01 May 2008

Is the WSOP a Marketing Event?

Not that it matters in the grand scheme of our lives in the midst of a recession, a housing market hardly at its basement, and a world changing in spite of us, but the World Series of Poker just made a change that significantly changes the most coveted title in poker forever. The WSOP Main Event, as reported by USA Today, will have a break of 117 days from the time the Final Table is set at nine players (14 July) to the time play restarts on 9 November. The Final Table will be broadcast two days later on 11 November.

Is this a great thing for ESPN and the fans? Absolutely. For viewers, we now have more of a reality show feel to the WSOP, watching throughout the fall to see who makes the Final Table then seeing the last nine battle to a new champion virtually real-time.

For poker as a competition (similar to a sport), it is ridiculous. Basically, we have two events within one: the WSOP Main Event Satellite (where there are cash prizes until you get to the final nine if you make the money) then the WSOP Final Table (almost four months later, where nine finalists start with different chip counts and play a SNG). Maybe I'm overreacting a bit, but this changes the competitive landscape of the Final Table tremendously.

Less experienced players can be coached up for four months, a no-brainer to any and every player at the Final Table. Other players can be game planned ad nauseum, players can practice and practice to fix leaks and tells. You name it, it can be done with this much time in between the events.

It also dramatically increases the opportunity for collusion at the Final Table. Remember, the difference between 1st and 9th last year was around $7.5mil. That's a pretty significant sum of cash, a huge incentive for players to stretch their values for a certain larger payout.

For those making the Final Table, the cash will become much more significant for sponsorship if they use their heads. Ratings will be significantly higher for the Final Table, which should not only make the cash outlay increase from the poker sites (if the players negotiate well) but should also bring out the mainstream, consumer marketers. With TiVo and other DVR's pounding away at commercial effectiveness, player logowear and usage is a white-hot commodity in marketing. Watch any NASCAR race and see how many drivers accidentally take a swig of Coke Zero if you want some evidence.

Maybe I'm just a dinosaur. Bud Selig obviously is not a steward of the game of baseball. Is Roger Goodell? More yes than no. Is David Stern? He seems to be a great combination of steward of professional baseball with marketer supreme.

I've always felt like poker was more like boxing and tennis than it was like the PGA or the NFL. Too many factions focused too much on marketing and revenue and not enough on overall growth and field of competition. Maybe it's an unfair comparison, to view televised poker as more than it is: an event where individuals can put their own money up and have a chance at winning a mountain of cash, living their dream in the process.

Any opinions on this? Is the WSOP a marketing event? Does it matter if the answer is yes?


Press release from the WSOP


Final Nine Players Will Square-Off This November on ESPN

LAS VEGAS – May 1, 2008 – The World Series of Poker® (WSOP) Presented by Milwaukee’s Best Light today announced a groundbreaking change that will more closely align the televised presentation of the world’s largest, richest and most prestigious poker tournament with other premier sports broadcasts. he last nine players of the $10,000 World Championship of No-Limit Texas Hold’em, known as the Main Event, will compete on November 9-10 instead of the originally scheduled date of July 16.

“Our intent is to provide an even bigger stage for our players,” said Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the World Series of Poker. “Now fans and viewers will ask ‘who will win’ our coveted championship bracelet instead of seeing ‘who won.’ The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented.” This change in how the Main Event final table is staged will bring the excitement and drama of high-stakes WSOP tournament play closer to millions of fans around the globe. All other 2008 WSOP tournament structures and schedules remain unchanged. This announcement affects only the final nine players of Event #54, the Main Event World Championship.

Continuing the trailblazing efforts that have made the WSOP the industry standard, this move is being made in close collaboration with ESPN, the television rightsholder of the WSOP, and the WSOP Players Advisory Council (PAC), the commissioner-appointed committee of professional and amateur poker players who provide guidance and perspective to the WSOP leadership team. "It's an exciting time for the World Series of Poker and ESPN," said Jamie Horowitz, senior producer, ESPN Content Development. "This adjustment will add a new element to a very successful and popular event. We look forward to documenting all of the exciting stories that make the WSOP Main Event the seminal competition in all of poker."

“This is a huge step forward for poker and more specifically poker on television because it will help create more buzz around the final table and that is good for all of us,” said Daniel Negreanu, a WSOP PAC member, three-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and one of today’s most successful and popular poker professionals. “Not only will this innovative step create more buzz for the final table, the added time prior to the final table will help get poker mainstream media attention. I’m very excited about this decision and can’t wait to see it all unfold, hopefully from a seat at the final table!”

The 39th annual World Series of Poker will take place from May 30th to July 14th at the Rio® All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The Main Event will begin on July 3rd, with the Final Table being determined on July 14th. The nine players who advance to the Final Table will return to the Rio on November 9th to play down to just two players. The final two, will go head-to-head late in the evening on November 10th to determine the champion and winner of poker’s ultimate prize. The winner of the Main Event is expected to be crowned in the early hours of November 11. ESPN will edit the two-day Final Table action and televise it in a two-hour program from 9:00-11:00 PM ET on Tuesday, November 11 just hours after the winner is crowned. This is akin to television coverage of the Olympic Games, where because of time zone differences, the telecaster schedules programs “same day” in primetime to provide the largest possible audience a convenient viewing time.

ESPN will begin its coverage of the 2008 World Series of Poker on Tuesday, July 22. Viewers will see two hours of original poker programming every Tuesday through November 11 (except November 4 when a special preview of the Final Table will be aired at 10 p.m.). Telecasts will be aired at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. July 22 through September 30 and at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. from October 7 through November 11. Each of the players who make it to the WSOP Main Event Final Table will receive ninth place prize money on July 14, when the finalists are determined. Harrah’s will then provide each of those players with an all expense paid trip for two for their return to Las Vegas in November to play the final portion of the tournament.

From July 14 to November 9, a span of 117 days, players will have an opportunity to line up sponsorships, coaches, review the play of all their competitors, participate in other tournaments, and take advantage of the new publicity and promotional opportunities that will be available.


Blogger Mr. Bankwell said...

One point missed is the potential to make the final table no longer fair to all the players.

If player A had a lot of coverage before arriving at the final table and table B didn't. Player B would have an advantage of watching the coverage to see how player A played his hands, while player A wouldn't have that.

Last year Hevad Khan got a lot of coverage by ESPN where Jerry Yang didn't.

If Jerry Yang and Hevad Khan both got to watch the footage before the final table Jerry would have an advantage that Hevad would not.

10:20 AM  
Blogger WillWonka said...

As usual, you wrote this more eloquently that my attempt on my blog today; but to answer you question, that is exactly what it has become. A Marketing Event. Good phrase.

Should we care? Absolutely. It is erasing the intigrety of the tourney in my humble opinion in many ways.

10:43 AM  

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