheduled to start airing this spring. The humorous spots play off the brand's "rich and smooth" tagline, said Paul Simmons, Michelob Amber Bock's brand manager.

Amber Bock, which generates half of its business at bars and nightclubs, hasn't had much of a media push until last year, Mr. Simmons said. The brand launched in 1995. Aside from traditional media buys, brand integration is important, he said.

"The brand fits nicely within the fabric of the show," Mr. Simmons said. "It doesn't look forced. And it's a great way to get Amber Bock more exposure with a wide demographic."

College men and white-collar professionals

The brand appeals to both college men and affluent white-collar professionals, Mr. Simmons said. World Poker Tour covers the range, he said. World Poker Tour pulled in 25 million viewers during its last season.

Aside from the on-air presence, A-B executives have created a national poker tournament that will take place at bars and nightspots in 22 states. The tournament, free to enter and open to anyone, will send finalists to Las Vegas for a competition. Two winners then go to the WPT Invitational, a contest that pits professionals, celebrities and amateurs against one another. It will be televised as part of the WPT series.

There also will be viewing parties in local markets, sponsored by Amber Bock.

Anheuser-Busch executives already are considering re-upping their deal for the show's fourth season and expanding the on-premise marketing and national amateur tournament. WPT executives said they are considering adding a few more sponsors in different categories for season four, which begins filming in May.

Though WPT was the first in the genre, a number of card-playing shows have sprouted up in the past few years on ESPN and Bravo. Mr. Simmons said he felt like there was built-in credibility and audience with WPT.

U.S., South America and Europe

World Poker Tour, which is filmed in casinos in the U.S., South America and Europe, is open to professionals and amateurs who pay the entry fee of between $5,000 and $10,000. Winning pots are often $1 million, and the show will dole out nearly $70 million in the upcoming season.

The series will get its first TV spin-off, if World Poker Tour executives are able to sell Professional Poker Tour to a network. Discussions are happening now with the Travel Channel and other cable outlets for Professional Poker Tour, where players must be invited to participate. Executives think it will be on air by fall.

World Poker Tour executives have extended the TV series into licensing and merchandise, with such products as chips, tables and poker sets, apparel, plug-and-play TV games and DVDs. There's a World Poker Tour boot camp, a crash course in the game from experts, a syndicated radio show and an upcoming book from HarperCollins. WPT will soon also show up on slot machines, lottery tickets and mobile phones.

Company went public in August

The creators of the show, including executive producer Steve Lipscomb, renamed the company WPT Enterprises and took it public in August. The strategy has been to create a new sport akin to the PGA or the National Football League and offer investors the chance to get in on the ground floor.

WPT Enterprises owns the World Poker Tour show and brand, licensing it to the Travel Channel and various product manufacturers. It's a subsidiary of publicly traded Lakes Entertainment.
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