The final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event may pull in the most viewers, and draw the most attention from media.
But for my money, the most interesting part of the tournament is the two days when the tournament goes from just south of 100 players to the final nine. This period has the most drama and is when the real storylines of the Main Event are written.
Unfortunately, to make sure the televised episodes are fresh for their viewers, ESPN doesn’t want anyone to see these moments. The poker world clamoring to watch the days leading up to the final table have to make do with written updates.
Those updates that are often flawed because the reporters are restricted from getting too close to the tables, lest they interfere with the camera crews.
This is highly flawed thinking on the part of ESPN, and it creates a no-win situation for the reporters, and the people who suffer the most are poker fans.
ESPN should change its thinking
ESPN may have been an important part of the poker boom when it took a major gamble on the WSOP in 2003. But its current presence — and its steadfast belief that it needs to protect its exclusivity by suppressing alternative media — is holding poker back, in my opinion.
Making matters worse, there was a live stream of the days leading up to the final table in the past, and it was riveting to watch. So poker fans know what they’re missing.
To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a discernible impact on the television ratings of ESPN’s WSOP episodes during the year when a live stream was available.
And if you understand that there are two types of poker fans, you know it shouldn’t have an impact.
The viewers interested in a live stream are already getting spoilers by following the written live reporting and social media. They already know what happens long before ESPN starts airing edited episodes.
They also consume poker differently, and will either be uninterested in edited down versions, or will tune in to see the key hands a second time, particularly because of the higher production values. Essentially, they’ll watch the shorter, edited episodes even if they have already seen the hand play out.
On the other hand, the viewers interested in shorter, edited episodes are unlikely to be overly interested in watching hours of live streams, just as they are unlikely to get spoilers by reading the written live reporting updates.
Basically, the viewership overlap is a one-way street, with few people eschewing the edited episodes because a live stream of the tournament was available.
The WSOP, post-ESPN
My understanding of the situation is my complaints are an ESPN thing.
Perhaps down the road Poker Central, or some other network more dedicated to its poker programming, will take over the WSOP from ESPN and revamp the process.
What I’d personally like to see is the WSOP Main Event aired start to finish on a live stream, followed by edited down episodes that can be shown in a weekly time slot.
I don’t think the availability of a live stream would affect the ratings of the edited episodes. In fact, it may help. The poker community will likely discuss key hands, helping the network pinpoint interesting hands and provide the commentators with different trains of thoughts to explore in post-production.
Frankly, if I were able to watch bits of the live stream it would pique my interest in the WSOP episodes. As it is, I have no interest in watching the lead-up episodes, and will likely only watch the live stream of the final table. Had I been able to get a feel for some of the players, I’d be far more likely to watch some of the episodes.
Thus, a live stream of the tournament from start to finish, would also bring about the end of the November Nine — a concept that has long been obsolete as far as I’m concerned.
November Nine: Another idea that has run its course
Like the removal of live streams, the November Nine seems like a misguided attempt by ESPN to prevent spoilers before the network’s TV episodes air.
The problem is, there’s simply too much time between the time the WSOP Main Event plays down to nine players (mid-July this year) and the final nine returning to play for the title (October 30 this year).
Imagine if the NBA Finals occurred three months after the conference finals? It’s nonsensical.
During this hiatus, the players are able to refocus, and get themselves in game shape, both mentally and physically. They can use their newfound riches (each player is guaranteed $1,000,000 with the possibility of winning a further $7,000,000) to get the best coaching money can buy.
There is also a waning of interest among poker fans, and a lack of continuity for the tournament. Instead of a continuation of the tournament we watched unfold on ESPN, we return to the final table to find nine highly practiced, likely evolved players, and all of the dynamics that got us to this point are gone.
I don’t want the players to have time to let the importance of the moment sink in, or to study up on their opponents. I want them to go straight from a grueling Day 7 of the WSOP Main Event, when they played down from 27 to nine over the course of 15 hours, right to the final table.
There was a lot to like about this year’s WSOP, outside of the main event, including the online bracelet event. But for the Main Event, give me a live stream and put an end to the November Nine.