Television Cemetery

While the World Series of Poker Main Event wrapped up last week, another annual tradition is still in full bloom.  The tradition I’m referring to is the argument between poker players of why watching the Main Event on ESPN just isn’t the same anymore.

From what I can gather, the poker community has come to two conclusions:

1) Dudes wearing hoodies and sunglasses tanking for ten minutes with obvious decisions are destroying televised poker.

2) The commentary is awful.  Lon and Norm offer little to viewers who need competent poker analysis to help viewers understand how complex this game is.

As this debate raged on poker twitter, a longtime friend of the site, Christopher George posted the following which nailed it on the head:

While I understand that nobody enjoys watching people tank on tv, we are all just as annoyed with people tanking at a non televised table.  Therefore, the fact that it is being televised is not the issue.  The issue is tanking.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that a faster moving game would be more entertaining without additional improvements in production.   

Is it the commentary? 

While I’ve grown tired of Norm’s ex-wife jokes, it sounds like a good portion of poker twitter is looking for training videos instead of entertainment. Those people are ignoring that ESPN is not obliged to teach you what the proper 3 bet range is from middle position.  Their one and only purpose is to create entertaining television that everyday people will want to watch.  Also, there is a ton of great material out there on multiple poker training sites (including the one Cee Gee is involved in [Run it Once]).

So what is the solution?  I think it is pretty easy:

ESPN should focus on well edited one hour episodes. 
Shoot as much of the Main Event as you can and then create a cohesive story that leads to an exciting conclusion.  Air it after the WSOP ends during the end of summer before people start going nuts for football and the MLB Playoffs.  In early episodes you can focus on the stars of the game but then start to develop new stars as the field starts to drop.  If you focus your editing on maybe thirty people who end up finishing in the top 100, you won’t give away the ending and have just enough joy (for the people who make the final table) and despair (from those who get very close but not close enough). If you know who is going to be involved in biggest moments of the tournament, you can tell their story leading up to that moment and make people care about whether or not they bust out.
From what little of the Main Event I watched this year I noticed that they were tracking two tables at a time during the first few days.  While each of these tables had professionals that I knew (including Brandon Shack Harris, as written about in We Are Lucky to Have You and Thank You Very Much) I can’t imagine any casual viewer caring about him or any of the others with the way they were presented.   Furthermore, I can’t think of one player at those early feature tables who made it very deep in the tournament.  It was a complete waste of time to introduce characters who died off without even a whimper or balloon.
I believe that if you build an edited series with the foreknowledge of who will end up getting to the final table it will not be hard to frame the tournament as exciting and dramatic.  It shouldn’t be hard to find charisma in the players who will actually end up doing well in the tournament, as almost every winning player is going to be happy.  Hell, if you end up having to deal with one of those robot types who shows no emotion, you can create a storyline out of that.  The guy keeps flopping two pair while looking like he’s watching his pet die is very easy to turn into a villain.
The last thing I want to point out is that by far the biggest difference between the coverage of the early/mid 2000’s and recent years is what we see after the tournament is over.  I remember being bombarded with re-runs of the Main Event on ESPN during the winter of 2003 and 2004.  There is a reason that the non-poker playing public still holds a few memories of Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and company – they were on tv constantly!  Compare that to the Final Table of the 2019 Main Event.  It went for hours and will never be replayed.  Think of all the women who will be deprived of Dario Sammartino’s beauty!
The best part of this solution is that it does not mean that you cannot utilize PokerGo to run a delayed live stream daily.  Give the poker players what they want with Ali & Nick doing commentary.  If we’re paying $10 a month, it’s the least they can do since they aren’t covering any other events at the time.  In this scenario, poker players get a full stream with detailed analysis while also creating an opportunity to grow interest in our game before it gets buried forever in the television cemetery.