Ratings soar for ESPN's Main Event final table telecast

17 November 2008

It appears that poker can indeed be considered a spectator sport.

In fact, judging from the ratings of ESPN's World Series of Poker Main Event final table telecast last week, a major poker tournament can draw just as many viewers as a regular season NBA or Major League Baseball game.

That was the conclusion ESPN network officials could happily come to on Sunday as they announced the "groundbreaking same-day coverage" of the Main Event's final table coverage last Tuesday night earned a 1.9 rating, up 36% from 1.4 for the final showdown in 2007. The number also represents 1,905,000 homes and 2,364,000 viewers in the average minute. Those are increases of 43% in homes (from 1,329,000) and 45% among viewers (from 1,635,000).

ESPN_WSOP_Cards

ESPN Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz (photo by Eric Harkins/IMPDI)

The impressive ratings were especially important for both ESPN and the WSOP because of the controversial decision that was made earlier this year to delay the actually playing of the Main Event's final table. Instead of completing the $10,000 buy-in tournament in July and then re-broadcasting the entire event in the fall, Harrah's and the WSOP decided to play down to the final table of nine players out of a field of 6,844 and then take a 117-day break in order to create more drama and excitement for the final table telecast, which was produced on the scene in Las Vegas as the action unfolded inside the Penn & Teller Theater over the course of more than 15 hours on Sunday and Monday of last week.

"The final table show was in my estimation the most entertaining two hours of poker that we produced this year," ESPN's Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz told Casino City on Monday. "ESPN is fortunate to have a production team led by Matt Maranz and Dave Swartz, which produced in two days what usually takes more than a month."

According to Horowitz, there were several producers from the program that never went to sleep between the hours of 8 a.m. Sunday morning until the show aired on Tuesday night. Lead announcer Lon McEachern and color man Norman Chad spent nearly 14 hours in a voice over booth on Monday, the day after the final table of nine players was dwindled down to two.

"It was a poker production, a poker experience, like no other," Horowitz added. "Dave, Matt and I learned the art of short turnaround television producing at NBC while covering Olympic track and field events for Sam Flood (NBC's coordinating producer). Sam's rule was simple - document the story. And that's what our team did."

Denmark's Peter Eastgate was crowned the Main Event champ on Wednesday morning at 2:30 a.m. The entire final table took 15 hours and 39 minutes, which made it the longest running Main Event final in WSOP history. At 22 years old, Eastgate became the youngest player to win the Main Event, breaking Phil Hellmuth's record. Hellmuth was 24 when he won in 1989.

"It wasn't just about Peter Eastgate winning," Horowitz said. "It was the Dennis Phillip's lookalike fans and Chino Rheem trying to win the title for the professionals and all the smaller stories that we tried to detail that made the final table poker's most exciting night.

"We spent more than a year working with our partners at Harrah's - specifically Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and Ty Stewart - and the Players Advisory Committee to make this night a reality. At ESPN, our mission is to serve sports fans. And I think on November 11 - as a result of full team effort - we did that well."

For ESPN's full schedule of 32 shows this season, ratings were up 13% among homes (from 815,000) and 15% among viewers (from 981,000). In addition, the Oct. 21 episode was the most-watched poker show on ESPN in more than two years.


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