Demonstrating the difficulty for poker professionals to either get or maintain their sponsorships with online poker site, two of the more prominent female poker professionals in the business have recently announced the end of their sponsorship deals with their respective sites.
Earlier this week, PokerStars announced that Vanessa Rousso would no longer be a member of Team PokerStars Pro. A member of Team PokerStars since 2009, Rousso had been one of its most prominent players in both live and online action. Using her online moniker ‘LadyMaverick,’ Rousso earned over $700,000 for her play in the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and, in live action, finished second in 2009 in the National Heads Up Poker Championship (to eventual champion Huck Seed) and won the European Poker Tour’s Grand Final High Roller Championship later that same year.
Rousso’s efforts of late have shown a bit of a downswing, however. After banking over $1.2 million in 2009, Rousso has been unable to approach that rarefied air. Over the last three seasons in particular, Rousso has only pulled in roughly $44,000 from her tournament poker efforts. Looking at the entirety of her career, Rousso has been successful, earning over $3.5 million since her first tournament cash in 2005.
The news was the same for Xuan Liu as she and her sponsor, 888poker, announced that they, too, had parted ways this week. “Very grateful to have been given the opportunity for a year but will no longer be an 888poker ambassador,” Liu Tweeted from her account on Wednesday. The Canadian poker pro announced this news prior to the start of her tournament in Perth, Australia, as a part of the Australia New Zealand Poker Tour Main Event (and, strangely enough, Liu is making a deep run in the event; she’s among the final 36 players as they enter Day 3).
While Rousso has been quiet about the change in her sponsorship situation over social media, Liu’s departure was met with several responses from her fellow players. Her former stable mate at 888poker, Sofia Lovgren, Tweeted, “Sad news, Xuan. Always a class act and an inspiration for me!” Another player from the 888poker team, Jackie Glazier, responded over Twitter, “I’m sure new adventures await you in 2015. You are an amazing ambassador of the game and an inspiration to many.”
Liu has been one of the brighter stars of the tournament poker circuit, earning over $1.5 million since her debut in 2007. After hitting six-figure scores in 2011 and 2012 (highlighted by deep runs at the EPT San Remo in 2011 and another final table finish at the EPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event in 2012), the last couple of years have been a bit more difficult. From 2013 and 2014, Liu’s tournament poker winnings are slightly more than $115,000.
So why would two strong companies, PokerStars and 88poker, part ways with two of the more recognizable female poker professionals, Rousso and Liu? In Rousso’s case, the impact of the “Black Friday” indictments – which had a serious effect on the United States online poker market – could have been the reasoning. Late last year, PokerStars ended their sponsorship arrangements with several top professionals, including former World Champion Joe Cada, leaving only 30 players with the “Team PokerStars Pro” status that includes five U. S. players: former World Champion Chris Moneymaker, Poker Hall of Fame member Barry Greenstein, Jason Mercier, Vanessa Selbst and Eugene Katchalov. These players are quite active on the EPT circuit, which could keep their positions secure.
In Liu’s case with 888poker, it is a little more difficult to ascertain a reason except for the expiration of her contract. With Liu’s departure, only Lovgren, Glazier, Bruno Kawauti, Bruno Politano and Nico Villa Lobos still wear the 888poker badge as ‘Ambassadors’ for the site. In 2014, 888poker also cut ties with 2013 World Series of Poker ‘November Nine’ member J. C. Tran, citing simply the end of the one-year contract that was given to Tran following his run at the WSOP Championship Event.
The departures of Rousso and Liu from the ‘sponsored’ pro ranks could also be a prime indicator of moves that online poker sites are making in their marketing. Instead of depending on poker professionals to display their wares on televised poker events, the online poker industry is trying to make more of a mark in being an outlet for ‘recreational’ players rather than hard-core pros. As such, the online poker sites are shifting their strategies to offer more for the “rec” players rather than depending on the big-name (and expensive) sponsorship of tournament poker professionals to draw customers.
Both Rousso and Liu’s departures were amicable and it is extremely possible that they may show up somewhere else quite soon. But it also shows a difficulty in earning – and then maintaining – a poker sponsorship in these difficult times for the online poker industry.