From cutting staff to accepting advertising buys from less than reputable services, there are plenty of clues that PokerNews has been struggling since Black Friday.
And with PokerStars doing everything they can to strengthen their position as the world’s biggest online poker room, the next logical step is to gain control of what is arguably the biggest poker media resource on the web.
The two companies have enjoyed an extremely tight working relationship over the last couple years, one that seems to be getting stronger. PokerNews live updates have been appearing on the PokerStars Blog since last season and PokerStars has been featured above all other poker rooms in terms of banners and toplists on PokerNews.
But there are more reasons to predict this acquisition.
Clues that PokerNews is in Trouble
Poker affiliates across the board took a big hit when American customers were removed from the equation on April 15, 2011, but PokerNews was hit particularly hard. And it’s likely their troubles had begun prior to the Department of Justice’s indictments of the world’s three biggest online poker rooms.
As late as March 6, 2011 PokerNews still rated Full Tilt Poker as the number one room at which to sign up and play. As we now know Full Tilt was in serious trouble at this point. FTP didn’t have the money to pay out players, so it’s unlikely they were making good on their affiliate deals.
In fact, PokerListings.com was forced to sever all ties with FTP many months before Black Friday, due to outstanding payments for player signups.
It wasn’t until the beginning of June that PokerNews stopped sending players to Full Tilt Poker.
Since Black Friday PokerNews has begun hiring cheaper, less experienced field reporters, phased out key full time positions and is taking advertising money from questionable sources, more evidence that the company is struggling.
The most visible example came halfway through the 2012 WSOP when PokerNews laid off Eric Ramsey, a very highly-esteemed reporter and photographer that had worked with PokerNews for the last few years.
The only explanation Ramsey was given was that the company could no longer afford the position.
But perhaps most glaring is the banner that is currently featured front and center on the PokerNews home page.
AshleyMadison.com is a dating site that helps people cheat on their spouses. Their tag-line, “Life is short. Have an affair” more or less sums it up.
The fact that a major site like PokerNews would absorb the collateral damage to their brand that comes with a banner like that is a very big indication of where they are financially.
Why PokerStars Will Acquire PokerNews
PokerStars and PokerNews have been working closely together for the last couple years, most visibly on the European Poker Tour but also on PokerStars’ smaller regional tours like the Latin American Poker Tour.
The PokerNews live coverage team is subsidized by PokerStars to provide live updates and content which appears on the PokerStars Blog.
And live updates aren’t the only overlap in between the two sites.
Long-time PokerNews presenter and writer Lynn Gilmartin hosts PokerStars TV during major live events, and PokerNews’ Global Tournament Reporting Manager Donnie Peters writes a number of articles that appear on the PokerStars Blog.
And this wouldn’t be the first time PokerStars has acquired a major poker media outlet and turned it into a dedicated PokerStars portal.
Last year PokerStars bought PokerPages.com and now the only banners you’ll see on that site point directly to PokerStars. The content on the site is written by the same freelancers who work for the PokerStars Blog.
What This Will Mean for Poker Media
When rumors began to surface that PokerStars was trying to buy Full Tilt Poker the general reaction was extremely positive. After all, most saw it as the best chance for players to recoup the money still locked up on FTP.
But it wasn’t long until the conversation turned to the potential for a monopoly in the poker industry.
PokerStars already owns the biggest share of the poker market and in terms of marketing and PR no one else even comes close.
With major acquisitions like Full Tilt Poker, and potentially PokerNews, PokerStars is further consolidating the market.
And if PokerNews becomes a mouthpiece for PokerStars it throws their editorial agenda into question.
While affiliate sites like PokerNews and PokerListings don't claim to be completely unbiased, there is a difference between representing the interests of one single online poker room as opposed to a group. And that's especially true when that one site happens to be the biggest in the industry.
The good news is that the community generally trusts PokerStars, and for good reason. Of the three online poker rooms targeted on Black Friday they're the only one that made it through in one piece and the only site that paid back their customers.
Add to that the years of innovation, professionalism and unparalleled customer support that PokerStars has under its belt and it’s easy to see why they’re well-liked. Moreover, with their live poker tours around the world PokerStars is doing more than anyone to grow the game of poker.
But despite all that a monopoly is still dangerous, especially when it includes major media outlets that readers trust for unbiased reporting of the news.
It will mean fewer perspectives, less dissention with the popular opinion and ultimately a more narrow view of what’s really happening in the poker world.
The key is for PokerStars to be up front and transparent. Rather than attempting to shape popular opinion by manipulating the news they must continue to offer the same service and support that made them the biggest to begin with.
But most importantly if they do acquire PokerNews, they must make it clear that the site is no longer an unbiased news resource, but rather a dynamic advertisement for PokerStars.