Is the WSOP Changing Things? It’s So Scary!

by , Apr 13, 2008 | 12:34 am

I can only speculate on all the stuff that is going on at the WSOP regarding the discussion of changing the final table format, but here are my thoughts on what has already been discussed.

Given the same payout structure, would you rather make a final table last year or this year? If you say last year, STOP! PROCEED DIRECTLY TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST. Think about this. How many people outside of poker know Jerry Yang? Answer = 0. How many people outside of poker know the guy who finished 7th? 0! Did someone actually come in 7th? I don’t remember.

Can you imagine making the final table under this potential change? Many people outside of poker will recognize all the players that make the final table. Before the final table takes place, all players are the same. In essence, all of them are winners, and why shouldn’t they be? They beat 6,000 players. This is amazing. It really is too bad that we only have one winner out of 6,000. A final table at the main event is one of the most impressive accomplishments in poker.

Letterman and Leno might even have the whole final table on their show. Who knows? I might be able to make money from doing something other than sitting at a poker table 15 hours a day. Maybe I will be discovered by some Hollywood director needing a fat, bald guy to play a poker player. Hooray!

Some people have mentioned that the momentum that you have built up to make the final table might be lost. Did you happen to notice that 8 other people also might have had momentum built up to outlast 6,000 players? At the final table of the WPT at the Bicycle, I had the chip lead and major momentum going into the final table. What a difference just 12 hours makes. I went card dead and came in 4th. I wish they would have just kept playing and forgotten about the TV show. It’s all random.

Will I study up real hard in 3 months? I will be playing a lot of golf. I will probably want to spend every waking moment with Hellmuth…Not. If you make the final table outlasting 6,000 players, I’m guessing you feel pretty good about your play. I know I would feel unbeatable.

If this final table thing happens, I believe that it will elevate poker to a new level of awareness. I don’t like boxing, but when I was a kid, I remember the most famous boxing matches due to the huge buildup and hype that took place weeks/months before the match took place. This is the same thing.

Is Harrah’s greedy. I hope so, I own stock. If you are in business or a poker player and don’t have a little greed in your body, I hope your local pet store is hiring.

Let’s face it. Poker needs a boost and Harrah’s is sure trying. Several years ago we added hole cards and the internet. That spike is over, and we may never see another growth spurt in our industry again. To Harrah’s, I say thanks for thinking of new stuff and being willing to take risk for the benefit of poker and me if I make the final table.

Oh, and for those of you that decided that you would rather make a final table last year, I offer you a padded room with many locks to protect you against the “Change Boogy Man”. He’s so scary…

24 Comments to “Is the WSOP Changing Things? It’s So Scary!”

  1. BJ Nemeth

    I couldn’t agree more, Tom. This has the potential to be another game-changer; a poker boomlet, if you will.

    To the detractors, I say this: What is the *worst* that could happen? If Harrah’s tries this for a year, what is the worst possible scenario? (Keep it reasonable, because I refuse to accept anything involving hit men or murdering other final tablists.)

    The potential upside is huge, and the potential downsides are minor. If Harrah’s/ESPN tries this new plan and it fails, it’s really easy to switch back to the old/current way of doing things.

    Remember the outdoor final table on Fremont Street? Most of you probably don’t, because it didn’t work out so well. They returned the final table indoors the following year, and that experiment is nothing more than a footnote in WSOP history.

    Remember hole card cameras? Of course you do, because they are still in use. A lot of players protested them, because there were (and are) downsides. But the upside (the poker boom on TV) was huge, and *nobody* wants to go back to the pre-hole cam days. Most of us are still receiving dividends from the hole cam experiment.

    I vote that we let Harrah’s/ESPN give this experiment a chance. If it works, we all benefit. If it doesn’t work, we just switch back to the current system the following year.

  2. DanM

    I would love to see the final table live without hole card cams.

  3. Kevin Mathers

    You’ve been able to see the final table live without hole cards almost every year since 2003 thru PPV. Also, Tom must have some sort of special shares in Harrah’s, since they delisted earlier this year to go private. For BJ, since ESPN decided to no longer show boxing’s “The Contender”, the worst that could happen is that the WSOP no longer airs on ESPN, the network that has been the most willing to make poker a significant part of their programming.

    The hype that people are expecting is going to depend on who makes the final table. As others have said, if any recognizable professional or a female player makes the final table, there will be much more mainstream interest. If it’s 9 random people, then it’s going to take a lot of work to make them exciting. The idea that all 9 are going to get a boatload of sponsorship money from major companies seems very optimistic when most professionals like Tom struggle to get deals.

    I do hope that it’s successful for those that repeatedly put up their own money that it gives poker a 2nd boom, but wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

  4. Easycure

    “the worst that could happen is that the WSOP no longer airs on ESPN, the network that has been the most willing to make poker a significant part of their programming.”

    I would contend that if ESPN gave up on broadcasting the WSOP it would be a HUGE positive. Another network would pick it up and, in my opinion, could do a much better job. Maybe that’s another fresh change that poker needs, a little updating of the broadcast formula, instead of the same old wornout ESPN model.

