The announcement earlier this week that the World Series of Poker broadcasting rights would be moving to the CBS Sports Network came as a tremendous surprise to everyone in the poker world. After being broadcast on ESPN through the “poker boom” of the Aughts, it was figured that would continue to be the home of poker’s preeminent event. Alas, all good things must come to an end, even this longtime partnership.
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to this decision. Here are just a few thoughts on whether this will be a good thing for poker…or not.
Cons – Lot of History Cast Aside
For many in the poker community, the ESPN broadcasts are all they have known. They were weaned on the banter between announcer Lon McEachern and color man Norman Chad (and who gave better color commentary than Norm?) and the storytelling that was originally done by ESPN. Those early 2000s broadcasts made heroes out of the players, men that became household names like Moneymaker, Raymer, and Hachem, and “villains” like Matusow, Khan, and Farha came to be known.
ESPN was also willing to step up when there was not anyone taking a shot on poker. They gave a great deal of airtime to the 2002 WSOP Championship Event – the preceding year to “the Moneymaker Effect” – and they promoted the hell out of the game in those halcyon years. Is CBS and their “sports network” (more on this in a moment) going to go to the lengths that ESPN did during the time that poker built itself?
Finally (at least for this discussion, I am sure there are other things)…what the hell is a “CBS Sports Network?” I’ve had a passing occasion to view the channel. It often showed up on the third tier of my cable system (Spectrum), offered as a part of their “Sports Package,” but not as a part of their main cable package. When it comes to streaming, the CBS Sports Network does not even appear on Sling, but it is a part of Paramount+, the new streaming channel that handles a great deal of CBS’s product.
If the viewers cannot even find your channel, is it really a great idea to put your marquee product on it? This is something that I’ve been discussing with fellow poker journalist Jon Sofen, to be honest and Jon said it pretty well. “Imagine if it were 2003 and the WSOP was on CBSSN,” Jon said. “We probably wouldn’t even know who Moneymaker is!” It is tough to argue that point because of the abysmal coverage of CBSSN.
Pros – Maybe it WAS Time for a Change
When it comes to television, two decades with the same network is a long time. The WSOP on ESPN was a staple of both the network AND Caesars Entertainment and it had become perhaps a bit stale in its approach. ESPN certainly was not giving the WSOP the same gravitas that it once enjoyed and, even when poker tried to do things to make their event even bigger (the “November Nine” concept), ESPN did not really go to grandiose lengths to promote the show.
The new broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network also allows the WSOP to possibly try some different things. They could potentially put some of the non-Texas Hold’em events on and let the casual fans see a different form of poker than they have seen before. They could also experiment with a more statistical approach to the presentation, something that other programs have been doing with some notable success.
One thing that many might want to see is that McEachern and Chad continue on with the show. According to McEachern’s Twitter feed, there are no changes to the broadcasting team that has done well over the years.
But it does give CBS a chance to bring up some new commentators, some obvious ones (Ali Nejad, Nick Schulman, Maria Ho, and Jamie Kerstetter are all at the top of the list) and maybe incorporate some new faces into the game.
PokerGO is set to have some of the streaming coverage (as they have for the last couple of years), so it is not like there is a radical change coming with the way we watch the WSOP. It is just not going to be on the same place that we’ve always been used to seeing the show. CBS Sports Network does have some huge shoes to step into, however, as the legacy that ESPN leaves is going to be memorable in the history of poker.