For a decade, PokerStars has used sports stars to market its online poker room, with a particular emphasis on the marketing strategy in recent years. According to a recent e-mail to the site’s affiliates, though, it appears that this strategy may be about to disappear.
The notice to affiliates reads as follows:
Starting April 1st 2017 we will be focusing on our ongoing Free Welcome Bonus Offer. In addition, our branding team has designed some wonderful creative and banners to help support your acquisition efforts and drive in some big numbers!
Therefore, as of midnight March 31st 2017, all Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar Jr promotions materials (ie. banners, images, etc) will have to be replaced as the Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar Jr banner creative will no longer be valid for you to use from that date.
When PokerStars first gained real notoriety, it was because Chris Moneymaker had won a satellite on the site to gain entry into the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and then went onto win the most coveted prize in poker. From there, PokerStars looked to recruit WSOP champs and they did so, as the next two Main Event winners, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer and Joe Hachem, also became PokerStars pros. Stars became the poker room where champions played.
Later, as the age of young internet poker stars developed, PokerStars recruited a stable of online pros.
But all of those sponsored players were mostly just known to the poker community. Sure, casual poker fans probably knew Moneymaker and Raymer, but nobody who just watches poker on ESPN would know any of the online poker 20-somethings.
Thus, PokerStars dove headlong into recruiting sports stars as its brand ambassadors in 2015. Some, like tennis legend Boris Becker, had been with PokerStars for a while, but it was really 2015 when Stars ramped it up. Guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, Jr. are known worldwide; both bring a gigantic following with them.
But those guys are also very expensive, something that may have led to this decision by PokerStars to halt its flood of sports star marketing (as a member of the poker media, I can assure you, the marketing is constant – I seemingly get multiple e-mails a week from Stars promoting something having to do with Cristiano Ronaldo).
The quoted e-mail doesn’t necessarily mean that all sports star marketing is done; it would be odd for it to just stop so suddenly. A simple “Free Welcome Bonus Offer” is not going to cut the mustard for PokerStars’ continued push to attract more customers. PokerStars may just be reshuffling the deck a bit and de-emphasizing athletes as spokespeople. We will find out as the future unfolds.