August 12, 2005
Poker Wars
Posted by Joshua Wright

    Steve Rosenbloom at reports that the World Series of Poker is taking on the World Poker Tour for dominance of the year round poker tour by leveraging its connection with ESPN to lure the best players to WSOP circuit events.   This combines two of my favorite things: poker and the competition for distribution.  The WSOP has settled into 12 circuit events scheduled right on top of WPT events throughout 05-06 (compare schedules here and here).  Players will not be able to play in both in most circumstances.  So what will competition between the two tours look like?

    Rosenbloom suggests a few likely dimensions for competition: lowering room rates, loosening player endorsement rules, perhaps slowing down blind structures to increase the amount of play (favoring "better" players), locating tournaments near the homes of top professionals, and increasing player exposure (where WSOP/ESPN clearly dominates WPT/Travel Channel at the moment).  I imagine that we might even see tours paying for long-term exclusive commitments with top players (I will leave my thoughts on poker payola for another day....).

    The player faces a number of important trade-offs in making this decision.  Will big name pros prefer to play in a tournament with 1000 players and 200 big name professionals or 5000 players who are mostly unknown?  Which would be more difficult to win?  Will the WSOP's ESPN advantage be insurmountable because it creates other financial opportunities for top players (books, DVDs, TV shows, etc.)?  Who knows.  It is pretty clear that the player's decision is a complex one.  It will be very interesting to see how both the WSOP and WPT approach this branding decision in the coming years.

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