WSOP looks to raise the stakes

The November Nine once again took their seats yesterday to claim the bracelet that crowns them the 2015 World Series of Poker Champion, along with a cool$7,683,346 first-place prize. With the final table spread over a three night span, coverage hits ESPN2 tonight at 8p, with the champion taking the crown tomorrow evening at 9:30p on ESPN. Norman Chad and Lon McEachern will be in the commentary booth calling the action.

Amid the festivities in Las Vegas, Cynopsis Sports asked Ty Stewart, Executive Director of World Series of Poker and Senior VP at Caesars Interactive about the state of WSOP, its upcoming television negotiations and how the brand plans to keep growing.

Stewart on the state of WSOP: From an event standpoint, 2015 really exemplifies the evolution of the World Series of Poker. Not long ago, all eyes were on the Main Event and the rest of the schedule faded into the background as “side events.” Today, many of the most noteworthy events of the entire poker calendar happen during the early weeks of our slate. To see over 22,000 entrants in one poker tournament like we saw for our opening Colossus event was pretty exhilarating. We continue to expand the vision of what the WSOP can be. We want to have all of the biggest events of the year and all of the most prestigious events of the year.

On coverage: This year the production has expanded such that there are three continuous days of programming, which will allow for the majority of the action to be in prime time vs stretching to the overnight. Not long ago, poker was almost exclusively a documentary style. So to see poker covered as a tent pole live event, with every hand covered, a studio set-up for analysis of the action on player breaks, it’s just very rewarding. With over a thousand people in the stands, this is the moment where poker most approximates sport and feels like a true happening. But we’re again anchored by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, who have truly provided the soul, style and sensibility of the event for over a decade. Led by Lon and Norm, the WSOP is a serious event, but not too serious.

On TV contracts: We certainly have our eye on the current television landscape and looking at all options beyond the 2017 event. I for one, hope we remain with ESPN forever, as there has been no better friend to poker to aid its boom. We have dabbled in digital platforms like Twitch and our own streams on WSOP.com, and have seen strong viewership. But there’s no substitute for linear television, big quality production. When we’re promoted and in a desirable time slot, we’ve been proven to draw audiences to the so-called “major” sports.

On the suspended partnership with DraftKings: Due to the clarity from Nevada Gaming, we mutually agreed to part ways with DraftKings. At this point, there are no further plans to solicit a partner in the category.

On international success: Players come from over 100 countries to play in the WSOP, making it one of the largest participatory events in the world. And I believe we’re only scratching the surface for international participation. While many point to the years around Moneymaker as the sports climatic moment, that was primarily a USA phenomenon. Poker is very hot in places like Brazil, across Asia. Some of the biggest sports stars in the world like Ronaldo and Neymar enjoy and promote the game. The pie continues to expand. We are being calculated in our live event growth, but this year launched our first true global mid stakes tour. We’ve had a series of strong events in Europe and I think you’ll soon see WSOP live events in Latin America and Asia. but generally the highest number of people access poker digitally. Our social and mobile game courts players across the globe and continues to explode in daily and monthly active users. The WSOP play for fun game is now regularly a top 50 overall app.

On digital extensions: It’s exciting to think when you include digital play, easily more people are playing poker than golf and tennis combined. There’s nothing better than being able to promote the championships on television and know people at home are experiencing the game while they watch. We want to create demand for poker through the halo of the WSOP live event, and then be in position to service the demand through any clearly legal means on the digital side. We’re optimistic there will be additional states for real money online gaming in the future, but for now we’re extremely bullish on play for fun. We’re quickly hitting a point that more people are playing on our digital touch points than even watch us on ESPN, and that’s exciting for the future.

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