A Lot of Bang for Golden Palace's Advertising Buck

4 March 2002

What started out as a plot to get some TV exposure for an online casino is starting to snowball into mainstream sports media coverage.

For the last year online casino Golden Palace.com has been placing temporary tattoos on the backs of professional boxers. The practice quickly grew to include fights that were televised on HBO and other national networks.

Last month the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) voted to ban the advertisements, but the courts awarded Golden Palace a temporary injunction allowing the casino to continue the practice with one of its boxers, "Bones" Adams. On Tuesday legal teams from both sides will be back in the courtroom as Golden Palace tries to get a permanent injunction.

At the heart of the legal battle is the First Amendment. Golden Palace and the boxers feel they have the right to advertise anything they want, while the NAC feels the practice is demeaning to the sport of boxing.

In the meantime, though, the likes of ESPN and Sports Illustrated have given the practice added exposure. ESPN devoted a half-hour show on Sunday to the issue, while Sports Illustrated included a photo of a boxer's tattooed back in their coverage of a fight.

The Olympic coverage issue of Sports Illustrated had a one-page story covering Adams' most recent fight. The story was complete with an action photo of the fight showing Adams' back and the Golden Palace tattoo. The photo takes up a good portion of the spread accompanied with the story.

But that wasn't the biggest coup for Golden Palace. ESPN's weekly "Outside the Lines" program, which airs Sunday mornings and re-airs at midday on ESPN2, devoted the whole half-hour show to the issue. The segment, "Body Billboards," was complete with interviews from boxers, a sports marketing analyst and attorneys.

The show included roughly 20 minutes of airtime with three panelists. On the panel was the agent for Bernard Hopkins, Golden Palaces' most prominent boxer, a representative from the Nevada Athletic Commission and the agent for NBA All-Star Rasheed Wallace. Longtime ESPN personality Bob Ley hosts the show and was the facilitator for the discussion with the three men.

Time will tell whether the publicity from the mainstream media is positive for the interactive gambling as a whole, but it was clearly a plus for Golden Palace. During the OTL broadcast, a sports marketing expert estimated that it would have cost Golden Palace in the neighborhood of a quarter-million dollars to run an advertisement the size of the photo that accompanied the Sports Illustrated story.

Getting nearly a half-hour of airtime on ESPN before an audience primarily composed of males 18-35 years old could be priceless for an online casino.

Making things even sweeter for Golden Palace, the ESPN broadcast shed some light on the situation. Joe Lear, the agent for Hopkins, said he's going to explore all sporting activities that doesn't have leagues, commissioners, or a players unions as future arenas for temporary tattoos. He said that as an agent he's responsible for making his clients as much money as possible, and tennis players, jockeys, jai alai players and others whose events are broadcast on TV could be the next.

Luther Mack, the chairman of the NAC and one of the five commissioners who voted unanimously to end the practice, said he primarily wanted the practice to stop because the tattoos were "tacky."

"I think we're trying to raise the bar on boxing," he said. "To me it looks kind of tacky. And we think it discredits boxing in the state of Nevada. We think there is a better way to advertise, rather than something temporary on the back of a boxer."

Lear countered by pointing out that the average professional boxer's career is rather short and that boxers should be able to make as much money as they can when they have the chance.

"They say it's bad for boxing, and I'm not going to argue with it. It could be bad for boxing in their opinion. But you can't argue that it's great for boxers," he said. "Let them make the money. When they go and fight, we make money. Let them capitalize. Because if not, then maybe the Nevada State Athletic Commission is bad for boxing."

The program concluded with both Lear and Mack predicting victory for their sides in Tuesday's court battle.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.