There has been a lot of gossip floating around in social media and poker forums over PokerStars’ new taste in ambassadors for their Team Pro. The dramatic shift speaks very clearly of the brand’s shift in marketing focus in the changing landscape of the global poker industry.
As the online poker industry started to expand, online poker operators began to compete for market share and one of the ways they did this was to sign the best poker pros in the world and get them to represent their brand. These poker ambassadors would sport these brands on their sleeves to all the live tournaments. For years, poker pros became the symbol of their brands, with many people equating the brands’ success to their ambassadors’ success. PokerStars was one of the many brands who battled it out to get the best of the best—signing the most talented and promising poker pros to lend prestige to their brand.
PokerStars Cuts Pros As Marketing Strategy Shifts
It is hard not to notice the changes that PokerStars has made to its roster of brand ambassadors. A number of long time poker pros have departed from Team PokerStars during the last few months. First to leave was Felipe Ramos, who announced his breakup with the brand back in December 2017. Ramos was also the first to hint about PokerStars’ shifting focus, explaining in his departure statement that the company’s “priorities have changed” in recent years.
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier echoed Ramos’ statement in his recent departure from PokerStars Team Pro, also explaining in a tweet that it was evident that the brand was veering away from keeping its pro poker team at its core.
In the middle of Ramos’ and Grospellier’s exit, the poker world also witnessed the departure of long-time pros Vanessa Selbst and Jason Mercier. Both players quit PokerStars but their departure was due to the fact that they wanted to take a break from poker in general. Mercier decided to focus on becoming a full-time husband and father after his wife gave birth last year and Selbst decided it was time for her to pursue a career as a trader for a hedge fund.
PokerStars does not appear to be too worried over the departure of these top poker pros. That is probably because the online poker giant has slowly but surely changed its marketing strategy and is now focused on hiring celebrities and sports stars who will promote poker to their millions of followers on social media and fans.
PokerStars Leverages Global Appeal Of Celebrities
In 2015, football greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr along with tennis great Rafael Nadal signed up as representatives for PokerStars. England international rugby stars Andy Goode and James Simpson Daniel were also seen partnering with the brand at the PokerStars Festival London. Olympic history maker Usain Bolt and comedian Kevin Hart have also become visible in the recent months, churning out quirky video challenges over at PokerStars’ #GameOn channels.
For PokerStars, these are strategic signings and an indication of their marketing strategy. Eric Hollreiser, director of corporate communications for The Stars Group, took over management of PokerStars sponsorships in 2014 and emphasized the need to overhaul the brand’s current marketing strategy. Under Hollreiser, PokerStars shifted away from televised poker to streaming poker, poker programs began to take a more novel approach, and the brand started to capitalize on the exploding celebrity and social media culture to appeal to a wider audience. This time, PokerStars was not only offering poker to the poker fans—they wanted to offer poker to the world.
According to Hollreiser, he wanted his Team Pro to not just feature a lineup of poker pros anymore. He wanted to create a mix of diverse personalities that can create excitement around the game, generate multimedia content and tap a wide variety of audiences.
This was very evident in PokerStars’ choice of new ambassadors. Cristiano Ronaldo had more than 104 million fans and Neymar Jr more than 53 million fans on Facebook. Kevin Hart and Usain Bolt were household names and have millions of followers worldwide. PokerStars’ continued support for Twitch streamers Jason Somerville, Jeff Gross, and Jaime Staples has paid off for the brand, since Somerville became the most-watched live poker Twitch channel in 2016, spreading the reach of the brand to the younger, more tech-savvy market.
For Hollreiser, Twitch and poker streaming is the future of poker. He wants the PokerStars Twitch channel to focus on “creating content and building communities” and become the new primary channel to access poker off the felt.

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