The conversations don’t happen as much as they used to, but the question still looms. How can we bring more women into poker?
There is no one answer, and proposed answers continue to evolve and change. And the biggest problem I have with trying to answer the question is that I have no marketing background. Even so, the issue is such an important one to me that I’ve given it much thought. While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, I know from watching the game evolve closely over the past decade what does NOT work.
Television commercials have progressed. Instead of all-male actors in the commercials or women in antiquated roles, more women are being portrayed as equal players at the table. While I don’t have access to many of the advertisements aired in Europe or other parts of the world and am somewhat limited to those aired in Nevada, I can say that the local companies are doing the best jobs. Commercials for Ultimate Poker and WSOP.com, both restricted here to Nevada players only, run at various times of the day and night, on a multitude of television channels, and women and men are featured equally in the ones I’ve seen.
These sites are admittedly struggling to attract players in general, so to chide them for not specifically targeting the female demographic seems cruel.
As for sites worldwide, I don’t know exactly what is being aired, but this is a great example from PokerStars:
This is the type of commercial that can appeal to men and women alike. If they’re picking time slots that appeal to mostly men, though, such as during sporting events, they probably won’t draw as many women to the game as if aimed at times when women are more likely to watch television.
American poker magazines, in general, have progressed very little. The majority of magazine covers are dedicated to men, which does reflect the majority of the players in the game, though it doesn’t move outside of that box. But even when women make great strides in poker, like Loni Harwood did at last year’s WSOP, she never received a cover story. I wrote about someone who did receive a cover with BLUFF here.
Even if the magazines chose to put skilled female players on the cover, like they have done in the past with Vanessa Selbst, the magazines are usually only offered in bookstores and newspaper stands in the sports section, not in games or other categories that might attract more female readers.
The World Poker Tour continues to push the Royal Flush Girls on anyone who gets near a WPT event, whether in the United States or Europe. The women are featured in television advertisements, websites, and in person. They may be the loveliest women in the world, but their presence does nothing to encourage more women to play poker. If anything, I would go so far as to say it discourages women from playing WPT events. It shows that the WPT undervalues women to the point of officially calling them “girls”, paying them to stand around in sometimes-questionable dresses for a poker room, and offering male players the chance to play beach volleyball with them and other reasons to put the women on display in bikinis.
What can be done differently?
If companies like the WPT insist on keeping the Royal Flush Girls, even up the opportunity with some Royal Flush Boys. This may encourage more women to play, with attractive men to make them feel welcome, talk to them, take selfies with them at the tables, and show them around the casinos and tour cities.
Plan to air commercials on television in conjunction with programming that corresponds with a large female demographic. The above-mentioned WSOP.com advertisement might go over well with a female audience.
Encourage women in women-only tournaments, whether at the WSOP or EPT, to play other events as well. Offer seats to open events as part of the prize pool. Have the tournament staff members remind the women that there are numerous other events to play. Discourage the tournament staff from making sexist comments during women-only tournaments.
Feature more self-made female players in poker magazines and on websites, while refraining from using terms like girl, hot, sexy, etc.
Poker media can take a page from Vanessa Selbst’s recent suggestion that tournament staff, writers, and others in the media stop using male terms to describe the fields, the eventual tournament winner, and players in general. Realize that despite the low number of women in many tournaments, “he or she” might take home the title. And that player at the online poker table could very well be a woman, so indicating that “he folded” could be a very wrong assumption.
For those companies who see the bigger picture, they realize that growing the female demographic for poker is the key to growth. They will need to adjust their marketing strategies greatly to attract more women to poker and keep them in the games. Those who do it will reap the rewards, while others will be left behind as poker moves inevitably forward.