Poker Star Live

Stars Live Spins Amid Departures of Stuchly, Soloveychik; Carrion Gets Expanded Role

Much ado over at Amaya (soon to be The Stars Group) in recent days with some shuffling at the very top of the company’s Live Poker Operations. Hitting the exit door at the end of June will be two very prominent Stars Live executives, Vadim Soloveychik, Stars’s Director of Brand Marketing, and Edgar Stuchly, Stars’ Director of Live Events. Moving up to an expanded role – at least on an interim basis — is former PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) director David Carreon.

Carreon also has extensive experience at other Stars’-branded Latn American events, and would naturally be on the short list to replace Stuchly for the long term. The exits of Stuchly and Soloveychik, however, were unexpected, and appear linked to recent flat performances for the new Stars Live tour, in particular at the recent Stars Live stop in Sochi, Russia.

Sochi’s slate of events turned out to be a bonanza of overlays for those players who did attend. Stars paid out roughly a half million dollars in an overlay on Sochi’s main event alone, a chunk more on the series’ preliminary offerings, and there’s all indications that the stop left a goodly blotch of red ink on Amaya’s corporate ledger.

Add to to the flat attendance numbers at some other recent Stars Live stops, and it appears to have been shake-up time, regardless of where and on whom the blame should fall. PokerStars issued an off-the-cuff statement about the changes last week:

“PokerStars has appointed David Carrion as Director of Marketing to lead the global strategy of the PokerStars brand, including advertising, digital, social media, content marketing and live events. Carrion joined PokerStars in January 2010 as Director of Live Poker Operations for Latin America. A background in poker and table games within the bricks and mortar industry served him well in growing and developing the Latin American Poker Tour, sponsoring the Brazilian Series of Poker and directing the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure through to 2015.

“Carrion, who has spent the last two years of digital marketing efforts, will combine live events expertise, knowledge of the brand and digital understanding with his personal passion.

“Carrion wants to be on the road on July 1 and will also be interim Director of Live Events. Vadim Soloveychik, Director of Brand Marketing and Edgar Stuchly, Director of Live Events, will leave the company at the end of June. PokerStars would like to thank both Soloveychik and Stuchly for their dedicated service and wishes them well in their future endeavors.”

Fair enough, as these things go. There’s no direct linking of the recent Stars Live event disappointments to Soloveychik’s and Stuchly’s departures, nor should there be in a corporate comment of this type. But that doesn’t mean that others won’t make that link, or that Soloveychik and Stuchly are taking a fall of sorts for recent happenings.

How much of it is deserved? That’s hard to say. There are two separate questions in play. First is the relative bombing of the Sochi event. That’s never happened much in Starsland; the company’s actuaries have been very good, for a very long time, at not given away money by overestimating an event’s total number of participants. In business as a whole, blotches of red ink such as Sochi do tend to be the result of over-promising by marketing types, who then can’t deliver on the promises. That may well have happened here.

The second and perhaps larger issue strecthes far beyond Sochi’s numbers. As we noted last year when Amaya abandoned the well known EPT (European Poker Tour) brand, they were walking away from a ton of brand equity and goodwill. “Goodwill” is notoriously hard to quantify, though don’t tell that to accountants. Given PokerStars’ ongoing image difficultes with the veteran-grinder subset of its customer population, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of those grinders gave second thought to something to participating in something now less pushed as a “European” gathering and more as a private company’s offering instead.

That it’s the same event inside the wrapping really doesn’t matter. It’s how one packages it that counts. Just slapping the Stars name and logo on something isn’t the same massive selling point as it was four or five years ago, and I note that with due apologies to my many friends at the company. Compounding the issue is that Stars’ very prominent switch to serving casual players – “net depositors” in industry lingo – works contrary to the type of hard-core catering needed to populate such things as the Sochi gathering.

Stars Live appears to be spinning a bit, searching both for its identity and its audience. Executive shake-ups happen all the time in such circumstances.

It’s not really a question of whether the Stars Live tour will right itelf; it’s far too established a presence not to carry on. However, the tour may not grow in the short term in the manner that Amaya / Stars Group had hoped, and some of the reasons for that are bubbling to the surface.

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