An email to affiliates states:
“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.”
At the most basic level, a global internet gaming company consists of a very expensive technology platform and a huge marketing budget.
Since 2007, when PokerStars appointed tennis legend Boris Becker to Team PokerStars, non-professional poker players have fronted the company’s marketing efforts.
At the time, Becker was the only non-poker celebrity in a team consisting mainly of poker players such as Barry Greenstein, Daniel Negreanu, and Joe Hachem.
Contemporary gossip held that one of the real reasons for appointing Becker was that PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg was an avid fan.
Regardless of the truth behind that rumor, the role of celebrity sports stars has only increased since then.
After Amaya bought PokerStars from the Scheinbergs and their minority partners, it has continued to use sports stars to help it reach out to market segments that other marketing channels find difficult to address.
Shortly afterwards, in August 2015, PokerStars launched its largest-ever marketing campaign with Facebook videos featuring the two players.
Interim CEO Michael Hazel commented:
“This is the biggest PokerStars marketing campaign in history and we are excited to launch with exclusive distribution on Facebook. Both videos show how each of the stars love the game of poker in their own unique way. The vast numbers of fans who engage with both stars make Facebook a great platform to reach a big audience.
To put this into context the combined fan base for both superstars is a huge 157 million; the estimated global TV audience for the recent Champions League final was 180 million.”
A glance at Christian Ronaldo’s marketing influence suggests that any decision to drop him will be made at the highest level as part of a radically different marketing strategy.
The recently issued Amaya annual report for 2016 mentioned both Neymar and Ronaldo personally:
“#raiseit marketing campaign featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Dwayne Wade and Neymar Jr. has over 158 million social media views”
It would be a major surprise if the two are no longer going to be at the head of PokerStars’ marketing.
That lends credence to the idea that PokerStars may simply be making a change of emphasis, rather than dropping the concept entirely. Either way, the company needs a replacement strategy.
The email to affiliates asks them to use the standard Welcome Bonus offer. But this is unlikely to be sufficient to maintain the volume of new player sign-ups that PokerStars needs to replenish its player pool.
Amaya may be keen to contain costs. Reducing the marketing budget is not the first place an internet gaming company typically chooses to make savings.
At this stage we can conclude that something is up, but can only guess what that might be.