Sports Legends Challenge is Engaging in a Despicable Online “Marketing Campaign” Relying on Lies and Spam (Presented by PokerNews and Absolute Poker)

Update (July 18): After some careful consideration, I felt the need to drastically update and restructure this post, to better explain the situation and to give deeper, more elaborate answers as to what is being done wrong and how it is happening. I also wanted to speak to the responsibility I have in writing this and how seriously I take it. As such, I have rebuilt this post from the ground up.

I want to be really clear when I say that I take the responsibility of my words extremely seriously. Words matter. Writing is what I do, whether it be for books, online publications or forums. If my words are without meaning, my work is without meaning. For this reason, I am exceptionally careful about exposing activities that would place a company or individual in a negative light.

This sort of post isn’t my style. You have to push me pretty far to make me talk about this sort of thing in public, where I prefer to talk about it in private. But, I have had enough and people (from participants to sponsors) need to know about this.

Sports Legends Challenge is an upcoming poker tournament in the Bahamas. It is presented by Absolute Poker, and it has many noteworthy athletes and sports figures attached to it, including Michael Strahan, Gale Sayers, Jerry West, Jim Brown, Ozzie Smith, Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Troy Aikman, Richard Petty, Sugar Ray Leonard, Emmitt Smith, Reggie Jackson, Julius Erving, Bobby Hull, Brooks Robinson and more. Various professional poker players are also attached. I suspect that if they knew what I knew – some of them wouldn’t be.

I am going to tell you exactly what has happened that has made me so disgusted. I did have some private communication with people at the company that I will reference, but I am not going to mention who those conversations were with. The names that I do mention in this post are ones that anyone could put together, drawn strictly from publicly available information that can be found on Google, in order to associate accounts on various social sites with people at the company.

Let’s start at the beginning. On May 28, I received an e-mail from someone with an e-mail address @sportslegendschallenge.com. We’ll call him Steve, so that this is easy to follow. Steve was asking if SportsForums.net was interested in affiliating with Sports Legends Challenge. Generally, we try not to associate closely with sites that have close ties to online gambling. So, I responded to him that same day, politely declining.

On May 29, I received an e-mail from a second person, who we’ll call Paul, asking the very same thing. Paul signed both his and Steve’s name. I thanked Paul, but declined and mentioned that I had responded to an e-mail from Steve just yesterday. He thanked me for my reply, said to have a nice weekend and I wished him the same.

One June 3, Paul registered on SportsForums.net, using the same e-mail address he had used to contact me, and made a post promoting the event, in direct opposition to our conversation and in violation of the site’s guidelines. It was removed and he was notified on our site. I also sent an e-mail to both Steve and Paul reminding them of our conversations and suggesting that forcing their event upon communities may not get them their desired result and that they should carefully consider that strategy. I tried to help them to see that this isn’t the way to go about it. This is what I sent:

Hello Messrs. <Steve’s Last Name> and <Paul’s Last Name>,

You have both e-mailed me about Sports Legends Challenge, inquiring about any interest that SportsForums.net might have in associating with your event. Mr. <Steve> on May 28 and Mr. <Paul> on May 29. I promptly provided you both with the same answer.

Yet, on June 3, Mr. <Paul> made a post on our forums advertising the event, not only in opposition to our conversations, but more importantly in violation of the SportsForums.net User Guidelines. While I wish you luck with the event – and the promotion of it – I did want to make it clear, once again, that we are not interested in being affiliated with it. I am sure you are contacting other sites, as well. If they tell you no and you force your event upon their users, I don’t believe you will receive the response that you desire. So, in the best interests of the event, you may want to consider that strategy carefully.

I appreciate your time and understanding,

Sincerely,

Patrick

On June 4, Paul apologized and I thanked him.

Also on June 4, another account was registered at SportsForums.net. It made one post and it asked if anyone had heard of Sports Legends Challenge. Obviously, more spam. But, the kicker was that this member used the same IP address that was on Paul’s post and those two posts were the only ones made from that IP address in our over 8 year history. They were also the only two posts to mention the event. The new post was removed and, at this point, both accounts were banned.

I then e-mailed Steve and Paul and I told them, straight up, that this is despicable and that I would hope that an event affiliated with such celebrities would promote itself in a more mature fashion. I informed them that, in order to protect our community, any post mentioning the event moving forward would be removed and that I would be contacting Absolute Poker. I did so, by e-mailing Absolute Poker’s customer service e-mail address, explaining the entire situation. Again, I tried to help by bringing these practices to their attention. I never heard back from Absolute Poker.

