Ratings for the live coverage of the 2017 World Series of Poker Championship Event final table have been released, with those results showing a mixed bag of information.
The WSOP Championship Event final table, broadcast live over ESPN from July 20-22, showed a slight improvement in comparison to the delayed “November Nine” coverage from 2016. The three-day average of the 2017 coverage was 615,000 viewers, a slight increase in comparison to last year’s “November Nine” final table average of 597,000 viewers, a 3% increase. For the broadcast week, the WSOP Championship Event’s third night – when Scott Blumstein closed the deal in winning the championship – was one of the highest rated programs for ESPN, finishing behind only a mid-season Major League Baseball game between the rival St. Louis Cardinals and the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the Summer League championship game between the Los Angeles Lakers (minus top draft pick Lonzo Ball, who sat the game out) and the Portland Trail Blazers.
That was the good side of the equation for officials, however.
On the negative side, the all-important 18-49 demographic – the demo that advertisers look at when determining what shows to advertise on and that broadcasters strive to reach for that reason – was down overall in year-to-year statistics. In 2017, the WSOP Championship Event final table captured 244,000 in that 18-49 demo, down from the 256,000 that viewed the tournament in 2016 (a drop of almost 5%). The viewers for the final night of the tournament were also at historic lows, with the 741,000 watchers down from 780,000 who watched in 2016 and barely more than the 735,000 who watched in 2012, the record low for the tournament in the last decade.
The television numbers aren’t the only worrisome sign for WSOP and ESPN officials.
The demographic breakdown of the WSOP Championship Event field shows signs that cannot be encouraging for Caesars. Of the 7221 players participating in this year’s tournament, only 347 of them were in the 21-25 demographic and only ONE of those players was a woman. In comparison, there were 884 players older than 56 in the Championship Event field, with 33 of those players being female. These numbers indicate that the oldest demographic in the tournament isn’t being replaced at the same rate from the younger side.
There could be a couple of reasons for the demographic numbers. The “millennials” that constitute the 21-30 demographic have been proving to be a difficult market for casinos to get in the first place. They aren’t as willing to “gamble” as other demographics are, preferring a skill based game over ones of “chance,” hence the casinos usage of video games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush for wagering purposes. That predisposition for skill based games over chance isn’t showing when it comes to poker, however, at least as far as the WSOP Championship Event.
It is also arguable that the lack of online poker in the States of America has caused a downswing. The younger demographic for years has been driven by the online game (look at the almost 3000 players making up the 26-35 demographic that participated in the WSOP Championship Event). If that were the case, however, it would not explain the 7221 overall players that participated in 2017, the largest field since 2010.
The move by officials from cable broadcasting giant ESPN and the World Series of Poker to do away with the “November Nine” was a huge step in that neither entity knew what would be the eventual outcome. At its inception, the “November Nine” was a huge success as it drew in an audience of 2.364 million for the final table broadcast in 2008 (the first year of the format). It never would draw that well again, gradually falling to the record low in 2012 (735,000), rebounding over the next three years back over a million viewers and falling to 780K in 2016. Thus, the 741,000 that watched in 2017 wasn’t the upswing that the WSOP nor ESPN were looking for.
The other possibility is that there just aren’t the “eyes” that are going to be watching during the season. Summer is the worst time of the year for television viewing and, while bringing the poker world to Las Vegas during what is its “down time” of the year might be a good idea for Caesars officials, when it comes to broadcasting the tournament it might not be the best thing.
The mixed numbers present several challenges for ESPN and the WSOP. While there are some bright areas, there are those that aren’t quite so sunny for either entity. Of importance for both organizations may be improving the television numbers in the immediate future.