2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the world’s largest poker site, PokerStars.com. This begs the question: why the name, PokerStars? Why was this brand identity chosen for what would become the world’s largest poker site?
To find out why, I decided to go to the source, Steve Badger — an Omaha player at heart — to find out how the name PokerStars was selected among an infinite number of possibilities.
I’d like to type a few words about Steve, along with his friend and business partner Shirley Rosario before we get into the interview. These were two influential personalities in the poker world long before the online facet of the game “got cool” following the Chris Moneymaker Boom and World Poker Tour final table telecasts on the Travel Channel.
Winning, high volume players may not be the key to top online poker sites’ marketing strategy in the present day, but in the early 2000s it was essential to a skeptical global market that you could indeed win money (and even have a positive long term expectation) playing the game.
My personal “playing poker for profit” story originated in about 2004, when I happened upon two affiliate websites owned by Badger and Rosario. By this time, I had already read Starting Hand Charts and other literature that explained the rules of the game, but it was Badger and Rosario who — through their writing — convinced me that without a doubt, there was money to be made by playing poker both live and online.
These articles are currently archived online at the following websites: SteveBadger.com and ShirleyRosario.com. They shed quite a bit of light on the history of playing poker for a living, and I highly recommend them for poker fans even in 2016.
How did you become involved with the entity that would become PokerStars?
I won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1999, was a regular contributor to the RGP newsgroup, which at the time was very active, and was writing for CardPlayer Magazine when in the summer of 2000 Kathy Liebert suggested I put a website online to archive my poker writing.
So I did that and then wrote for it the first how-to guide for playing poker online. Pretty soon I was ranking #1 for a “poker” search on AOL and doing very well on Alta Vista and the other Stone Age search engines of the time.
I had a unique set of skills and expertise in a number of areas important to launching a cardroom back then, so one day I got an email asking if I wanted to consult on a new online cardroom project in the pre-alpha stage. I knew nothing about software, but others involved in the project were experts at that, while they were not experts at poker or search marketing.
Long story short, part of Isai Sheinberg’s genius was to recognize that it takes a village of complementary skilled people to build something from scratch that would both make a splash and stand the test of time.
Was the project already known as PokerStars when you got involved?
No. There were three competing themes. “Southern” and “Western” quickly lost out to Galaxy. Part of the appeal of the Galaxy concept was we wanted to be “bigger than just a Planet.” (Planet Poker was the #2 site at the time, behind Paradise Poker).
So, for about a month, the project was usually called Galaxy Poker. Nobody hated Galaxy. It had a reason behind it. There were good graphic possibilities involving the constellations. The first few game tests used the Galaxy background.
We knew one thing for sure — we didn’t want a “PP” name. There already was Planet Poker, and then there was Paradise Poker, and then there even was Poker Pages (It would get even worse a few months later when PartyPoker came along). PP’s everywhere. We weren’t going to have a “PP.”
Besides Galaxy Poker, Galactic Poker and Cosmos Poker were options. I started to think we should try for “Poker Word” rather than “Word Poker.” This would allow us to lead with “Poker” in our marketing. Both Poker Cosmos and Poker Galactic sounded clumsy, so those were out. Poker Galaxy was okay, but that domain was already registered. I then suggested as possibilities Poker Universe and
After typing those out, it occurred to me that “Poker Stars” was much more scalable than other names we were talking about, as the “stars” element could be applied to 1) the galaxy concept, 2) all our players, 3) celebrity endorsers, 4) our superior software, and 5) major promotional tournament winners, and other variations. It was also not registered either as a dot-com or dot-net.
It grew on me as I thought of the ways to brand the name, so I said in a second email if the company didn’t want that name I would register Pokerstars.com myself. The company registered it a few hours later on March 11, 2001. No one argued against the name in the next few days, so that was that and the rest is history.
It is interesting to note that despite the origins, the whole galaxy/cosmos idea quickly disappeared, and the idea of branding the single word PokerStars won out over “Poker Stars” two words (at least until the 2016 logo appeared). On the other hand, the one syllable “Stars” turned out to be a significant branding asset that would have been missing from the three syllables of “Universe” or “Galaxy,” despite that never being considered initially.
I would like to personally thank Steve Badger for sharing his story and thoughts with PokerUpdate. To read more of Badger’s work, visit SteveBadger.com.