ESPN World Series of Poker Coverage Evolves With Fans
When ESPN began broadcasting poker progressively with amateur Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker title run in 2003, the popularity of Texas Hold ’em boomed. Over the next decade, many of the fans born of that boom have evolved from intrigued newcomers to grizzled veterans.
So in response, ESPN is raising the stakes for its presentation of the Main Event of the 2011 World Series of Poker (WSOP) by bringing a first to the 42-year-old tournament: live, analysis-driven television coverage.
Beginning Thursday and continuing through July 19, ESPN will offer six consecutive days of coverage of the WSOP Main Event, where every hand will be shown unedited and hole cards will be available post-flop (for all players still in the hand). The broadcast will shift between two featured tables approximately every 30 minutes and will show all “all-in” and “call” situations at both tables when possible.
“The 2011 season marked a re-imagination of how ESPN was going to televise poker,” says coordinating producer Jamie Horowitz, who has been working the WSOP for ESPN since 2006. “What we’ve heard from some fans was a desire for intense poker coverage. We’ve done a lot of good storytelling; that’s the nature of all good sports broadcasting. So we’ve focused a lot on the personalities, and the fans have said, ‘We like all that, but we want a little more insight.’”
The production features a whopping 55 cameras, including 18 Hole Card cams and nine secondary cameras. Four and a half miles of cable are required to get the whole thing running, and 700 lights and 85 LED video panels will also be used throughout a new set for a telecast that will involve nearly 150 workers.
Created by Orlando-based Innovative Show Design, the set provides an arena-like atmosphere with bleacher seating; it is equipped with a massive lighting grid that resembles a WSOP bracelet. A large Jumbotron is part of the structure, and poker players will enter the competition area through a tunnel.
“We’re really trying to represent poker this year as a big-time live sports event and less as package storytelling,” says Horowitz. “We had to take down some of the dramatic lighting and brighten it up and make it feel more like you are playing at the Staples Center than you’re playing Broadway.”
ESPN’s telecast is being handled by executive producer Mori Eskandani and POKER PROductions for the first time, which has also produced other poker telecasts, including Poker After Dark and WSOP-Europe. Together, ESPN and POKER PROductions will offer a new vision for this year’s WSOP that will bring a major-sports-event feel to the telecasts.
In addition to all the new hardware, this year’s broadcast includes a wealth of in-depth features. Notable moments will have replays and analysis by poker professionals examining hands in more depth to explain how they were played. Adding an intriguing wrinkle into the proceedings, the telecast will include segments with Joe Navarro, a 25-year FBI agent and expert in non-verbal communication. He will analyze body language and other “tells” from hands shown during the broadcasts to evaluate the strength of a poker player’s hand.
“The reason people want to know more about poker and the strategy behind it is, they personally want to get better at poker,” says Horowitz. “When you look at insight into a football game, people just want the insight because they crave knowledge about football, but they don’t plan to than go and play it. In poker, they do plan to take what you teach them and apply it to their home games.”
Lon McEachern and David Tuchman will handle the play-by-play for the live coverage, with a rotation of professional poker players providing analysis. ESPN will also use a sideline reporter for the first time, with Kara Scott making her WSOP debut.
Following the nearly week’s worth of live broadcasts, the 2011 World Series of Poker Presented by Jack Link’s Beef Jerky regular Tuesday-night telecasts will begin Tuesday, July 26 on ESPN for 16 consecutive weeks leading up to the November Nine final table on Nov. 8 (ESPN, 9-11 p.m.).
ESPN.com poker editor and blogger Andrew Feldman and other experts will provide complete coverage on location, with blogs, podcasts, videos, interviews with top players, and more. Fans can also follow @ESPN_Poker on Twitter for instant updates and tournament coverage.