On June 5, both Steve and Paul asked for more information about the accounts on SportsForums.net. I provided it. Despite the IP address match, Paul said that none of his associates had posted on my forums, to his knowledge, but that he would let me know if he found otherwise. I did not hear back.

This brings us to July 2. We had a new member on SportsForums.net on June 30 who was looking for advice. He said he’d been dating his girlfriend for 3 years and was now planning to propose to her. He wanted suggestions for an entertaining destination that had some  relevance to sports. He posted it four times. I didn’t think much of this, I removed the duplicates and notified him about cross posting (posting the same thing in two or more locations). I then replied to his public thread, wishing him well. A member of the community replied with some legitimate destination suggestions for him and wished him luck. Guess what happened next?

Would you believe that his next reply thanked us for our replies, but asked if we’d heard about some poker tourney in the Bahamas? Wow! Talk about dirty.

I decided to search for his e-mail address on Google and guess where I found the username. In two threads at Fanhouse.com (1, 2). What do you want to bet that at least a few of the accounts who posted on those threads (FisherCAllen, Bcooler79, timjenkins21, just1rachel and bursrh) are in some way related? How about this? Let’s take it further. Let’s search for each of those usernames on Google.

FisherCAllen: check out his YouTube profile comments. He has one favorite video, as well. An advertisement for the tournament.
Bcooler79: the posts linked above, plus the one at my site (since removed from the Google index).
timjenkins21: posts upon posts mentioning the tournament, including a deleted Digg account that did the same.
just1rachel: I don’t see any flags here.
bursrh: more tournament related posts. Here’s an embarassing moment: on June 19 at Fanhouse.com, bursrh talks about the tournament, mentioning it by name. And yet, on July 1, bursrh asks “What exactly is it?” on a blog, saying “I’ll def have to check it out.”

In fact, forget that. Let’s just search for “”Sports Legends Challenge” forums”. They have spammed the web. It goes on for pages, but at the time of writing, 8 of the first 10 listings appear to be spam posted on forums – 7 of the 8 posts were made by two usernames. Those two names are tmoore25 and brosner85. What happens when you type in just those names and the exact name of the event, in quotation marks, forgetting all other related terms? 142 matches and 152 matches, respectively (when I originally made this post, the numbers were 117 and 65, if you can believe that). And that’s putting aside posts that simply elude to the event, not mention it by name, like this one. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the posts by tmoore25 signs his name as Tadd. If you put Tadd Moore and the name of the event into Google, you are given the tmooreIV Twitter page. His bio says that he’s “Currently working in promotions and sales for the Sports Legends Challenge…” This makes it worse that, in the post I referenced, he says his parents are sending him to the event. As if that wasn’t bad enough, check out this comment on an article about Michael Jackson’s legacy. Was it really necessary to find a way to mention the tournament there? As a fan of Michael Jackson, it offends me.

brosner85 on Twitter lists the real name of Brett Rosner. A Brett Rosner works at Sports Legends Challenge as “Social Media Coordinator,” according to LinkedIn.

Let’s explore this a bit deeper by taking another look at some of the usernames that made comments on that YouTube commercial video I briefly mentioned above.

The first comment is by shawnpbutler. According to Shawn Butler’s LinkedIn profile, he is the Manager of New Media and Interactive at Sports Legends Challenge. There’s nothing wrong with his comment as he took pride in it’s creation and it’s reasonable to see that he’s affiliated with the event.

The 2nd and 13th comments are by lmoore43, suggesting that the event would be a great Father’s Day gift. Google results for lmoore43 show a similar pattern as the username’s discussed above. Another banned Digg account with the name Lauren Moore on it. Searching that name and the event brings up a Twitter account (LalaMo) with tweets about the event and a LinkedIn page that says that Ms. Moore is also a “Social Media Coordinator” at Sports Legends Challenge.

The 3rd (removed by author) and 9th comments are from 1shender. The latter asks if it’s true that all of these athletes will be participating in the event. His YouTube profile shows the last five comments he’s made and all of them reference the event. Searching on Google for that username and poker finds even more of the very same thing.

The 4th comment is by bmanguno. Yet again, more of the same. A YouTube profile with one favorite video (a commercial for the event) and one comment, a banned Digg account that tried to promote the event and a Twitter account for Brea Manguno, who’s bio says “Sports Marketing Intern for Sports Legends Challenge.” A LinkedIn page says that she, as well, is a “Social Media Coordinator” for the company.

