WSOP Attendance Rebounds After Slow Start As Main Event Looms

Steve Ruddock July 3, 2017 1690 Reads
WSOP rebound

As we near the World Series of Poker Main Event, the WSOP was dealing with significant attendance declines after ten events, most notably in some of its signature events like the Colossus and the One Drop High Roller.

A few weeks later the 2017 WSOP seems to have turned things around. Attendance numbers in like events are not only on-par with last year’s numbers but are starting to exceed them in some cases.

As demonstrated in the chart below, three of the last four $10,000 “championship” events have exceeded their 2016 attendance numbers.

Championship Tournaments at the WSOP 2016 2017 Change
$10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship 163 154 -9
$10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship 153 129 -24
$10,000 Dealers Choice 6-Handed Championship 118 102 -16
$10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw Championship 100 92 -8
$10,000 RAZZ Championship 100 97 -3
$10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship 171 150 -21
$10,000 Limit 2-7 Lowball Triple Draw Championship 125 80 -45
$10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship 110 120 +10
$10,000 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Handed Championship 294 332 +38
$10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship 136 125 -9
$10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed Championship 400 428 +28

WSOP brass happy with attendance so far

Of course, tournament attendance numbers need more context than a simple year-over-year comparison of similar tournaments allows. Where they fall in the schedule or what other events are competing against the WSOP can have a large impact on attendance.

Fortunately, we have some bigger picture numbers to examine. The WSOP has been touting some of the numbers on social media. At the three-quarters mark, 2017 World Series of Poker tournaments had attracted a total of 82,556 entries.

As the WSOP’s Seth Palansky later noted on Twitter, “This is already the 3rd-largest @WSOP in terms of entrants in our 48-year history. 86,502 entries thus far, with several big events to go.”

Attendance up, storylines down

In the classic case of you can’t have your cake and eat it too, as attendance numbers have gone up, the number of big stories and really big names making deep final table runs have gone down.

Early bracelet winners that captured some headlines included real-world couple Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov in the tag team event and Doug Polk in the One Drop High Roller. And Daniel Negreanu got off to a blistering start, which had the entire poker world tuned into the WSOP live reporting and coverage to see if Negreanu could add another bracelet to his trophy case.

Since then, a slew of poker pros have won bracelets, and a few interesting storylines have emerged (Chris Moorman winning a bracelet and Mohsin Charania completing poker’s Triple Crown). But nothing has happened along the lines of what we saw over the first couple weeks of the series.

Negreanu has cooled off, and another big name like Phil Hellmuth or Phil Ivey hasn’t filled in the gap. Another interesting storyline like the Kurganov/Boeree victory or a Polk bracelet win hasn’t emerged. And even the buzz surrounding PokerGO has worn off as the WSOP has dragged on.

Suffice it to say, we have entered the dog days of the World Series of Poker, and unless something spectacular happens, the buzz probably won’t return until the Main Event gets started on July 8. There are a few big tournaments left on the schedule: the ladies event and the $50k Poker Players Championship among them. But this far into the series everyone’s focus starts to shift to the Main Event.

The Main Event is always the true measure of the WSOP

As much as preliminary event attendance matters in the grand scheme of things, virtually every WSOP is ultimately judged, fairly or unfairly, on the number of entries in the Main Event.

Main Event attendance peaked in 2006, during the heyday of the poker boom. In that year, 8,773 players registered for the tournament. That number is perfectly safe.

If you polled the poker community I’d suspect 7,000 entrants would be soon as a massive victory for the WSOP, and the over/under line for a successful year would be somewhere around 6,700 based on recent history.

Here’s a look at WSOP Main Event attendance over the past decade:

  • 2007 — 6,358 entrants
  • 2008 — 6,844 entrants
  • 2009 — 6,494 entrants
  • 2010 — 7,319 entrants
  • 2011 — 6,865 entrants
  • 2012 – 6,598 entrants
  • 2013 – 6,352 entrants
  • 2014 — 6,683 entrants
  • 2015 — 6,420 entrants
  • 2016 — 6,737 entrants

So how will the 2017 WSOP Main Event stack up?

Besting the 7,319 entries in 2010 for the No. 2 spot is a long-shot. After that, all bets are off.

Surpassing 2011 as the third most attended Main Event is a reasonable goal, and one the 2016 WSOP nearly pulled off.

Last year’s Main Event was the fifth highest in history, but it was only 128 players short of 2011.