    Maybe that’s what this final table idea is all about.

  5. BJ Nemeth

    While the final table was shown on pay-per-view without hole cards, and Dan would prefer watching it that way, is anybody suggesting that we get rid of hole cards cams entirely? While hard-core poker players might enjoy that, ratings would certainly plummet, which would drastically affect the entire industry, from the WSOP and the WPT, to High-Stakes Poker, to PokerStars and Full Tilt. (Where would the online sites advertise to new/casual players?)

    @Kevin: You suggest that the worst case scenario is that ESPN drops the WSOP. I think you misunderstood the question. That’s the worst case scenario if ESPN/Harrah’s does *not* try this experiment, isn’t it?

    There are so many poker fans who claim that they know better than ESPN about how to package poker on TV. “Show more hands!” “Skip the Nuts segments!” “Skip the bios and the interviews!” “Show the entire final table live without hole cams!” ESPN is trying to hit a much broader audience (higher ratings) than poker players/poker media/poker fans who read and post at online poker sites.

    @Easycure: Which other network would pick up the WSOP? It’s a pipe dream to think that a network like NBC would pick it up, air it in a decent time slot, and parade the final tablists on the “Today Show” and the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” It’s just not gonna happen.

    ESPN is a great fit, if only because televised poker needs to transition from the paradigm of a TV show to the paradigm of a sport. TV shows get cancelled; sports don’t. A “better” network like NBC or CBS would more than likely push it as a TV special. We want ESPN because we want them talking about poker on SportsCenter alongside baseball, football, and basketball.

    If ESPN drops the WSOP, the only comparable network is Fox Sports, which puts us right back where we started, but reaching fewer households (lower ratings). And Fox Sports has historically shown much more willingness to take the kind of risks we’re talking about here — so why not try it now anyway?

  6. Kevin Mathers


    I think I understood the question you posed. I’m saying they could try this format, and if the ratings still aren’t sufficient enough for it to remain on ESPN, it’ll be dropped like The Contender was. In regards to FSN taking risks, I’m sure Oliver would chime in with the fact that FTP,UB and Mansion paid their way onto the network. The last time FSN did any poker related events without relying on those two sites was Championship at the Plaza in 2004.

  7. DanM

    Definitely not saying no hole-card cams ever — I long for the convergence of HDTV and the internet in a way that you can choose to turn off the hole-card cams at your own liking, and peek at them when you just can’t figure out what someone has.

    But in the interim, live no-hole-cards on pay per view … followed by a version with hole cards a week (or month) later for free? there’s a big win.

    But since the purpose of this would inevitably to capture some new poker viewers, hole-cards become essential, i guess.

  8. DanM

    ***How many people outside of poker know Jerry Yang? Answer = 0. ***

    Oh I dunno, Tom, the president of Feed the Children knows who Jerry Yang is … as do these kids he helped, and the news media that came to cover his good work. These people are all outside of poker. I think the big-important people at Make-a-Wish Foundation know him pretty well, too, as do the peeps at Ronald McDonald House. I know McDonald’s knows you very well, but that’s different.

  9. DanM

    ***The last time FSN did any poker related events without relying on those two sites was Championship at the Plaza in 2004.***

    What about the live Turning Stone heads-up match between Ivey and D’Agostino? Was that a Full Tilt infomercial, too?

    UPDATE: Was thinking that was ’05, but now realize that also was in ’04 also.

  10. Kevin Mathers

    You are correct Dan, the Turning Stone event was held about a month after Championship at the Plaza.

  11. DanM

    If ESPN were to drop the WSOP, my bet is that SPIKE would be in there trying to get it.

    Of course a lot of this could be solved if Harrah’s/Full Tilt/someone else backed the creation of a bona fide cable Poker Channel. We have a golf channel that works, “Speed” for auto racing fans … Fishing channels that sublet chunks of time from other stations …

  12. DanM

    But do you remember if Turning Stone was a Full Tilt production or not?

  13. Kevin Mathers

    It was a legitimate tournament. I don’t recall seeing any logos on any of the players, but I could be wrong.

  14. olivert

    The “2+2” crowd live in their own world where “cash game” TV poker is king and ESPN is the worst poker broadcaster in the world.

    Those of us who live in the “real world” where we are subjected to the cruelty of Nielsen ratings know better.


    1. Neither FSN nor its international syndication affiliate FSI have NOT paid a rights fee for any poker since Poker SuperStars III ended in 2006.

    2. ESPN dropped the US Poker Championship after 2006, even though there were allegedly 2 years left in the alleged 5-year TV contract.

    3. ESPN and Harrah’s allegedly did a 5-year contract for the WSOP in 2006. After the 2008 WSOP, there will allegedly be 2 years left in that contract.

    4. WPT on GSN gets over twice the Nielsen ratings in terms of both households and total viewers compared to any other cash game that has aired on any form of TV in the U.S., including High Stakes Poker Season 4 on GSN which aired in the same time slot as WPT on GSN: Mondays at 9pm Eastern/Pacific.

