This year is one of the busiest, if not THE busiest year ever at the WSOP. People are cramming into the Amazon Room at the Rio to witness their favorite poker stars win it all. Although poker is an exciting sport that will no doubt continue its exponential growth over the next few years, it's imperative for organizers to remember that poker has a long ways to go before becoming a true spectator sport.
If you were in the Amazon Room during the H.O.R.S.E. Event you would understand what I'm talking about. Essentially every available empty space near the event was taken. If you wanted to see some action you had to wait until someone moved and then scurry in and take their place. I watched some fans stake out their claims on the floor while players went on 15 minute breaks. Those that didn't have patience didn't get to see anything. It was definitely not an ideal condition for spectators.
On the other hand, all these people didn't pay anything to watch their favorite poker "athletes" play. I believe one of the reasons poker has grown so much is the accessibility factor. It's much easier to get into poker than mainstream sports like football, basketball and baseball.
One has to wonder how long this "accessibility" will last. If 8,000 people come to play in the Main Event, that's one thing. If 8,000 people come to watch the Main Event on the final day, that represents a serious problem.
What is the answer? Is it selling tickets to big poker games? That seems unlikely, and you wonder how many people would actually pay to watch a card game. How about limiting the number of spectators? Possible, but I don't think that would sit well with many of the fans that have been watching for years.
Of course the obvious option is to do nothing and wait until the WSOP outgrows the Amazon Room and simply gets a bigger venue. But the problem with a bigger venue is that fans may feel even more distanced from the game.
The other concern with the growth of poker is how exactly the professionals will be treated. Some players have suggested there should be some sort of compensation just like professional athletes in other sports are accustomed to. There is already a form of this in the sponsors and the poker rooms, but it raises some serious questions about whether a card player's "union" would work and what effect it would have on the game.
It's a fine balancing act, and at times it seems contradictory. Poker organizers want their stars to be celebrities but at the same time they want them to be accessible to fans. Which side will win out? Nobody knows, but what happens in the next few years will likely be a forecast of what is to come over the next 20.