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PokerStars Eyes U.S. Market with New NBA, UFC Deals

UFC PokerStars Deal

The world’s biggest online poker operator is making inroads in the North American market with deals now in place with two of the biggest sports entities in the U.S.

Earlier this month The Stars Group, which owns PokerStars, signed a sports betting deal with the NBA. The Stars Group became just the second official gambling partner of the league. The multi-year contract will see The Stars Group and the NBA promote each other over social media.

Last week PokerStars followed up the NBA deal with a marketing sponsorship with the UFC.

PokerStars became the first-ever official “poker partner” for the mixed martial arts organization. PokerStars branding will be featured prominently in upcoming UFC events. PokerStars made its debut as the official poker partner for the UFC during Jones vs Gustafsson 2, which took place over the weekend.

Blazing New Ground with NBA Deal

PokerStars’ new deal with the NBA represents a dramatic shift for some of the biggest sports leagues in the U.S.

As laws and regulations have loosened up regarding sports betting, the leagues have opened up new revenue streams with online partners.

The deal will see the NBA promote both The Stars Group’s poker offering (PokerStars) and sports betting vertical (BetStars). In addition The Stars Group will gain access to official NBA numbers and statistics for use on BetStars.

The Stars Group was just the second gambling company to ink a deal with the NBA (the first being MGM) and it remains to be seen if more will come on board.

A Stars Group spokesperson described the deal as part of the company’s broader U.S. strategy. The Stars Group currently only operates in New Jersey but plans to roll out a Pennsylvania-facing site in 2019.

Basketball and the poker world have long been closely connected. Paul Pierce, Gilbert Arenas and Earl Barron are among the numerous former NBA pros who have made appearances at the World Series of Poker. Former Lakers owner Jerry Buss was also known to frequent some of the biggest poker games in the world.

Legendary sports bettor/poker player Haralabos Voulgaris was also recently hired by the Dallas Mavericks as the director of quantitative research.

UFC, PokerStars Aim to Thrill Fans

It’s not clear what being the “official poker partner” of the UFC will entail but PokerStars branding was featured prominently in the Octagon at UFC 232 over the weekend.

Apparently PokerStars will also be incorporated into other aspects of the broadcast during future UFC telecasts in addition to cross-promotion over digital social media.

“UFC and PokerStars have a lot in common,” said Christopher Coyne, chief marketing officer of Stars Interactive, a division of The Stars Group.

“We want to thrill and entertain, both in our products and customer experience. UFC is the world’s leading MMA promoter with millions of fans and followers around the globe, while PokerStars is the heavyweight of online poker. It’s a classic combination.”

There are many parallels between MMA and online poker as both hit the big time in the early 2000s and both struggled with mainstream acceptance.

The original Full Tilt Poker sponsored a number of UFC events before Black Friday ended the site’s run in the U.S. A large number of UFC fighters made appearances at the WSOP including Forrest Griffen, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Colby Covington. Announcer Bruce Buffer has also played several WSOP events.

The Fertitta brothers, who previously owned the UFC and run the Station Casino group, actually tried to get into the online poker business themselves with Ultimate Poker in 2013. Ultimate Poker was actually the first regulated online poker site in America but shut down in 2014 due to lower-than-expected revenue.

Besides the millions of UFC fans, there’s perhaps another reason that PokerStars opted to sign a deal with the MMA giant. PokerStars has yet to launch in Nevada and the UFC, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, could help pave the way for other corporate partnerships in the state.