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WSOP heads into Europe stronger than ever
It turned out he was way off.
"I was wrong, the economy had virtually no effect on the World Series of Poker this year," Pollack told PokerListings. "It was amazing. We sold out more events, had more participants than ever before and the demand for our product and the experience of the WSOP has never been greater.
"I don't know many other businesses, in this economy, that can make that statement."
In anticipation of the worldwide economic downswing having a major effect on the numbers this summer, Pollack and the WSOP added a Stimulus Special $1k No-Limit Hold'em event for the opening weekend and bumped the number of events with a buy-in under $2,500 to 39 from last year's 37.
That turned out to be more than enough to stimulate the poker economy.
A sell-out at 6,012 players, the Stimulus event shattered the registration record for tournaments outside the Main Event of 3,929 set at the first $1,500 No-Limit tournament in 2008.
Plus, it alone was enough to help push the average number of entrants for the lower buy-in events up 9% from last year.
Pollack said the WSOP has already begun planning the 2010 schedule and, as a result, it's certain to include another $1k tournament - whether the economy needs a stimulant or not.
"That's where the economy did send us a signal," he explained. "At this point in time, lower buy-in events are extremely attractive and I think that reflects the fact that a lot of people are rethinking the way they spend their dollars.
"If players continue to be this responsive to lower buy-in events then I think it is incumbent upon us to provide them."
The statistical picture from the 2009 WSOP was not all rosy, however. Two more $10k buy-in events were added to the eight from last year but the number of entrants in those events went down across the board.
The $50k H.O.R.S.E. event also dropped from 148 entrants in 2008 to just 95.
Most attributed the downward movement to the lack of TV coverage, but Pollack believes there's more to the story.
"I don't know," he said. "I think the players who chose not to enter did it because of a mix of both the economy and TV coverage. Those events are still popular, but there has been a shift in the demand in the popularity of events as a result of price points."
ESPN's decision not to televise events like the $50k H.O.R.S.E. did allow the network to increase the number of Main Event hours on television this year.
Pollack said he likes the move and believes programming should be left to the experts.
"ESPN knows how to program its channel better than anyone else," he said. "They know what poker fans are interested in watching. Historically the Main Event always does the best by far."
While Main Event coverage is on the rise, the actual number of Main Event entrants was down again from 6,844 in 2008 to 6,494. That number, though, was skewed by the fact the WSOP had to turn away players after selling out the final Day 1 flight.
While he stopped short of guaranteeing people will never be turned away again, Pollack did say the WSOP is taking some serious measures to try and prevent it from happening again.
"We're working on a preliminary schedule and a revised footprint inside the Rio that would mean more tables," he said. "But the days where you could walk up at the last moment and register for the Main Event are gone forever. The WSOP is too big for that to be an operational reality."
With the 2010 WSOP still almost nine months away, Pollack is now intently focused on the WSOP Europe beginning at the Casino at the Empire in London this Friday.
"We're really looking forward to invading the Empire," he said, adding that in addition to the four WSOP bracelet events he's particularly eager to see the inaugural Caesars Cup, a Ryder-Cup style event featuring the best players from Europe versus a team from the Americas.
"I think it's the start of a terrific tradition," Pollack added.
Pollack personally missed the final, but said that will not happen again.
"I wasn't there last year," he said. "And I'm sorry I missed it. Those kind of final tables are a good test of endurance for all involved."
And, of course, the upcoming November Nine and the crowning of a 2009 Main Event champions is still to come this year.
"My view is that this November Nine is straight out of central casting," Pollack said. "You have arguably the world's best player in Phil Ivey; Darvin Moon, an amateur and newcomer if ever there was one; a former Bear Stearns executive and six other players that represent the full spectrum of the poker community, absent women.
"It's a great group, a terrific table and I think this November Nine will be very successful."
For comprehensive coverage of the entire WSOPE and WSOP November Nine, check out PokerListings' Live Coverage section.