Over the past six months, PokerStars has created and grown a new, multi-faceted “PokerStars Women” promotion designed to attract more female players to play on the site. While there have been other, similar efforts by online sites to target female players, PokerStars’ promotion has been more extensive and conspicuous than those, not least because PokerStars is currently the world’s biggest online poker site.
The promotion might be compared to ladies-only tournaments or even a site like the one you are currently visiting, Woman Poker Player. I say that because it responds to the challenge of trying to get women into poker by providing opportunities and incentives that are (mostly) exclusive to women. In other words, much of what the PokerStars Women promotion involves is either not available to men or does not include men as part of its primary target audience.
I’ve always been one to endorse any efforts to bring more women into poker, and while I appreciate the arguments of those who oppose ladies-only events, I can’t say I’ve ever felt excluded or discriminated against by the existence of such. Indeed, I have been proud to have had the opportunity to contribute here at Woman Poker Player, a site which I support even though as a man I’m not necessarily able to take part in the community as fully as women can.
So how do I -- a man -- respond to the new PokerStars Women promotion, one in which I am not really able to participate and which doesn’t necessarily address me with its messages and marketing?
First and foremost, I’ve been impressed with how extensive the effort has been. Obviously PokerStars does not consider this a minor campaign, but a meaningful part of the site’s overall marketing approach.
The highlight of the new PokerStars Women promotion was the creation of a new “Women’s Poker League” in August 2010, a place for women to play poker with each other and literally enjoy “a league of their own.” From August to December, the site offered a series of tournaments in which only women could play, including daily $5.50 events and a $55 buy-in tourney on Sundays.
In addition to the usual cash prizes, players who did well in the tournaments accumulated points for their finishes. At year’s end additional cash prizes were then awarded to the top 50 points earners in each of the two divisions (U.S. and Euro). The two women ranked the highest in each division won both cash ($1,500 and €1,000, respectively) as well as “Ladies Luxury Event” packages.
The Women’s Poker League is currently on hiatus, but word is PokerStars plans to restart it with new tourneys and rankings for 2011. Judging from some of the responses of women who participated during the first go-round, there will likely be some tweaking of the schedule and buy-ins when the league returns.
Other promotions specifically targeting women players have emerged as part of the PokerStars Women promotion over the past six months as well. Via PokerSchool Online, the site is promoting an online forum where women can further discuss the Women’s Poker League as well as create blogs and profiles. There is also a special “channel” on PokerStars.tv spotlighting the female members of Team PokerStars Pro, a group that includes Liv Boeree, Victoria Coren, Fatima Moreira de Melo, Celina Lin, Maridu Mayrinck, Vanessa Rousso, and Vanessa Selbst.
Additional offerings being presented under the PokerStars Women banner include Women’s Poker Boot Camps such as the one recently hosted by Vanessa Rousso at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. The site has also offered special online satellites into various live ladies-only events such as the one played last week at the PCA.
Regarding the latter, I happen to be more aware of those satellites and the PCA Ladies Event than I might have been otherwise since a good friend of mine, Kristin Bihr, won her way into the PCA Ladies Event via those satellites (spending less than $100 to do so), then managed to go on and win the tournament, earning a cool $29,798 for doing so!
Finally, a special category was created on the PokerStars blog devoted to news about women (with articles all written by women) which also operates as kind of a central hub linking to the other promotions, videos, and so forth. Here, too, is a part of the promotion that I have found myself following over recent months, although again personal reasons might explain my awareness of it. As a poker writer, I tend to follow closely what others are writing about poker, and so have found myself visiting the PokerStars Women page more often than the average male probably does.
So I have appreciated the quantity of offerings and opportunities that have come as part of the promotion. What about their quality?
There, too, I’ve been mostly impressed, although I am aware that the “message” being conveyed by PokerStars about women poker players hasn’t always been received favorably by everyone. For example, a post on the site describing the scene when female Team PokerStars Pros were given cameras at the PCA to create “video blogs” received some criticism for the way the women were described.
It was intended as a humorous piece. The author evoked the iconic opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Neanderthal man is depicted first learning about tools, then suggested the women’s reactions to receiving the cameras had created a similar scene. The humor didn’t land with some, however, who took the comparison as demeaning to women.
I responded differently, finding the piece funny and in the same light-hearted spirit as the video blogs the women ultimately made, some of which (such as by Victoria Coren and Maridu Marynick) are quite hilarious. At the time, Vanessa Selbst tweeted about the post that she “was quite impressed” with its “humor and level of accuracy” when describing the scene. But as I say, others objected, and the post was eventually removed.
Whether the promotion successfully attracts more women to the site or into poker, generally speaking, remains to be seen. It’s an ambitious idea, really, that PokerStars is pursuing here, not nearly as simple a task as it might appear.
In fact, the controversy over the 2001 post well demonstrates how potentially contentious the whole idea of “women-only” poker can be. Such posts and other “messages” associated with the PokerStars Women promotion are necessarily going to be viewed as suggesting either explicitly or implicitly certain ideas about women and their capabilities -- something PokerStars would do well to keep in mind as it continues to grow this interesting and (in my view) beneficial promotion.
The fact is, it can be awkward or difficult sometimes to try to characterize or speak for all women. Or all men, for that matter -- as I’ve learned from writing a column titled “He Said”!
See also: She Said: The Tough Task of Marketing Poker to Women