Many had questioned whether the decision by Harrah’s to move the final table of the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event back 117 days would be effective. Would the decision really generate renewed interest in poker? Would ratings shoot through the roof as viewers tuned in to see who won instead of seeing how a player won? On Thursday, these questions were answered, as ESPN announced its rating for Tuesday night’s two-hour telecast of the Main Event’s final table.
All told, the episode earned a 1.9 rating, which was up 46% from the 1.3 rating of the 2007 installment that featured Jerry Yang defeat Tuan Lam to take down the $8.25 million first place prize. On Tuesday night, Danish pro Peter Eastgate became the youngest WSOP Main Event champion ever, earning $9.1 million and besting Russian sensation Ivan Demidov heads-up. Eastgate broke the record that was held by “The Poker Brat” Phil Hellmuth, who also made a deep run in the marquee tournament in 2008 and finished 45th for $154,000. Hellmuth was 24 years-old when he won the 1989 Main Event; Eastgate is 22.
The 1.9 rating meant that 1.91 million homes and 2.36 million viewers were watching in “the average minute.” Last year, there were 1.25 million homes and 1.55 viewers, meaning that these numbers increased by 53% and 52%, respectively, in 2008. The WSOP Main Event was paused in July with nine players remaining. On Sunday, the so-called November Nine took to the felts at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio and played down to two. Then, Demidov and Eastgate returned late Monday night to determine a winner. ESPN staff then edited the final table footage, added in commentary from announcers Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, and then aired the final episode on Tuesday night. It was a quick turnaround time and required a large amount of manpower in Las Vegas in order to pull off.
Ratings for the entire 32 episodes that made up the 2008 World Series of Poker on ESPN averaged 0.9, which represents 919,000 homes and 1.13 million people. These numbers were also up this year over last year. In 2007, the average number of homes tuned in was 815,000 and the average number of people watching was 981,000, meaning that the 2008 figures were up 13% and 15%, respectively. All told, it appears that the move of the final table was a rousing success in 2008. However, Harrah’s and ESPN officials have declined to comment on whether it will also be delayed in 2009.
ESPN spokesperson George McNeilly told Poker News Daily, “We’re thrilled with the results and it’s a tribute to the leadership of [WSOP] Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and his team at the WSOP in growing poker into a spectator sport. If you saw the telecast or were there in person, then you know the crowd went wild for their favorite players. The balcony seating was a capacity crowd. All nine players were unheralded coming in and were not household names, so it speaks to the great drama that is televised poker.” Dennis Phillips, who entered the final table as the chip leader, flew in 300 fans, many of whom were dressed in the same attire he was.
McNeilly added that no official air date has been determined for the 2008 WSOP Europe Main Event, which was filmed for the network in London. Demidov appears at that final table and the tournament was ultimately won by Full Tilt Poker pro John Juanda.