IN TRANSITION: WPT Shifts Gears to Online Poker, Expanded Television Footprint

Sean Chaffin May 6, 2020
The WPT has shufted gears to online poker and TV syndication in recent months.

With live poker in a quagmire because of the Coronavirus pandemic, several tournament series have been forced to alter plans. For the World Poker Tour that’s meant a renewed focus on online poker in recent months.

The efforts come as tours look to capitalize on so many players at home playing online poker in record numbers. The World Series of Poker has moved more of its action online as well with WSOP.com and GGPoker internationally. The series postponed the annual summer series to the fall.

The WPT is following a similar path but also adding to its syndication portfolio for its television program. These could be important moves as live poker may be slow in returning to a regular routine.

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Online poker gets the spotlight at WPT

WPT partnerships in recent years may have been well-timed in adjusting to the current thriving online poker market. The company has co-branded live tournament events with partypoker and has also partnered with 888poker in the past.

The company has now partnered with party for the WPT Online Series, a 65-event series with $30 million guaranteed. The series also includes incorporating other WPT tournament series brands like WPTDeepStacks and WPT500

WPT CEO Adam Pliska
WPT CEO Adam Pliska

But beyond that, the site has also focused more on its ClubWPT online poker site. Tour’s talent is regularly featured in events to market the site, including Lynn Gilmartin, Vince Van Patten, and Tony Dunst.

ClubWPT has long been a focal point during WPT programming. The sweepstakes poker site offers players a chance to play for cash and prizes for a monthly fee. The site even hosts qualifiers for live WPT events.

In January, the site made some news by offering a $1 million bonus for any player who qualifies for a live event and then wins. Overall, there has been a renewed effort in marketing the product and that seems to have paid off.

The tour notes that “new registrations for ClubWPT are up 39% year-over-year in Q1 in 2020 and billed subscribers increased by 8.3% over the same period.”

Online and distribution are vital parts of the WPT portfolio and proving, once again, to be valuable in uncertain global times,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska said.

“ClubWPT is offering players the opportunity to remain competitive in a safe climate and we are exceptionally pleased with the new experiences offered to our users.”

Growing syndication deals becomes a major focus

Along with a shift to online poker, the WPT has been working to expand its programming efforts. In 2019, the tour announced a major deal with Mexico’s TV Azteca network.

The network’s free-to-air stations reach more than 95% of the Mexican market. Some highlights of the deal included:

  • Airing and promoting the WPT throughout Mexico and Latin America.
  • Licensing the WPT brand to the network to develop social poker and gaming products for the Latin American marketplace.
  • Using Spanish commentators to localize the tour’s 17 seasons of programming.

The tour also noted a 25% increase in overall television syndication over the last year. In January, the tour struck a major US syndication deal that added 15 million homes that can now view WPT programming.

OTT (Over the Top) viewership has also become a key player in reaching cord-cutting viewers. Over the last year, the tour has seen a 125% increase in OTT viewership. That includes deals with PlutoTV, SamsungTV, and Xumo, and OTT viewership reached 8.2 million in the first quarter.

Those numbers may rise even higher in the second quarter with so many players at home during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“The WPT television show continues to be a key asset for global programming as new content to replace sports on television,” Pliska said. “In our greatest challenge across 18 seasons, I am pleased to see the WPT business continue to bring poker to people’s lives around the globe.”

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New THETA.tv partnership includes 24/7 WPT poker channel, live event coverage

Piggybacking on its syndication and OTT efforts, the WPT announced another deal last week with Theta Labs. The deal includes a new global distribution deal to launch a 24/7 live poker channel on THETA.tv.

Theta is an esports entertainment platform built on the Theta blockchain, a leading decentralized video delivery network. THETA.tv users around the globe are now able to access classic WPT programming such as:

  • WPTSeasons I-II and VIII – XVI
  • WPT Alpha8 Seasons I – III
  • King of the Club Season I

In addition, THETA.tv will feature live 2020-21 events held at HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas. Players can access the channel from any device including web, mobile, and smart TVs.

“Poker remains incredibly popular on television and the WPT TV show continues to grow across OTT platforms,” WPT Studios Vice President John McMahon told USPoker. “In the first quarter of this year alone, the show reached more than 13 million viewers. We expect this great partnership with Theta to only increase poker’s popularity to an engaged global audience.”

The WPT becomes the first major Theta content partner outside the esports category. The partnership reflects the platform’s plans to broaden its content portfolio. What does the deal say about the health of poker media in general?

“The deal with Theta shows, once again, that poker is one of the most consumable forms of content for OTT platforms,” McMahon said, “and the WPT television show is in high demand as more platforms look to expand their offerings to consumers.”

Crossing over to reach esports fans and players

The Theta deal comes after WPT was sold in 2019 to Black Ridge Acquisition Corporation. That folded the tour under the Allied Esports Entertainment umbrella and finds the WPT moving more into the esports business.

The Theta deal not only adds another distribution medium, but also a means to reach growing numbers of esports players. Those in the industry hope that includes more gamers willing to play in live events. Whether that can happen remains an open question.

For Theta, the partnership means offering viewers additional programming that might be popular with gamers. Twitch has already found success with live and online poker streamers. Theta Labs has already gone live with the 24/7 WPT channel.

“THETA.tv reaches more than 2 million esports fans monthly, and we’ve already seen their excitement for the new WPT content added to the platform,” Theta Labs co-founder and CEO Mitch Liu told USPoker.

“We expect most of our users will tune in to WPT TV since there is significant crossover between the esports and poker communities.”

WPT Champions Cup photo by Joe Giron, courtesy WPT

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