Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Raising the Entry Fee at the World Series of Poker

Is the World Series of Poker getting out of hand? At what point will viewers begin to lose interest?

The 2005 WSOP main event concluded last Friday with Australian poker pro Joseph Hachem taking home the $7.5 million first prize. With a prize pool exceeding $50 million, the WSOP is by far the richest sporting event in the world. But when will these out-of-this-world numbers lose their novelty value?

Since Chris Moneymaker's WSOP victory in 2003, TV ratings have skyrocketed from events such as the World Poker Tour, to celebrity charity events. NBC's ratings for its National Head-us Poker Championship last month, which included many household names & ex-champions, exceeded those of Major League Baseball's All-Star game. But do viewers watch these tournaments for the people involved or for the sheer amount of money at stake? Judging by the recent ratings for celebrity events & the Heads-Up Championship, the answer is name recognition!

This year's WSOP championship included nearly 6000 participants. So it was a forgone conclusion that the seats at final table would be filled with amateurs. Until the WSOP dramatically increases the buyin & cuts down on the amateur entries, the event's popularity will soon plateau. This is already starting to occur as the World Poker Tour continues to gain in popularity.

A popular observation among non-poker fans is that the game is all about luck. You'll eventually need the cards to win. In contrast, poker historians will point to Johnny Chan's consecutive victories in 1987 & 1988 as proof otherwise. But if amateurs continue to dominate the final tables at the WSOP, this thought will continue among casual fans. Who has ever heard of Joseph Hachem or even poker pro Mike Matasow? Yes, the serious poker fans & fellow players will tune in regardless of who makes the final table. But these no-names will not lure in the casual viewers.


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