‘World Poker Tour’ Signs Official Beer

LOS ANGELES To promote its Michelob AmberBock brand, Anheuser-Busch has become the official beer sponsor of the 2005 World Poker Tour, according to the cable program.

One of the Travel Channel’s highest-rated shows, the World Poker Tour helped the card game become a spectator sport, said Audrey Kania, executive vice president of WPT in West Hollywood, Calif. “Our objective is to reveal the poker world as it really is—contemporary and intelligent,” she said. The series of Texas Hold ‘Em games are shot and edited to be dramatic and strategically riveting, “so viewers feel engaged and as if they’re making the decisions,” she said.

When its third season begins on March 2, more than 600 players will be seen competing for $70 million in prizes over a 16-week period. The show, filmed during existing tournaments at casinos including Las Vegas’ Bellagio, Atlantic City’s Borgata and Foxwoods in Mashantucket, Conn., will prominently feature the AmberBock logo on banners, card-table felt and televised graphics. The program will conclude each week with an on-camera Michelob AmberBock winner’s toast.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch will run two 30-second spots per series’ hour. The brand’s lead agency, Omnicom Group’s DDB New York, has created a pair of television commercials that are expected to break in the next few weeks. Both ads incorporate AmberBock’s established “rich and smooth” message with a poker-playing theme. The brand will also host a series of regional poker tours and tournament-viewing parties. Retail and on-site promotions are handled by St. Louis independent Momentum.

Peter McLoughlin, vice president of corporate media at A-B, called the WPT relationship a “fabulous investment.” The AmberBock team “really grasped the sponsorship and really wanted to run with it,” he said.

The sponsorship budget was not revealed, but could be $5 million or more, sources said. The January-November 2004 ad spend for Michelob AmberBock was $15.8 million, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“This is a real as it gets,” said Kania, explaining that winnings comprise players’ personal ante money. To participate in the tournaments, players post entry fees of $10,000 to $25,000, all of which goes directly into the prize pool. “This is real reality TV,” she said.

The WPT‘s 2006 season is currently in development, and several high-profile sponsorship opportunities are being discussed. Anheuser-Busch’s McLoughlin said he was “very pleased” to have gotten involved with the show early, “while the poker craze is still growing.”

Hosted by poker champion Mike Sexton, enthusiast Vince van Patton and model Shana Hiatt, previous WPT tournaments have drawn celebrities including Ben Affleck, Toby McGuire and Mimi Rogers.