Editor's note: The complete schedule and coverage of the WSOP broadcasts can be found here
On November 11, ESPN will televise the final table of the main event. When Harrah's decided to move the final table to November - instead of the originally scheduled date of July 16 – the change was endorsed by ESPN and the Players Advisory Committee, but the overall reaction from the poker world initially seemed mixed.
To get a better sense of how ESPN viewed the change, we interviewed Jamie Horowitz, ESPN's senior producer of content development. For the past two years, Horowitz has been responsible for overseeing all of ESPN's poker coverage. Prior to ESPN, he worked at NBC Sports, where he created and produced the National Heads-Up Poker Championship.
Gary Wise: "You're destroying poker!"
Jamie Horowitz: I didn't realize this would be such a friendly interview. Seriously, I think this innovation should be great for poker players and poker fans. It should bring more media attention to the greatest tournament in the world. It should add more drama to the television series. It should make the WSOP final table into the most exciting night in poker. Harrah's didn't make this change without serious thought and consideration from the folks who run the tournament, the players who play in it and the broadcasters who televise it. We all think it's an innovative idea that could bring new energy to the main event.
Wise: How does this benefit the players?
Horowitz: I think this change has a chance to be a big win for the players. If you ask pros like Howard Lederer or Barry Greenstein or Daniel Negreanu they will tell you as much. I was in the Player Advisory Committee meetings when the top professionals called the plan "a great opportunity for poker players." That said, I actually think it might benefit lesser-known players more than pros. Instead of trying to secure sponsorships at 4 a.m. the day before the final table, the amateurs who make the final table will now have more than 100 days to secure sponsorships. Hopefully, it's not just endemic poker sites that might be interested. The possibility of outside corporate sponsorship is a greater possibility given the enhanced exposure of the players and the tournament. When you walk into the WSOP this summer you see big brands like Miller, Planters, and Corum and there is real opportunity for players to capitalize on the added exposure this change will bring. Certainly, the final nine players will become household names in the poker world. They will be in demand at other poker tournaments between July and November.
I really loved what Daniel wrote on the day the change was announced: "I think the poker world should support the efforts here to try and improve the WSOP main event and understand that if it flops, it's not the end of the world. We can always change it back next year. I say, give it a chance. It's a gamble, but hey, aren't we all poker players?"
Wise: OK, but what if the players don't want the kind of celebrity you're talking about? In a post on 2+2, 1999 WSOP second-place finisher Alan Goehring posted: "My problem is I enjoy playing poker, but I don't care about show business. What should I do?" What do you say when he asks you that question?
Horowitz: If you enjoy playing poker then, at a minimum, I think you will enjoy being part of a new chapter in poker history. This is an opportunity for more of the world to see why this game and the WSOP are so special. There is no obligation to take advantage of the publicity, but I would think that if you truly love poker you should want to represent the game with your style of play. This change will benefit different players differently but overall this change should be good for the biggest event in poker and those who play in it.
Wise: OK, enough with dwelling on fears. Let's talk about the publicity. There have been repeated references to the impending fame for the November Nine. Can you give me some specifics on what's going to get them there? What specifically will ESPN do to help get the players publicity?
Horowitz: See, the fun marketing is starting already: The "November Nine" name is great.
I think most of the increased media attention will happen organically. The story from July to November is now about nine players instead of one champion. There was 700-plus media in Vegas last summer. We hope that this innovation will engage the media to follow the series for an extra four months. As for ESPN, we are working on developing several different ways to promote the series using all of our assets – television, radio, magazine and Web. One fun element that we have been coordinating is to follow the "November Nine" from July to November and detailing their journey on the new poker page on ESPN.com as well as a variety of other ESPN outlets. Another additional thing we know we are doing is something ESPN has never done before: on Tuesday, November 4, ESPN will air a special Final Table Preview show. It's an extra hour in primetime on ESPN focused on nine players who are still a week away from playing for the most prestigious prize in poker.
Wise: How do you feel this will help marketing and sponsorship in the industry?
Horowitz: The new innovation is sure to bring in more sponsorship dollars as the players have the opportunity to market themselves for four months. Not only will the endemic poker sites have a major sponsorship presence, but the possibilities of outside corporate sponsorship is a likely possibility given the massive exposure.
Wise: Will the shows be produced differently?
Horowitz: That's a trickier question than you might imagine. Producing a television series about the main event is an interesting television challenge. Since we don't know many of the story lines until the tournament begins, we have to see who makes the final table and then tell their stories in reverse. Our production team, led by Matt Maranz and Dave Swartz, are great storytellers. One of their many talents is that they can very clearly give an hour of television a natural arc, a clear narrative that makes the shows resonate with the viewer. So to answer your question, the shows on Tuesday nights from July 22 until October 28 will all have the general look and feel that you saw in 2007, with perhaps an increased emphasis on the final nine. The November 11 show will have all of the good elements of previous final table shows but with an enhanced sense of timeliness and excitement.
Wise: Last question: What happens if this change doesn't work?
Horowitz: At the end of each season, Harrah's reviews the tournament and ESPN re-evaluates its coverage. We reach out to poker players and poker fans and try to figure out how we might better serve their interests. This innovation, like the rest of the coverage, will be evaluated and then we will discuss what makes most sense for the 2009 and beyond.
I have a quote taped to my computer from John Maynard Keynes: "When somebody persuades me I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" He meant it regarding economics, but I think it's a good adage for television too. We try to be innovative and we like taking risks, but we try to not be stubborn and to admit when we are wrong. ESPN's goal is pretty simple: We try to detail poker's most revered tournament in the most compelling way possible. We are trying to serve the sports fan. We hope the changes will make the 2008 WSOP a more interesting event and a more dramatic television series.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, Bluff magazine, worldseriesofpoker.com and other publications. His podcast, Wise Hand Poker Radio, can be heard at roundersradio.com and airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.