The World Series of Poker announced today that the Main Event will no longer have a November Nine: the full tournament will play out in full in July and television coverage will be aired on ESPN same day with a 30 minute delay. The final table will begin on July 20th and play down to a winner on July 22.
This announcement could be viewed as poker losing significant profile in the media: ESPN’s edited coverage of the Main Event has been the bell cow of televised poker. It was the key component that drove the poker boom, highlighting the unlikely championship runs of Moneymaker, Raymer, Hachem, Gold, McKeehan, and Nguyen to name just a few, as well as further building bigger-than-life icons out of the most charismatic pros. The slickly produced hour long episodes were replete with drama forged by big hands and big egos, accompanied by sharp moments of comedy brought to us by the incisive mind of Norman Chad.Whither the November Nine? Click To Tweet
While those outside the poker world continued to question the sanity of watching other people play cards, for us fans of the game, the WSOP has been required watching. Each year, anticipation would build as episodes unfolded over the fall, culminating in two or three glorious days watching the final 9 play down to the world champion. I am feeling a great sense of loss for what has been altered so suddenly.
This is not the first shift for poker’s televised profile. As I searched for the start of this season of WPT coverage on my FIOS system this year I was chagrined to find it had been moved from Fox Sports Networks (FSN), a channel the provider carries in my core sports package, to something called Fox Sports Regional Network, which is added on a Sports Plus package. Needless to say, this is a demotion, lowering the profile and ease of accessibility of poker on television. This comes on the heels of the steady depletion of poker shows across the dial (just the use of “dial” puts me in a certain age bracket doesn’t it?) since Black Friday in 2011.
However, one could argue the complete opposite perspective: that this is an enhancement with just a shift in style and timing. The Main Event, with the 30 minute delay, will be shown as it is unfolding with 40 hours of programming on ESPN/ESPN2. This may give it the greater immediacy of a live event and not have the issue of “we already know who the November 9 are” as we watch footage from earlier in the tournament artificially spread out over a couple of months. The full coverage will be similar to what we have seen with the previous November Nine coverage. Perhaps for the ardent poker fan this will provide greater insight. Also, Poker Central will be live streaming coverage outside of the ESPN content, so in terms of overall volume there will be a sharp increase in the hours of coverage available. Nonetheless, we will lose the drama of the edited broadcast and the long slow build to the final table.
Is the WSOP/ESPN announcement the proverbial final nail in traditionally televised poker’s coffin? Or just another sign of a shifting media paradigm away from edited, packaged broadcast television and toward more streaming, immediate content? Do we need to mourn or just evolve?
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