In fact, the company’s LinkedIn profile, which boasts a company size of 2,100 employees, has only 24 on LinkedIn and 9 of them have the title of New Media Coordinator, Social Media Coordinator or Social Media Consultant when you open their profile.

The 5th comment is by israeloutdoorsbrett. A Google search for this name and poker brings up four comments mentioning the event. It’s hard to draw any conclusions about this one, honestly, but the username by itself doesn’t bring up much, either, so it is rather suspicious.

The 6th comment is by Jenna0710. There isn’t much on this username, but once again, you have multiple comments mentioning the tournament about Gale Sayers and the Lakers. By itself, it doesn’t look too bad, but alltogether… when I sat down to research this, I found that it just keeps going. It doesn’t stop.

Look at the comment thread on the Gale Sayers video. Look at the usernames. shawnpbutler, TimJenkins21, Jenna0710, FisherCAllen (twice), burkesarah1 and masterTaddpole. 4 of those I’ve already mentioned. burkesarah1 was also a commenter on the Sports Legends Challenge commercial video and if you Google that name, you see more comments about the event. masterTaddpole? The very same.

Look at the comment thread on the Lakers video. There is one other comment, besides Jenna0710’s. It’s by golfmaster168. Would you be shocked if I said that he also commented on the commercial? And that, yes, entering the name on Google brings up even more comments related to the event? You see, most comments open more doors to more accounts and more comments. Search for an athlete’s name with the event name, or simply “poker” or “Bahamas.” It never ends! Literally.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known that spamming like this happens. There are large, complicated spam rings out there that do a good job of hiding themselves. I’ve been managing communities for 9 years. I’m not naive. But, it’s somewhat rare when it is all right there in front of you like this, so obviously, AND it is associated with the names of so many respected athletes.

This is just wrong, disrespectful and despicable. It is indefensible. They have filled Google with their garbage and have taken advantage of countless online communities and the latter is one of the things that makes me the most angry. But, what led me to do this much research, you might ask?

In frustration, after the person looking for “suggestions” on where to take his hopeful fiancee, I sent out a tweet on July 2: “There are some DESPICABLE people marketing the Sports Legends Challenge celeb poker tourney presented by AbsolutePoker.net.” Hours later, I was hit by a number of replies where “DESPICABLE” had been changed to “INCREDIBLE”. I saved the Twitter search, just in case the tweets were deleted or anything like that. Download it (.zip).

Take a good look at the Twitter accounts. All of these messages came within a period of 12 minutes. So, they set their network of Twitter spammers on me. For three of their accounts, it was actually their first tweet and, even worse, they RTed (retweeted) it to make it look like I said that there were “INCREDIBLE” people marketing the event, rather than “DESPICABLE.” They said I said something that I didn’t say. One of the usernames? Brosner85. Another one was JasonDunmore. Check out a Google search for him.

Another one was ShannonQT, who’s listed real name is Shannon Miller. Would you believe that Ms. Miller has a Digg account that has dugg two things – both of which were Sports Legends Challenge? Would you be surprised to know that both of those were submitted by jasondunmore? To be completely open, I am not saying that there is any problem with the Digg submissions and them digging stuff about their event. The reason I am including it is to illustrate that there appears to be some affiliation, whether strong or not so strong, the coincidence is too great.

After the Twitter thing, my mind was made up. I tried to go through the proper channels. I told them myself to please reconsider this strategy. I contacted their sponsor. And yet, it continued. Not only did they spam my site, they tricked a member of my site and they tried to intimidate me on Twitter. That’s enough. I had to tell people. Quick. Their total disregard for others must be challenged and stopped. They believe they can spam away, they can treat us (community managers) like this and get away with it. They are wrong.

There are repercussions and I hope that anyone who is thinking of attending this tournament or affiliating with them will give it a second thought, after seeing this. If, by any chance, you know any of the athletes or poker pros involved in this, you may want to drop them a note about it. Enough is enough. This is unacceptable. Thank you.

As an aside, while comments are open on this post, I am going to closely moderate them. Since they have demonstrated that they are not above flooding comment areas to skew the opinion on Twitter, forums, YouTube and elsewhere, I will not allow that to happen here. And though I know this may be a heated topic, let’s try to keep it on a productive level and stay away from name calling and the like. Even though I am apalled at this, I was careful not to call anyone a name or to personally attack them and I’d please ask you to do the same and to afford me that same courtesy. I appreciate your understanding.

