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The EPT: Record-Setting Juggernaut or Empire in Decline?
The European Poker Tour kicked off its 12th season two weeks ago at the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
Over the past 12 years since its launch in 2004 the EPT has come to be regarded as the second-most-important poker tour or series after the WSOP.
While some EPT venues (both old and new) have pulled in outstanding (and record-breaking) fields over the past few years, others have shown a steady decline.
Using our trusty Excel spreadsheets we took a closer look at player numbers and prize pools for every single EPT Main Event since its inception.
The results were dichotomous: Yes, the EPT is breaking records every season. But overall popularity seems to have peaked about five years ago.
EPT Tournaments per Season
In 2004 the European Poker Tour started out in Barcelona. In total 110 events have been played out over the past 12 seasons (with two to follow in February and April this year).
Over the years 23 different cities have played host to at least one EPT festival with Barcelona the only one on the schedule every season.
Many others were/are still regular stops for the tour: Monte Carlo, Prague, London (which got benched this season) and the Bahamas (the European Poker Tour has a broad understanding of “Europe” which also includes part of the Caribbean) are the most prominent EPT venues.
Many smaller, slightly more remote cities have also hosted EPT events over the years. Among others Tallinn (Estonia), Loutraki (Greece), Kiev (Ukraine) and Vilamoura (Portugal) have all been on the EPT schedule at least once.
From 2004 until 2012 the number of stops per season rose from 7 to 13 but this trend was reversed when Edgar Stuchly took over as EPT president in 2011.
Since then the number of stops per season has been reduced steadily to an all-time low this season of just 6. All the funky remote cities were removed from the schedule in that process. But while the number of events per season was reduced the amount of poker tournaments per individual stop increased.
In the early years a stop consisted of the Main Event and maybe a handful of side events; nowadays each stop is a fully-fledged 1.5 week poker extravaganza with 60 side events or more. Here’s how the number of EPT stops per season changed over the past 12 years:
Number of EPT stops per season
Number of Players per Season
The very first season drew about 1,500 Main Event players over 7 stops. This number rose to almost 9,400 players over 13 stops in Season 7 (2010/2011). Since this peak the number has decreased almost every year, hitting 6,000 Main Event players (over 7 tourneys) last season.
But considering that the number of stops was almost cut in half, a decrease of the total number of players per season was to be expected. When taking a look at the average number of Main Event players per season the numbers look more optimistic.
In 2015 the EPT hit a new record high with an average 878 players per Main Event in Season 11. For Season 12 this record is expected to be broken. The following chart shows how the number of Main Event players has changed over the past 12 years:
Number of EPT Main Event players (red: Average per Season, right axis; blue: Total sum per Season, left axis; estimations for this season)
Most Successful Stops
Over the past 110 Main Events the EPT accumulated a total number of 72,335 Main Event entries. Over 10,000 of those have been in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event, making it the most successful EPT stop over the years.
But the glory days of the PCA seem to be over. In 2011 it set a record of 1,560 players but soon afterwards Black Friday happened. PokerStars was forced to pull out of the US market and the majority of potential PCA players (which were Americans at this time) were no longer able to qualify online for the event.
Subsequently the number of PCA ME players dropped by more than 30%. Even after reducing the buy-in from $10k to $5k this season the Main Event attracted less than 1,000 players.
Other stops overtook the PCA in terms of Main Event players; most notably Barcelona has set new records every season over the last six years, breaking the old PCA record this season with 1,694 players in the 2015 Main Event.
Prague is also one of the EPT strongholds with four-digit Main Event attendances over the past three years. The next chart shows how the Main Event attendances of the top nine EPT stops developed over the years:
Number of Main Event players for the top 9 EPT stops (estimation for Monte Carlo 2016)
Over 110 Main Events more than €400 million has been distributed among players (we converted $ and other currencies to €), meaning on average each Main Event paid out more than €3.6m.
The biggest prize pool was generated during the 2011 PCA (Season 7) where 1,560 players played for more than $15.1m (roughly €11.8m at that time). The biggest prize pool outside the PCA was hit back in 2009 when the Grand Final had 935 participants that played for €9.35m.
The EPT recently brought its events in line regarding Main Event buy-ins. Every Main Event now costs €/$5,000 plus fees (€ in Europe and $ for the PCA); previously the PCA Main Event was $10k and the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo was €10k.
So we’re quite far away from 8-digit prize pools in the near future. As a matter of fact the distributed Main Event prize pools have trended downwards each season since 2011. The total amount of distributed money over all 12 seasons is shown in this graph:
Distributed prize money for EPT Main Events (red: Average per Season, right axis; blue: Total sum per Season, left axis; estimations for this season; all currencies converted to Euro)
Biggest Prize Pools
This final chart shows the Main Event prize pools for the nine most successful EPT stops since 2004. It quite drastically shows the demise of the PCA since 2011 (and to a lesser extent of the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo since 2009):
Main Event prize pools for the top 9 EPT stops (estimation for Monte Carlo 2016; currencies converted to Euro)
So What's the Reality?
So, what have we been seeing here? Except Barcelona (and to some extent Prague) all recent EPT stops have shown a decline in Main Event participation.
Reduced buy-ins haven't helped thwart this trend. Less money has been distributed and the number of different EPT stops has hit an all time low.
But the slow and steady decline of Main Event popularity is only one aspect of the entire picture. The other aspect is that EPT events are no longer exclusively centered around one big Main Event.
They offer cheaper preliminary tournaments that regularly draw thousands of players. Each stop comes with a plethora of side events and multiple expensive high roller tourneys.
For many players it’s common now to travel to an EPT, play multiple tournaments but omit the Main Event – either because it’s too expensive or (in the case of some businessmen) it’s too cheap.
Those charts above don’t reflect this focus shift at all and draw an all-too-negative picture of the current status of the European Poker Tour. In fact the EPT managed to stay successful by offering dozens of meaningful side events running at the same venue over 10 days.
It’s also a fact that the EPT has to cater for all different kinds of players to stay ahead. The times where PokerStars could just go to any bigger city in Europe, host a 5k tourney and expect hundreds of players to sign up are gone.
Poker doesn’t work that way anymore and people expect way more from a poker event than just one Main Event. Luckily, that’s something PokerStars seems to have understood very well.