The poker industry knows its target demographics, the most successful of which has been and continues to be the young male contingent. And PokerStars has undoubtedly been the most successful when it comes to targeting players from various areas of the world with its regional tours, such as the European Poker Tour, Latin American Poker Tour, Italian Poker Tour, France Poker Series, etc.
In 2010, PokerStars looked to bring more women to its tables. Though some of the tours, like the EPT, had long been hosting ladies-only tournaments at many of their stops in the hopes of attracting more women to the events, it stepped up the marketing campaign last year with the launch of PokerStars Women.
Many facets of it were aimed at making women feel more comfortable at the tables, not only emphasizing PokerSchoolOnline (PSO) with free lessons and special women’s forums, but PokerStars established the special Women’s Poker League and exclusive online tournaments that catered to women only. The league offered prizes in addition to regular tournament winnings, and there were satellites into live events as well as big online events like the Sunday Million. All of this was publicized through special blog posts highlighting the women of PokerStars and the new offerings of the site, and dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages.
The plan was solid, and by all accounts, it seemed to be working and gaining popularity. No public data can be found about the number of women who play on PokerStars and whether than number has increased because of the campaign, but as PokerStars Women keeps expanding as a program, it would be safe to assume it has been and can be a success to some degree.
One of the major focuses, though not the only one by any means, of PokerStars Women was to attract them to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and focus on women during the events, which took place in early January 2011. Many seats were awarded online to the $1,000 buy-in ladies no-limit hold’em tournament through satellites. And PokerStars.tv looked to capture the experience of the sponsored female Stars pros in the Bahamas by giving them flip-cams in order to record their thoughts during the PCA. Most were entertaining and informative, as players like Victoria Coren provided tips and humor, and Maria Mayrinck gave blatantly honest testimony about subjects like the feelings involved in busting from a tournament while showing the fun side of the game as well.
Did it work? Not necessarily. The 2010 $1000 buy-in ladies-only tournament drew 91 players, and this year’s event brought 96 to the tables. Of that number, 28 qualified through satellites, some even winning the chance to attend a boot camp hosted by Vanessa Rousso prior to the tournament. All in all, though, the increase was not substantial at the 2011 PCA and likely less than what they expected.
With that said, the PokerStars Women promotion is still in its relative infancy, and with no data to show if the online numbers have increased, there is no way to truly gauge its accomplishments at this point.
Marketing poker to women is tough. Poker doesn’t ask women to invest in a diet plan that has the potential for a visible outcome like a flatter stomach or a bikini body. Nor does poker offer anything that will improve their family life or personal relationships. Poker offers the chance to play a game, albeit one of skill, with the hopes of making money. There is the side effect of building friendships and the remote possibility of making enough money to change one’s life dramatically, but women don’t tend to take those kinds of risks on a whim. In general, women tend to be practical first and foremost, and poker needs to make sense in a way that doesn’t hurt their families, financial stability, or already-busy schedules.
In order to entice women to play poker, a campaign needs to focus more on the benefits that don’t involve risk, such as the opportunity to use their analytical skills to make money, the chance to travel to exotic locations and make friends in the process, the fact that many women find camaraderie at the tables and in the forums. And the campaign needs to venture into territory yet unexplored by the poker media, like mainstream television and publications aimed at women.
However, I was not a marketing major in college and have no background in the arena. These are merely speculations and ideas. But I do know that bringing women into poker is exponentially more difficult than enticing young men to play poker. The numbers don’t lie, and poker continues to be a male-dominated game.
PokerStars Women is taking those first steps. And with a sound investment behind the project, it will be able to venture into new territory where other female-oriented poker undertakings have been unable to go. It will be up to the powers-that-be to use that campaign wisely and bring an entirely new group of women to the poker tables, both live and online, by gaining the trust of women and using respectful and reasonable tactics. They might be seeing that it’s a tougher task than they imagined, but if the overall global success of PokerStars in the last decade is any indication, it is certainly within the realm of possibility.
See also: He Said: PokerStars Wants Women; Do Women Want PokerStars?