Per Hagen is something so rare as an agent for poker players. In the following HighstakesDB interview we ask Per why poker players would need an agent and what they do. Poker Icons, the company he is representing has over 50 well-known players in its roster and helps them with their image and tries getting them the best economical benefits of being famous players
Who is Per Hagen and what is your background? How did you get started with Poker Icons?
I’m a workaholic guy who loves to be a poker agent. I am 35 years old and I founded Poker Icons 3 years ago. I am proud to say that we are the leading poker agency at the moment. I am now the CEO of the company and employ 16 agents in 14 countries and an administrative staff of 5. I’m married and we have a daughter. I love poker, golf, soccer and work. You can find me on Facebook.
I decided to start a poker agency as I was somewhat tired of seeing bad players getting good deals, and good players getting bad/no deals. The first player I signed was Annette Obrestad and 6 months later she had a very good sponsorship deal with Betfair and went on to win the WSOPE.
Do you play a lot of poker yourself?
I am a very eager amateur player. I probably have around $50K in online tournament winnings, but, as I said, I am merely an amateur.
What is Poker Icons and what is your role there? Tell us about the different business areas.
I am the CEO of Poker Icons and we provide services such as player management, poker marketing, poker events, poker media and more. We like to call ourselves a 1-stop-shop both for players and poker rooms. We have been lucky enough to be able to put together a team of specialists within each of these business unit’s as well as working with great players and partners.
What does a poker agent do? Just making deals, or helping the players out in other ways as well? Why does a player need an agent? At what point in his career should a player consider taking on an agent?
A young and successful poker superstar, just breaking through, is in an extremely vulnerable and sometimes difficult position. Things are going great at the tables, but now suddenly they are also dealing with possible sponsorship deals, a lot of media coverage and the "fame factor". Players in this position should have a poker agent to increase their chances of getting the best sponsorship deals, handle the media and in general market themselves the best possible way. The Poker Icons poker agents (and poker agency) provide a better knowledge of the industry for the player, help map out their poker career and take away much of the outside “stress” so they can focus on the game.
At Poker Icons we don’t just help the player with sponsorship negotiations, we also provide a multitude of other services for the high profiled poker player who wants to make sure his/her poker career is in the best hands.
How do you go about signing players? Do you approach them, or vice versa?
In the beginning we had to chase the players, now most of the times players come to us, or immediately recognize the brand when we approach them.
I have seen firsthand many young players being totally out of control when it comes to money management. Is that an area that you, as an agent, concern yourself with?
First of all we are very selective with what players we sign to Poker Icons. Secondly we try to help the player on matters as bankroll and money management. On the other hand, if a player has just won a big event and want to go out and celebrate with some friends (and splash some money around), it's their prerogative. They work hard to earn their money and deserve a bit of fun. Needless to say, neither we or our players are for mindless or irresponsible gambling with money that the player can't afford to lose.
Having said that, I think the most professional players are very careful with how they spend their money, and sometimes we help them make good investments as well.
How would a typical sponsor deal look like? (no need to mention numbers. Thinking more of what the players do for their respective sites). Is it only poker sites who sponsor players, or are players getting deals with other companies as well?
A typical deal would mean that the sponsored player becomes an ambassador for the poker room. This means that there is a lot more work to it besides just playing on their poker room and wearing their branded gear. You have to write a blog, do interviews, do TV commercials, photo shoots, be an active partner make sure their campaigns and software is up-to-date and more. We spend a lot of time in making sure the players we sign to Poker Icons are prepared to do this since it’s expected by them by the sponsoring partner.
We are working on getting the players endorsement deals with non-poker brands as well and we see some positive signals now.
Mention some of the players you are representing. Particularly the ones that figure in the games we follow at Full Tilt.
We have currently 29 sponsored players and 4 of them are with with Full Tilt Poker.
Those players are:
Soren Kongsgaard (Denmark)
Voted best newcomer in 2007 and is one of Denmark’s most profiled players.
Michael Tureniec (Sweden)
Voted best newcomer in 2009 and won the player of the year award in Sweden as well.
João Barbosa (Portugal)
Won the player of the year award in Portugal, and best newcomer on the EPT circuit.
Ryan Dreyer (South Africa)
Ranked #1 in South Africa
In addition the ones mentioned above, we have Annette Obrestad, Layne Flack, David Sands, Chris Moorman, James Obst, Juha Helppi, Arnaud Mattern, Ramzi Jelassi, Peter W Jepsen, Jeff Williams, Alex Kamberis, John Tabatabai and many more… (50 players in total)
Our players have won over $75 millions in total during their careers and most of them are still pretty young!
Any notable results lately?
Michael Tureniec came in to the Partuche Poker Tour main event final table (€1M to the winner) as the chipleader. Unfortunately, he took a couple of bad beats and had to settle for 7th place.
In addition to that, Ramzi Jelassi won the IPT main event, Annette Obrestad won the Aussie Millions event #4, Stefan Matsson finsihed 3rd in the EPT Prague and James Obst finished 4th in the Aussie Millions event #7. It is also worth mentioning that Chris Moorman made his second Sunday Million final table. Quite a feat considering the number of runners in those fields.
At the start of the poker boom, sites seemed to give out sponsorships very freely. Now it is a lot more difficult. Presumably it is because they have become more cost aware. Is it difficult to show the poker sites that sponsoring a particular player has value for them?
What makes a player attractive for sponsors? I assume Jessica Alba would get a deal immediately even if she learned poker yesterday, so poker skill can’t be the only parameter.
Yes, in the beginning of the boom the poker rooms were very eager to sign a lot of players, but they missed a plan on how to optimize the sponsorship. These days the rooms are much more focused on this (which is good!), and we very rarely see sponsorships that does not “make sense” anymore. These days it’s very much focused on signing players that come from specific parts of the world, and this is why Poker Icons very early started to sign the best player from a lot of different countries. In addition to this, we were the first poker agency to really focus on signing the online pro’s. We believed that they would take over the live scene as well, and during the last 18 months we have seen that this was a correct assumption by us.
A person can get a sponsorship without being the best player in the world, but they most often have an appeal to a different segment (sport stars is a good example). I think that Jessica would get a deal pretty quick since she is such a great singer....