Poker Central, ESPN Ink WSOP Broadcast Deal, November Nine Nixed

The 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) kicks off in just two weeks, but even this close to the most popular poker festival of the year, WSOP organizers have dropped a bombshell on the poker community. The November Nine is no more. For the first time in a decade, the final table of the WSOP Main Event will be contested immediately in July, rather than in November as it has been since 2008.

There is another piece of this story, though. Poker Central, the all-poker “network” which has largely failed as a television network, but is switching to an online-only format, has acquired the global television and digital media rights to the WSOP. That doesn’t mean that ESPN has been tossed to the curb, though. ESPN and ESPN2 will air portions of every day of the WSOP Main Event live (with a 30 minute delay, per Las Vegas gaming rules), an estimated total of 40 hours of poker television.

The joint press release issued by Poker Central and ESPN says that ESPN/ESPN2 will broadcast ten consecutive days of the Main Event, but as you will see below, that doesn’t quite add up. According to the published television schedule, Days 1C and 3 are skipped, so the ten “consecutive” thing doesn’t work:

July 8 – Day 1A – 4pm-8pm
July 9 – Day 1B – 2pm – 6pm
July 11 – Days 2A and 2B – 8pm-11pm
July 12 Day 2C – 8pm-10pm
July 14 – Day 4 – 8pm-11pm
July 15 – Day 5 – 2pm-4pm
July 16 – Day 6 – 2pm-6pm
July 17 – Day 7 – 7pm-9pm
July 19 – Final table preview – 10pm-11pm
July 20 – 9 players down to 6 – 9pm-TBD
July 21 – 6 players down to 3 – 9pm-TBD
July 22 – 3 down to 1 – 9pm-TBD

Regardless of how one sums the days, this is a significant departure from the last ten years. What ESPN has been doing is film the Main Event during the summer, but then broadcast edited shows later. Those shows build up to the semi-live Main Event final table broadcast in November.

Now, a few hours of each of the first seven tournament days will be shown live and the final table will be shown in its entirety, but rather than a break until November, the final table will naturally follow the rest of the tournament like in any other event, with a two-day break after the final table has been set.

It does look like ESPN will still be putting pre-packaged shows together during the year, as the press release says it will air “a commitment of original packaged shows totaling 130 hours annually.”

Poker Central has the rights to stream any other coverage not broadcast by ESPN.

“ESPN has been our home since 2002 and we’re delighted to extend the relationship into the next decade,” said WSOP executive director Ty Stewart in the press release. “Having every day live coverage of the WSOP Main Event is truly a huge commitment on behalf of ESPN and Poker Central and we look forward to delivering to our faithful audience wall-to-wall action from the outset for the very first time.”

The final table of the WSOP Main Event was moved to November in 2008, resulting in both the event of the final table and the members of the final table being dubbed the “November Nine.”

The idea behind the change, which was met with mixed reaction, was to try to build up the anticipation of the final table during the three-plus month break. With the time off, the media (read: ESPN) could develop human interest stories on each player, giving fans a reason to pick rooting interests. The break and ensuing live coverage of the final table also made it easier for fans to not see spoilers about the results. With the previous method of broadcasting edited packages, the final table wasn’t aired for months after it actually happened; it was virtually impossible for poker fans to not find out who won before they got to watch the show.

Secondarily, it was thought that the break would give players a chance to ink sponsorships (maybe even “main stream” ones, a way to avoid the mad rush of deal-making immediately following the elimination of the tenth-place player.

None of that really worked out. It’s not that the November Nine was some abject failure – I felt the broadcast was generally quite good – but the grand plans never totally came to fruition. In the end, it was still just a poker television show, albeit a very high quality one.

“We are thrilled to add the preeminent poker brand, the World Series of Poker, to our growing portfolio of poker-related content,” said Poker Central’s chief digital officer, JR McCabe. “We have major plans to reinvent the WSOP offering to greatly expand how, when and where fans of the game of poker can watch and engage with the game.”

Poker Central also noted that it will be releasing further details of a “comprehensive live streaming schedule” for the 2017 WSOP before the start of the World Series.

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