    5. At my suggestion, started a pilot program to sponsor players at WPT TV final tables starting with Tunica in January. suspended that program after Reno because the first WPT on GSN ratings showed that over 50% of the viewers of WPT on GSN were over the age of 50, making the WPT on GSN audience incompatible with the young audience that is trying to reach.

    6. Budweiser and Xyience energy drink both cancelled their WPT sponsorships after WPT left the Travel Channel for GSN.

    My opinions:

    1. Harrah’s/WSOP has no choice but to shake things up in 2008 so that the WSOP won’t head in the same direction as the WPT.

    2. If ESPN were to discontinue its TV rights fee deal with the WSOP, I do NOT believe any other network out there with the exception of GSN will offer a rights fee for the WSOP. Harrah’s/WSOP will probably have to buy time to get back on ESPN or FSN.

    3. If the WSOP were to end up on GSN and its AARP-membership-eligible audience, I am willing to bet that Miller Brewing will drop its sponsorship of the WSOP because the demographics of the GSN audience is incompatible with the young audience Miller Brewing is trying to reach.

  15. olivert

    *** Oh I dunno, Tom, the president of Feed the Children knows who Jerry Yang is … as do these kids he helped, and the news media that came to cover his good work. These people are all outside of poker. I think the big-important people at Make-a-Wish Foundation know him pretty well, too, as do the peeps at Ronald McDonald House. I know McDonald’s knows you very well, but that’s different.

    But the “mainstream media” have ignored Jerry’s good deeds even after they were notified.

    “Feed the Children” notified EVERY TV station with a news department in Los Angeles (both English and Spanish), plus every Los Angeles area newspaper. Also, the CNBC and CNN bureaus in Los Angeles were notified.

    Do you know how many media outlets sent reporters to cover the event at the Food Bank of Southern California a few weeks ago?

    Answer: ZERO

    Also note that ZERO poker media outlets showed up, not even those outlets with reporters in the Los Angeles area.

  16. DanM

    Really Oliver? Wow. Zero surprises me … but then again, not really. Poker publicists have gotten a free ride from the poker media for a long time. Mainstream media needs more of a storyline.

    Perhaps you shoulda gone after the Christian media. Seriously, I bet they woulda been on it. Maybe.

  17. California Jen

    I think the storyline would have been greater had Yang arranged this charitable gift closer to the time he actually won the money. Nine months after the fact, it’s not big news anymore. Poker media figured he already gave the money to his charities without any fanfare, and the mainstream might have cared more if he had done it six months ago.

    Personally, I didn’t go to cover the event because none of the magazines or websites were paying for the story. It would have been a long drive, and if I recall, I didn’t have much notice before the event. I did write a news story about it for PokerWorks, but I had all of the information I needed in the press release.

  18. DanM

    ***all of the information I needed in the press release.***

    free ride

  19. California Jen

    Free ride, damn straight! Time is money. I didn’t win millions like Yang.

  20. Poker Shrink

    Remember the Sequestrium? It was an experiment and we don’t yet know if it is coming back for 2008.

    Remember the Player’s Pavilion (tent) it was an experiment and we know it will not be back this summer.

    I am all for well thought out experiments to improve the WSOP brand. I fully support a final table delayed for live broadcast as a one year experiment. As long as:

    a) players are told prior to the event all of the details of the final table;
    b) the actual structure of the event is not changed to make it more TV friendly;
    c) this is the tough one. real poker fans get a shot to see all of the final table, I do not want the final nine locked in a studio in Van Nuys;

  21. Kevin Mathers

    Regarding B, Harrah’s/Caesars have already said they won’t change the structure. Considering how they don’t want people to find out about how it turns out, C doesn’t look to be viable at this point.

  22. Ed

    yeah..remember that “secret” event behind closed curtains where Hellmuth won? they would have been able to make it more secret if they didn’t try so hard to make it secret.

    btw, still not convincing me this is a good idea. 90 days is just a retarded amount of time to finish a poker tournament that i started a week before and had a mad rush that got me to the final table (pretty much what it takes these days.) no way i want to lose that momentum over a 90 day wait so i can come back and play what would feel like a lopsided SnG. guess it does not really matter though since i doubt i will ever have a chance to play in it.

  23. Midstakes Donator

    There are two real questions here.

    1) Is what ESPN proposes truly good for the game- does it legitimately offer some sort of unique dynamic that will bring in new viewers (and in turn, new players), or is it simply something new for the sake of newness- a mere shark-jumping gimmick?

    2) What is the proper balance between what’s good for the casual poker viewers and what’s good for the hardcore players? The interests of both must be managed- the advertisers who make poker on TV possible are far more interested in the casual viewer but the casual viewers aren’t the ones paying $10K for a ME buy in… Joe Homegamer has an entirely different set of ‘poker interests’ than Gary Grinderdaily. Given that there are 10 Joes for every one Gary, how does televised poker address the needs of both without boring Gary while not going over Joes head?

    IMO, these are the two questions that need to be carefully answered before proceeding. A lot of the discussion on this matter has been about things that aren’t even that important to the health of the game.

  24. Tom H

    If you own stock in Harrahs you really have a “Bad Beat”!!

    Harrahs stock was all redeemed on 1/29/08 for cash of $90 per share.