Update (September 1): What can they do to fix this? I brought together a panel of experts and asked them just that.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

15 Comments

Seamus

about 8 years ago

I'm surprised I haven't seen a comment yet asking if you've heard about some awesome poker tournament in the Bahamas.

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chrispian

about 8 years ago

Wow, that's crazy! This is almost as bad as those auto insurance people who kept calling every number in every area code. No, wait, I think these people are worse.

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Jonathan Bailey

about 8 years ago

I would post my honest opinions about this, but I fear my language would likely violate your community guidelines As such, I'll just say this is a horrible way to promote anything...

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Gry dla Dzieci

about 8 years ago

Wow, I see almost every comment to this post is from Twitter :o Is this a prove that normal blogging went for a walk and didn't come back? About the post I agree that flood of post that are not related to the topic can give a headache. I would be also bugged if those king of comments would appear on my blog instantly.

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Patrick

about 8 years ago

The conversation is definitely spread out. :) Unfortunately, the plugin I use doesn't allow me to separate social media comments completely, so this is how it works for now. I appreciate the comment. Thanks, Patrick

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Former SLC employee

about 8 years ago

I was an employee at Sports Legends Challenge for about a month. The entire company is run by dishonest people, and yes, Shawn Buttler is a the ring leader of the spam machine. I always probed them with questions about how their "social networking" might be a little dishonest, and it was met with cult like jibber-jabber about the power of social media. They never wanted to create useful content about the athletes or poker, instead they just wanted to create more guidelines for how to falsely post things on the web and attempt to get away with it. SLC is dangerous, stay away, the entire event is being run by dishonest people!

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Former Employee

about 8 years ago

I am another former SLC employee. I have never seen a company more dishonest or, even worse, down right ignorant. I agree - the level of dishonesty in that establishment, spread four or five deep through the organization, is astounding.

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Georgia Girl

about 8 years ago

Wow, looks like I totally dodged a bullet. I interviewed to be the assistant for the SLC CEO last year. He offered me the job but after some consideration, I turned it down. I had a bad feeling about it then. Glad I followed my gut.

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Linda M. Dow

about 8 years ago

Hello, I am not a sports fan, nor a member of your forum community, but I sense the trouble with this type of dishonesty. It is almost like we have to code these seemingly random, 'public' spams with a little tiny "This is an Advertisement", like they (used to?) have to do in the photo ads. There is just no substitute for real people is there?

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Patrick

about 8 years ago

Thanks for the comments, all. Ms. Dow, yeah, it's tough, that's for sure. Patrick

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jonc

about 8 years ago

if a paid employee was blogging or pumping up the event, there are likely some FTC issues under their new guidelines for such -- The Federal Trade Commission revealed revised guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials today. Bottom line: any and all endorsements must be revealed, whether it's from a celebrity or a journalist or whathaveyou. — Cost of fine for infringing on these rules: up to $11,000. — "Material connections" (payments or free products) given by advertisers to endorsers that consumers wouldn't expect must be disclosed. FTC put bloggers on notice that they could incur an $11,000 fine if they receive free goods, free services, or money and write about the goods or services without conspicuously disclosing their "material connection" to the provider. The FTC guidelines extend even to Facebook and Twitter posters.

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Patrick

about 8 years ago

That's an interesting dynamic on this conversation, jonc. Though bloggers are most often the target of the discussion in regard to the new guidelines, one wonders how they might affect people who are spamming. Not that most spammers would care, of course.

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Gry dla dziewczyn

about 8 years ago

yaa, I totally agree with Linda M btw I realesed it too that most of comments was writing on twitter, you must have looooots of followers. Marry Christmas! :)

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Kal

about 5 years ago

Hi It would be nice if it would be possible to present your research to the server owners and all search engines/directories and the event's promoters, and see what repurcussions that has. Certainly, the likes of Google claim to want to prevent these kinds of webpages from hitting their search results. Thank you for the research and information. I wonder if you have heard of Fanbox? I am thinking of doing some similar investigation against this particular website as soon as I have enough free time, and writing some reports about that.

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Patrick

about 5 years ago

Thanks Kal. I didn't read out to the server owners or to Google, but the event promoters knew of me. I doubt they cared for me, though, and probably wouldn't say that this had much impact. I have not heard of Fanbox. Referral services can be tricky because people do try to run good programs, only to be abused by unscrupulous users. When it has become bothersome, I have reported it to the programs themselves or simply blocked their links from mention. Would be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks, Patrick

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