The November Nine Is No More1 week ago
The World Series of Poker 2017 will kick-off on the 31st May 2017 with the usual $565employee’s tournament and ending with the $10,000 Main Event. There are 74 events scheduled this year, not including the small stakes daily tournaments which will still be running across the nearly two months of non-stop action.
All the usual events are on the list: $10k Championships in all the major variants, the Little One for One-Drop, and the 8-game $50,000 Player’s Championship. There are also a couple of small tweaks including new $1 million dollar first prize guarantees with affordable buy-ins, but there is also one massive change. This year, there will be no November Nine.
A New Sheriff
It is a full decade since ESPN instituted the November Nine concept in 2007. The idea was that the Main Event final-table would wait three or four months for the ESPN TV coverage to air, and then be played out and aired in the same week, making for a more contemporary feel and drumming up support for the players without spoiling the ending. However after nine November Nines, this year we are going back to a continuous ten day event.
The tourneys will still be hard fought on the floor of the Rio, and ESPN will still be the primary TV broadcaster of the WSOP shows. So not everything is going out the window but a key new player: Poker Central is taking over the TV and digital broadcasting rights, and the new sheriff brings with them new rules and a new schedule.
Poker Central is self-described as ‘the ultimate destination for fans of poker tournaments, cash games, and lifestyle away from the tables [...] with peeks behind-the-scenes into the lavish VIP lifestyle of the game’s most notable high rollers, virtual journeys to exotic poker destinations around the globe, and the latest news on the game’s celebrity players.’
And as you can imagine the WSOP is something of a coup for Poker Central.
"We are thrilled to add the preeminent poker brand, the World Series of Poker, to our growing portfolio of poker-related content." said JR McCabe the chief digital officer of Poker Central adding that they "have major plans to reinvent the WSOP."
Live On TV and Online
The key reinvention McCabe is referring to is the advances in live broadcast.
Rather than recording the ESPN shows and broadcasting them after the fact, ESPN will be putting out a roughly four hour live show daily for the runtime of the tournament on the day of play. An astonishing achievement in live video production.
This does result in a slightly odd format with the final table being covered over three four-hour episodes and across several days with and additional preview show. These too are listed as live on the schedule, so one assumes the final table will be somewhat stop-and-go over those three days.
"ESPN has been our home since 2002 and we’re delighted to extend the relationship into the next decade," said Ty Stewart, executive director of the WSOP brand. "Having every day live coverage of the WSOP Main Event is truly a huge commitment on behalf of ESPN and Poker Central and we look forward to delivering to our faithful audience wall-to-wall action from the outset for the very first time."
Obviously that 40 hours live won’t cover the full run of the series and although every hand of the final table looks to be – as it were – on the table, the rest of the streaming looks like it willstill be going out over the web.
Bigger and Better
With just a month to go until the first events shuffle up and deal, there are still questions abounding about what exactly this will mean
Because although ‘under the terms of the new deal, ESPN will telecast an estimated 40 hours of live WSOP Main Event coverage each July, plus a commitment of original packaged shows totaling 130 hours annually,’ what will go into that 130 hours is not clear. To put that in perspective – 130 hours is more coverage on ESPN than than any WSOP since 2003. Impressive for a game that has supposed to have been in decline since Black Friday.
Ty Stewart has suggested elsewhere that the 130 hours may be due to reruns saying that there was ‘a commitment to produce 16 edited shows beyond the "mini-series" stunt which will air around 100 times around the year on ESPN and ESPN2.’ So a lot of those hours look like they might be repeats.
But if that doesn’t sound like nearly enough poker for you, Poker central have also said that, ‘Any coverage not aired by ESPN will be streamed exclusively through Poker Central’s digital distribution channels.’
Which makes it sound like there will be further live streaming. Previous years have seen final tables live-streamed on the WSOP’s own site and it may be that Poker Central will continue that tradition.
Which events will be getting that and exactly where to find them has yet to be announced. In fact besides the legally mandated 30 minute delay we don’t know anything about the non-ESPN coverage. But for a company with such a large social media presence it would be interesting to see how Facebook or YouTube live deal with broadcasts of that sort.
WSOP Exec Ty Stewart has high hopes:
"We're going to be one of the summer's ultimate binge-watch programs on the No. 1 sports channel in the world," he told Poker News. "And that definitely falls under the header of 'good for poker'."
The Future of the WSOP
Poker Central have also wangled an extension to the deal so the current plan looks like this will be the rough format for the coverage until 2020 giving Poker Central plenty of time to find its feet and make tweaks should it not all go to plan this year.
However it turns out, it’s gonna be nice not having to wait to find out who takes the prize in the Biggest Game in Town; I just hope they keep Lon McEarchern and Norman Chad on as commentators.
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