Three Glaring Ways to Improve ESPN WSOP Broadcast
The 2014 World Series of Poker is officially in the books and players are already looking forward to next year's series.
But after watching the ESPN broadcasts of the event, there are several glaring improvements that need to be made to keep the broadcast fresh and interesting to both casual and hardcore poker fans.
The WSOP is More Than The Main Event and One Drop
For the last few seasons the World Series of Poker broadcasts have primarily focused on the Main Event and one other major poker tournament. This year the other event was the $1 Million Big One For One Drop.
The problem with the focus primarily on the Main Event and the One Drop is that it ignored the preliminary events almost entirely and overlooks non-Hold'em games. For the last few years some of the best stories at the World Series of Poker have come from non-Hold'em events.
For example Phil Ivey won his 10th career WSOP bracelet this year in 8-Game. A couple of years back Phil Hellmuth won his 13th bracelet in Razz. Outside of maybe a brief mention during the broadcasts, casual fans would never know about these stories.
Many fans of the game miss the old style format of the broadcasts where there was a solid mix of preliminary events during WSOP season. Everything from Texas Hold'em to Razz was presented and fans were able to see that the WSOP was more than just Hold'em.
The argument is often raised that non-Hold'em games are less interesting than other games, but they don't have to be. One suggestion would be to cherry pick events during the preliminary events to be broadcast.
For example, if there are preliminary event final tables with a lot of camera-worthy players then tape that event. Stars such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Mike Matusow or any fan favorite would qualify.
You could even split some of the episodes and have more than one preliminary event shown during an hour broadcast. Dedicate the first half-hour to one event and the other to another.
Big events with a $10,000 buy-in and up should have the option to be taped and the other events decided on a case-by-case basis.
Mixing up what is shown during the WSOP will show casual fans the diversity of gaming available in poker and show that pros are more than Hold'em monkeys.
Reduce the Number of Main Event Episodes
While ESPN loves to play Main Event episodes to death there is really little reason to have more than one episode for each day until you get to the final 50 or so players.
It's understandable that they want to get as many stories as possible, but most of the stories in the first few episodes of the WSOP broadcasts fail to matter when you get to the last few tables.
Cut out the fluff and focus more on the final players that actually have a shot to win. Don't tell me about Phil Ivey making a run on Day 2 and busting on Day 3. We really could care less.
However, a player such as Eddy Sabat that runs deep, has a shot to make the final and falls just short is a story we can invest in and relate to as poker players.
If you want fluff, give some fluffy entertaining pieces about the pros, have Norman Chad shoot hoops with Mike Leah or just make segments of pros making fun of Phil Hellmuth tweets.
End the November Nine Concept
While it's unlikely the WSOP will make this change in the near future it's clear to many that the November Nine concept has outlived its usefulness.
When it was first introduced the November Nine was a thrilling change to the way the final table of the Main Event was presented. Fans were captivated and poker did a solid job of hyping players.
In the last two to three years the concept has been less intriguing to casual and hardcore fans alike. Part is due to the lack of "personalities" at the final table and the rest is due to the lack of entertainment at the final tables.
Even the rails have been tame in the last couple of years. The best rail at this year's final was the Brazilian rail and their player could never get anything started.
The November Nine in recent years has shifted towards a more technical presentation of the final table with less entertainment value. As a result the ratings have dropped and reruns of Modern Family are beating first-run poker in the ratings.
One alternative to the November Nine could be what I call The Big Three. Play the final table of the Main Event down to the final three participants and then have those players return in about six weeks to play to a winner.
This concept would allow for a big buildup for the final three players and give enough time to form various entertainment pieces about the players.
It would be a different concept and could be completed in a single evening.