WSOP

Does the Termination of the November Nine Matter?

The 2017 World Series of Poker kicks off in a week and – rule tweaks aside – everyone was largely expecting business as usual until the WSOP dropped a bombshell on us last week: there will no longer be a November Nine. Instead of breaking the WSOP Main Event when the final table is determined and returning to the Rio in November to finish it out, the final table will be played in July like it used to be, with just a two-day break after Day 7 of the tournament. Just like it was when the schedule for the Main Event changed in 2008, this is a pretty darn big deal. But does it matter? Do we care?

I still remember when I found out about the creation of the November Nine. My dog had to go out and right before I got up to get her leash, I did a quick check to see what was going on in the poker world. My eyes widened as I read the WSOP’s press release about the time shift of the final table and then ruminated over the news as I strolled through the neighborhood with Tippy.

My initial reaction was that it was bold and a bit odd, but I liked the idea. Why not try it? The UIGEA had just passed two years prior, the same year that Jamie Gold table-chatted his way to the championship of the biggest WSOP Main Event in history. Numbers declined after that, but online poker – and thus much of the interest in the game – was still going strong thanks to PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet staying in the U.S. market.

The idea behind the move to the November was to use the layover to generate buzz and excitement about the final table and, in turn, ESPN’s coverage of it. I had imagined an effort like what we see during the Olympics. Most of us have only heard of a handful of Olympians (not counting the pro basketball players who participate), but NBC frequently airs taped special interest pieces on various athletes. These segments allow the viewers to associate a person with what otherwise might just be a name or a country; when we can relate to the athlete or find them interesting, we are more apt to root for them and watch more of the competitions.

Thus, I expected to see ESPN produce segments on the different players, more than just the 30 seconds or so that we see during the regular tournament broadcasts. Maybe I would really like the story of anonymous internet player from New Jersey and want to tune in to cheer him on. More importantly, maybe people who wouldn’t normally even care about poker would see some of these pieces and decide to watch the November Nine.

Additionally, it was thought that the break would give the November Niners an opportunity to ink sponsorship deals, allowing them to take advantage of their new-found celebrity (as minor as it might be in the grand scheme of things) and make a few more clams.

In the end, though, the grand aspirations were never quite fulfilled. Now, the move to November did help make it easier for poker fans avoid final table spoilers, which is no small thing. In the weeks leading up to the “semi-live” final table (30-minute tape delay), ESPN broadcast edited, pre-packaged episodes of the Main Event, with the narrative building up to the final table. Previously, the final table was completed in July and then episodes aired later in the year. If you wanted to be surprised while watching on television, you had to stay away from poker news somehow. Impossible, if you were in the industry.

There was no real hype created for the November Nine, though. The players were just as anonymous to the general public as they would have been in July. To be fair, though, the November Nine was largely successful from a ratings viewpoint and the production was high quality, improving each year, especially as internet streaming has become ubiquitous.

So does the switch back to July matter? No, not really. The November Nine, despite not really fulfilling the lofty idealism that I had for it, was fine. It should be interesting, though, to see it moved back to July, so in that sense, I am intrigued.

This year, the entire Main Event will be broadcast live, rather than having most of it taped and shown in heavily produced episodes later in the year. ESPN will air about 40 hours of the Main Event prior to the live broadcast of the final table and Poker Central will pick up what ESPN doesn’t broadcast and stream it online. We don’t know for sure if there will be constant, live video coverage from the moment the cards are in the air each day to when the last hand of the night is dealt, but it sounds like there is great potential for that. And then, with just a two-day break before the final table, things will be completed quickly and we don’t have to wait a few months to wrap up the Main Event. The would-be November Niners can move on and ESPN’s production crew can make other plans.

ESPN will be putting out pre-packaged episodes during the year, as well, which should be beneficial to those who didn’t have a chance to keep up with the live coverage in July.

Cancelling the November Nine isn’t necessarily a good move or a bad move. It’s a move. Just like in 2008 when the November Nine was created, it certainly has potential and though it won’t blow the lid off of the poker industry, it could turn out to be a positive development.

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