In recent weeks, both PokerStars and PartyPoker have expanded their lineups, but in two decidedly different directions. While PartyPoker added the talented and experienced Marcel Luske and Kristen Bicknell to their pro team, PokerStars opted to go the celebrity route, adding actor and comedian Kevin Hart and world record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt to their line-up. These additions highlight the online giants’ different approaches to marketing. Celebrating well-known players, PartyPoker seems to want to reassure and reward the long-standing poker community, while PokerStars appears to be trying to reach out to a new audience of recreational players and others who may be less familiar with the game than with the names of these celebrity players.
Kristen Bicknell and Marcel Luske join PartyPoker’s Pro Team
As the latest addition to PartyPoker’s growing list of sponsored pros, Kristen Bicknell brings years of skill and experience to the table. Although the Canadian pro mostly plays online, Bicknell will also represent PartyPoker at live events. Since her first cash in 2006, Bicknell has amassed $791,509 in live tournaments, as well as an additional $339,576 in online winnings playing under the screen name “Krissyb24″. Currently, she’s attempting to win a third career gold bracelet at the 2017 WSOP in Las Vegas, where she is currently in action trying to capture a third career gold bracelet.
According to Tom Waters, Managing Director of PartyPoker, “We’ve been looking to add a Canadian poker pro to our team for some time, and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to appoint Kristen. It is a pleasure to have Kristen join PartyPoker. She is well respected in the industry and has some extremely impressive online cashes. I look forward to see Kristen playing online on PartyPoker and also on the PartyPoker LIVE circuit this year.”
PartyPoker has also added the Netherland’s Marcel Luske, aka the Flying Dutchman, to its extensive list of poker pro sponsorships. With his total live tournaments winnings exceeding $4,400,000, Luske sits comfortably atop the Netherlands all time money list. Aong with Bicknell, Luske is also sporting a PartyPoker badge during the current 2017 WSOP in Las Vegas. And they join an impressive roster of talent, including Norway’s Johnny Lodden, Belarus’s Dzmitry Urbanovich (who joined PartyPoker in April), England’s Sam Trickett, Australia’s Jackie Glazier, and many more.
PokerStars brings Kevin Hart and Usain Bolt on board
US actor and comedian joined PokerStars in May 2017, declaring that he wanted to make poker more fun. Referring to his love of the game in the 2016 film What Now?, Hart and Halle Berry goofily reenact the famous poker scene from the James Bond Casino Royale film.
But Hart doesn’t just play the game on the big screen. In January 2017, he participated in the PokerStars Bahamas Championship in the $100,000 buy-in Super High Roller (where he made 2 re-buys without making it in the money). A few months later, from Monaco, PokerStars announced that Kevin Hart would be joining their team.
This celebrity grab was followed by Usain Bolt, who joined the list of PokerStars’ ambassadors in June. According to Bolt, “PokerStars is a winner, and I’m happy to join Kevin in helping to bring poker and PokerStars to the masses. It’s a challenging game that’s fun, social, and competitive, so I’m pleased to be able to introduce it to my fans and to people around the world.” As with many of the famous athletes PokerStars has sponsored, Bolt’s role will be to introduce new audiences to the game by appearing marketing campaigns and live events that are geared toward new markets.
Although they haven’t always maintained the partnerships, PokerStars has a long history of signing celebrity athletes in order to expand poker’s reach and garner new audiences. Some recent additions include : Portuguese Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo (May 2015), Brazilian Footballer Neymar Junior (May 2015), Spanish Tennis Player Rafael Nadal (2012, but no longer signed), and Brazilian Footballer Ronaldo. Historically, PokerStars’ uses celebrity partnerships to conquer new markets, interesting new audiences in poker, particularly, but also in sports betting and casino games more generally.
Is it more beneficial to open the poker community to a larger market by attracting the masses or to bet on well-respected members of that community to represent your brand with skill and experience? Only time will tell which route is more effective.