The practice of sponsorship and endorsement is no stranger to the business world of poker. How does it work? Why does it work? And what are the best examples of mutual branding exercises that have been successful? It’s easy to understand that the appeal to the player is the possibility of being able to win big money with live internet poker, but has it been easy to get past the long-standing taboo of online gambling?
Growing Trend in Brand Ambassadors
One of the more common partnerships seen in the 2020s and beyond is the ‘brand ambassador’ role that many poker brands offer to celebrities and alike to help promote their offerings. One of the most famous footballers in the world today, Neymar Jr., signed a deal with PokerStars to become their global cultural ambassador. Whether he does much other than look cool on their website is up for debate but his presence on their site undoubtedly attracts soccer (especially Brazilian) audiences.
Whether or not this partnership will continue for much longer is also up in the air as he transferred to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia, a country that outlaws all forms of gambling. Many other soccer players have followed suit but they aren’t the only kind of celeb to do it with figures like Nicki Minaj, Steve Aoki and even Boris Becker at one point endorsed a poker brand. One of the worst examples was Luis Suarez, when famous bit an opponent on the ear at the 2014 World Cup, 888poker terminated the sponsorship deal almost immediately after.
Some of these brand ambassadors spend more time with the company paying them and even appear in bespoke content for the brand. These go further in improving the authenticity of the brand partnership.
Brand Visibility through Sports
Another great way for poker companies and platforms to get their brand out in the wild is to sponsor major sports competitions or sports teams. The most pertinent of which is becoming a sponsor of a major football club. The space on the front of a football jersey is affectionately known as the world’s best billboard, especially on top clubs’ uniforms. Top European teams like AC Milan and Olympique Lyon have both had specific online poker brands in the past, as many have had other gambling-related sponsors.
Other opportunities arise with sports like boxing where platforms can often sponsor a card and have their branding plastered over the ring décor or within the arena. Boxer, Chirs Eubank Jr. has made it common knowledge that he likes to play poker and has partnered with 888poker. He’s also worked with KFC in the past too, clearly likes poker, chicken, and punching peoples’ heads in.
Using Different Sponsorships to Target Distinct Markets
If a poker platform has a lot of money then it’s a good idea to diversify its sponsorship deals across a broad range of activities. Whether that’s slapping the brand over multiple different events or collaborating with numerous celebrities across many fields. One market segment that remains to be a hot topic is the ability to attract female players. PokerStars once ran an entire Women’s Marketing division to attract female players specifically, this meant securing sponsorships with classically feminine products as well as collaborating with pre-existing poker players.
Some key geographical markets can be harder to succeed in too. While some markets can simply lift and shift their marketing campaigns, i.e. sponsorship deals with English or American sports superstars will typically resonate in England, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. the whole of the English-speaking world. Yet, places like Japan and India have set requirements to succeed. Gambling in Japan used to be a taboo and certainly wouldn’t benefit from foreign influence. Therefore poker and gambling sites have typically collaborated with domestic celebrities like Maya Yoshida or Idol Group stars to market their products. India has a similar approach with seemingly every gambling site operating in India having either a Bollywood star or cricket player as a key sponsor.
Charitable Activity to Enhance Image
Another beneficial sponsorship opportunity available to poker operators is to indulge in charitable activities. Whether it’s simply donating funds to charitable causes or hosting charity tournaments where a good percentage of the pot winnings goes to a charity or two, it enhances the company image that they want to do good in the world. PokerStars often runs charity events with illustrious players and sometimes even celebrities. Bringing charitable causes to the forefront of the company image also boosts confidence in the brand, as it makes the operator look more trustworthy.