Poker and sport meshed in a myriad of new and innovative ways in 2015.
From global sporting icons becoming brand ambassadors for the leading operators to a new money-making outlet for those with a penchant for beating the odds, poker and sport broached new ground over the last 12 months.
Helping tie the two mediums together in a singular unit of competitiveness was PokerStars’ signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr.
Being the market leader, whatever PokerStars does becomes headline news and often changes the course of the poker industry’s movements.
This was the case again in 2015 when PokerStars enlisted the services of two of the leading soccer players in the world.
Boasting a combined social media following of more than 200 million fans, the sports stars not only helped boost PokerStars’ cash game traffic by 9 percent, but redefined how poker promoted itself to the masses.
Although there has long been parallels drawn between poker and sport, the changing nature of the industry has made it necessary for operators to cater to casual players much more.
While the game was once the reserve of the hardcore grinder, online operators have put a lot of emphasis on novice players in the last 12 months.
Through a combination of lottery-style games, the banning of third-party software and sponsorship of sports stars, the industry has become much more beginner-friendly in 2015.
Sport and the use of its popular figures has undoubtedly been a driving force in this epistemic change and that’s opened up the doors for new possibilities.
Daily Fantasy Sports’ (DFS) rise to prominence in 2015 was almost identical to the one online poker enjoyed back in 2003.
Major TV commercials, sponsorship of high profile events and multi-million dollar giveaways by the top DFS operators echoed the noise poker made just over a decade ago.
This pattern of growth, coupled with a number of strategic similarities between the two disciplines, resulted in poker and DFS forming an alliance in 2015.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) had enjoyed a working relationship with one of the top DFS sites in the US, DraftKings, since 2012. However, this relationship was taken to new heights in 2015.
Instead of a few players sporting DraftKings patches, the company’s branding new sat centre stage during the festival and was featured prominently on subsequent ESPN broadcasts.
Also helping to tie the two industries together was a number of high profile pros, including Jason Somerville and Max Steinberg.
The latter now classes himself as a professional DFS player (thanks wins totaling more than $1 million), but he also made the final table of the 2015 WSOP Main Event while wearing a DraftKings patch.
As for Somerville, he added to his sponsorship deal with PokerStars by agreeing to represent DraftKings on his popular Twitch stream.
This relationship not only boosted Somerville’s profile, but allowed US DFS players to win entry to a number of poker events, including the WSOP and Somerville’s Run It Up Reno festival.
Poker’s ever changing face certainly took on a more sporting appearance in 2015.
However, unlike the prediction made by the GPI’s Alex Dreyfus (he wants to “sportify” poker), the two industries merged more for commercial reasons that skill reasons.
Through a combination of branding and opportunities, poker welcomed a slew of new players in 2015 and, despite potential issues for DFS heading into 2016, it looks as though poker will retain its sporting guise for the foreseeable future.