Wednesday night is definitely poker night! Today, 25 million people watch the WPT on television each season and the show has been credited with reinventing poker as a sport.
History of the Word Poker Tour (WPT)
On March 30, 2003, the world of poker changed forever. For, it was on this day that the first episode of the WPT was broadcast on the Travel Channel. Since then, 25 million viewers have chosen to tune into the WPT on Wednesday nights to watch yet another player win their millions, week after week, season after season. According to the New York Times, 50-80 million people play poker on a regular basis. This increase in players can be largely attributed to the success of the WPT, which has been credited by and large with reinventing poker as a sport.
Reinventing poker as a sport
It all began in September 2001, when Steve Lipscomb developed his initial business plan. Lipscomb was determined to reinvent poker as an action-packed, televised sport - something that both the average person and the professional player would be interested in watching. The WPT was his brainchild, and he based it on the revolutionary idea of using 16 different cameras, the now infamous "WPT-cams", to allow viewers unprecedented access to the player's cards and insight into their position and strategy. Although final table poker had been broadcast in the past, it had never been able to achieve this enticing formula, which so adeptly captures the true drama and excitement that goes on at the final table in a major poker tournament.
Once Lipscomb had clearly established his goals and formulated his ideas, he met with Lyle Berman, an investor and poker player, whose name was highly respected in the industry and would be capable of opening many doors for the WPT. Berman was convinced that the WPT had the potential to be the major league (NFL/NBA/PGA) of poker and agreed to back the project financially on a long-term basis.
Signing up WPT-casinos and making "live fiction"
The next step was to sign-up the best possible poker tournament casinos and the right people to host the show. Lipscomb and his crew gave the casinos an offer they could not refuse: the WPT guaranteed the casinos that they would broadcast a two-hour show covering the casino's tournament and featuring the casino at least twice. In return, it would cost the casino next to nothing to participate, with the only real condition being that they were to televise poker exclusively for the WPT. By the middle of May 2002, the WPT had signed enough members to launch their first season. They then brought in Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten as hosts and commentators. Mike Sexton, who is often referred to as the Ambassador of Poker, provides a good quality poker commentary while Vince Van Patten adds color and entertainment to the already exciting show. Former playmate Shana Hiatt conducts interviews and reports from each event.
The WPT becomes an instant hit
Once they had the concept, the casinos, and the financing, it was not hard to sell the show to a broadcaster. The Travel Channel ordered a full season of 13 two-hour episodes and promised a prime-time slot on Wednesday nights without ever seeing one frame of video - and they were not disappointed! The show was an instant hit. When the Travel Channel first aired the show, their prime-time average was 350,000 households. During the first season of the WPT, the show alone drew in 1.2 million households per episode.
The WPT spawns the Professional Poker Tour (PPT)
A♠ a result of its huge success, the WPT has created a Professional Poker Tour (PPT). This series of tournaments requires that you qualify by proving your skill as a player and, in return, it is a freeroll tournament. This means that the money on stake comes from sponsors rather than directly from the players' buy-ins.