PokerStars signed a deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship to become the UFC’s first-even “Official Poker Partner”. The first time the PokerStars logo will feature in a UFC event if the UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 pay-per-view event on December 29th.
UFC 232 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The PokerStars logo will not replace the Monster! logo at the center of the Octagon, but it will be in the arena and visible during the PPV broadcast.
PokerStars is the largest online poker site in the world. It is also the most famous division in the Montreal-based Stars Group’s growing network of gaming sites. The UFC is the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization.
Christopher Coyne, Stars Interactive’s chief marketing officer, said the deal makes a lot of sense for PokerStars. Coyne added, “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.”
UFC Statement on PokerStars Deal
Paul Asencio, Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships for UFC, said of the new deal: “We’re excited that PokerStars has joined our roster of global partners and has helped us create a new sponsorship category for our final event of 2018.”
“This agreement lays the foundation to work together with PokerStars in the future to grow our respective customer bases in key markets.”
Christopher Coyne added, “UFC and PokerStars have a lot in common.”
UFC Background and History
The UFC is no stranger to gambling. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was instrumental in MMA’s rise to mainstream prominence. UFC launched in 1993 and originally had to host fights outside the country, because US politicians labeled it “human cockfighting”.
In January 2001, Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought UFC for $2 million. They installed their high school buddy, Dana White, as the president of the UFC. Under the Fertittas and Dana White’s direction, the Zuffa, Inc. organization began a rise to dominance in the MMA industry.
In May 2016, in order to raise the capital to buy back control of Station Casinos, the Fertitta family sold the UFC for $3.5 billion to $4 billion. A consortium of Chinese companies — including re Dalian Wanda Group, China Media Capital, and WME–IMG (Endeavor) — bought the UFC. After the buyout, the UFC entered what is called the Endeavor Era.
During its 15 years under the leadership of the Fertitta Brothers, the UFC hosted most of its biggest fights in Las Vegas. While it never had a gambling sponsorship to avoid ties to sports betting when it was banned in most parts of the United States, the UFC became synonymous with Las Vegas.
PokerStars’ rise was on a parallel course. The company was a top 5 online poker company in the early years of the 21st Century, but it’s marketing department helped it rise to No. 1 in 2003, when it sponsored a number of online poker players for the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Players had to win satellite tournaments to win a free trip to the WSOP Main Event in 2003. Chris Moneymaker was one of the winners of the PokerStars satellite events, so he qualified with the PokerStars logo on his shirt and cap. When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, it started the poker boom of the 2000s.
Moneymaker’s win, which was broadcast and re-broadcast on ESPN for months, also launched PokerStars as the top online card site in the world. A win by another PokerStars satellite entry, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, in 2004 cemented the company’s reputation.
Of course, PokerStars was a huge success for other reasons. Players enjoyed the site’s software and event structure. The poker rake was better than most competitors, while its prize pools became the biggest in the business. But in the same years that UFC was conquering the MMA world, PokerStars was conquering the online poker industry.
The UFC sponsorship has a chance to grow PokerStars’ business. UFC fights are known to reach 1.1 billion television households in over 160 countries and territories worldwide. UFC fights are broadcast in 40 different languages, so the PokerStars brand should be seen by hundreds of millions of potential customers who might not be that familiar with the PokerStars product.
Why Sports Organizations Sign Deals with Sportsbooks
Signing with an online gambling company is now acceptable for sports organizations in the United States because of a US Supreme Court decision repealing a federal ban on sports betting. Most US sports organizations wanted to avoid any ties to the sports betting industry before the SCOTUS decision, but that obstacle is now removed.