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Not too long ago, football icons Neymar Jr. and Cristiano Ronaldo were the central characters of PokerStars’ marketing campaigns.
Just under halfway into 2017, Kevin Hart has now taken over the stage.
Something must have changed to make PokerStars move away from sports stars and towards TV stars. Or has it?
We caught up with Eric Hollreiser, VP of Corporate Communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars, at the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo to find out.
Eric Hollreiser: Our relationship with Neymar and Ronaldo was a very fruitful one and remains a very good partnership.
The contracts with both of them were for a limited time. Neymar’s has expired and Ronaldo’s is expiring.
While you won’t likely see them in campaigns going forward, we hope to continue to do work with them in the future.
PL: Why not, right? They’re still superstars.
EH: Our marketing is evolving. Historically, we have used a fair number of athletes to show that poker is a game of skill. I do think that now the close link between poker as a game and athletes is pretty well documented.
In the past we used retired athletes. Rafael Nadal was the first athlete still active we worked with, and then came Neymar and Ronaldo — him being the person with the largest social media footprint in the world.
We felt that it was now time to look for some new ways to reach new audiences and, as you saw, we have Kevin Hart now.
PL: It feels like the sports stars lasted longer in the past. Boris Becker was on the team for ages, and Fatima is still there.
EH: There’s a difference there. Boris and Fatima are people who play a lot of poker. You can’t expect Ronaldo or Neymar to do that simply because they’re at the heights of their careers and wouldn’t have the time.
There’s been some misreporting about our abandoning athletes and not using them for our marketing anymore, which is simply not true.
The truth is we’ve come to the end of contracts with two major sports stars, which A) doesn’t mean we won’t work together in the future, and B) doesn’t mean we won’t bring on another major athlete in the future.
But marketing is evolving, and poker is evolving, too. Kevin Hart is very much in line with how it is evolving.
We’ve been talking about how we need to change the dynamic of poker, particularly online, to create an environment that is attractive to new players, attractive to recreational players, which are by far the vast majority of our players.
Kevin opens up a whole new area for us because his approach to life and to business – his global footprint – is very different from what you find in an athlete.
His aspirations and the sheer joy of poker … he plays a lot of poker and you’ll see him play a lot. He has not just the attitude and the skills, but also the real passion for poker and this will make it a transformative relationship for us.
PL: Did you just turn away from the football pitch and towards Hollywood?
EH: Hollywood is important for us and has been in the past. For example, we did a large charity event in the Caribbean a couple of years ago with the whole cast of a movie.
The connection between Hollywood celebrities and us has been there a long time. Kevin just really wanted to work with us and made that very clear at the Bahamas.
The “Raise It” campaign was a wonderful campaign and reached something around 185 million viewers, but we wanted to delve into other aspects of poker – the mind sport aspect for example, the mindset you need to be good at poker.
These skill sets are not necessarily physical but can be a lot more about savviness and psychological understanding.
And honestly, the number of ambassadors you can have has to be relative to the ability to actually manage them.
We don’t live in a world anymore where everybody is just walking billboards. That’s not an effective way to market these days.
We still want team pros – we just signed Igor – and I expect to see more signings down the road.
Everyone in our roster of Team Pros brings their own skills and abilities. Fatima, for example, is unique in how many languages she speaks and multi-talented she is. I love the team right now.