How ESPN Can Improve the November NineCreated By: Daniel Skolovy
Last year, ESPN stunned the poker world with a radical change to how the World Series of Poker Main Event would play out.
The big plan, as we all found out, was to play down to the final table, then halt play for the next four months.
During that four-month break, ESPN would air all the action leading up to the final table, then the players would reconvene to finish it out with the results broadcast in "almost-real" time two days later.
With the new plan, ESPN and the WSOP hoped to put some excitement back into TV poker, and I really can't blame them. The over-saturation of sub-par poker on TV had diluted the market and the public had grown tired of it.
In the past when it came time to watch the Main Event, the tournament had been over for months already. Everybody knew who won, and they would watch to find out how he won it.
Devising a way for the public to watch and see who wins the Main Event and not just how they won it was a great idea.
The idea certainly wasn't the problem. But the execution left a bit to be desired.
Everybody waited patiently as they watched the lead-up episodes over the summer. They found their horse and rooted them on the entire way.
Come November 9, the final table was ready to play out and everything was going according to plan. Nobody knew anything. Poker fans were gearing up to watch the final moments "almost live."
I say almost because they still needed the two days to edit the broadcast together (and play out the heads-up battle) before airing the show Nov. 11.
Meaning there was still plenty of time to find out who won the tournament and how.
It turned out to be a difficult task to avoid hearing the results. Especially since, as soon as the tournament was over, ESPN scrolled the winner on its sports ticker long before the broadcast aired.
Pretty stupid. People that wanted to go into the final-table broadcast blind now knew the winner whether they wanted to or not. The whole mystique was completely lost.
It wasn't just that though; the final two-hour broadcast was, ultimately, not what it could be. The whole thing seemed thrown together very quickly, which of course is understandable considering the short turnaround time.
But if you're going to stop the biggest and most famous poker tournament in the world for four months, the end product should be better than before - not worse.
So how can they improve it this year?
ESPN showed two hands, completely misrepresenting how it went down. At the very least, make sure to show everyone's bust hand. Last year they didn't even show Kelly Kim busting.
They showed a 10-minute segment about a lucky coin yet they missed one of the eight bust outs? How can that be?
Show the bracelet presentation. When the river card of the last hand was dealt, the show was over. No bracelet presentation, no interview with the winner. Just over.
The guy just won $9 million. Take a minute and find out how he feels about that. My guess is people want to know.
If there isn't enough time, make it a three-hour broadcast rather than a two-hour one. People watch three-hour baseball and hockey games every day.
You don't think a poker fan is going to watch three hours of final-table coverage once a year? Of course they will.
Don't spoil the winner. If ESPN is dead set on the November Nine break as the way of the future (and it seems like they are) they absolutely can't scroll the winner on the news ticker all day before the final show airs.
It ruins it for everybody that's trying to watch the final table without knowing who wins.
Give the people what they want. It'd be nice to reach some untapped market of viewers and revitalize the poker boom, but the reality is you're making diehard poker fans wait four months to find out how the most significant tournament of the year finishes.
These same fans would have been just as happy reading about it online and waiting and watching it play out the way it always had in the past.
So when you delay it four months, you'd best make sure the broadcast is going to be better than it would be the old way.
And it wasn't.
We can forgive the first-year adjustment period. But it'll be your second go this year ESPN. Make the best of it or let it go back to normal.
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