Poker News Daily has learned that ESPN’s coverage of the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) has experienced an 8% dip in television ratings through two weeks to 0.72. Last year, the mark was 0.78.
In addition to ratings seeing an 8% slide, household impressions also fell, albeit a modest 5%. The total number of household impressions through two weeks of the 2009 WSOP was 714,904, compared with last year’s tally of 750,315. Four one-hour episodes have aired so far, with 26 more comprising coverage of the Ante Up for Africa charity tournament and the prestigious $10,000 buy-in Main Event.
ESPN media contact George McNeilly told Poker News Daily that, despite the ratings slip, he remained optimistic: “These are very small declines and we’re just four telecasts into the season. We have almost 30 more episodes to go, so it’s way too early to start drawing any conclusions. One interesting trend we are watching is how ratings are flat among men 25 to 54, which bodes well for the rest of the season.”
Figures released after the July 28th kickoff telecast revealed that viewers were up 2% among men age 18 to 34. The number of viewers age 25 to 54 was up a commanding 16% after the first episode of the 2009 WSOP debuted on ESPN and the number of viewers age 18 to 49 was on par with the 2008 broadcast. The first telecast of the 2009 WSOP on ESPN featured the $40,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournament commemorating the 40th running of the WSOP. In the end, Vitaly Lunkin dominated the 201 player field en route to a $1.9 million first place prize. He defeated Isaac Haxton heads-up in a star-studded final table that also included Greg Raymer, Ted Forrest, Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo, and Alec “traheho” Torelli.
On August 4th, the weekly Tuesday timeslot saw the WSOP Champions Invitational come to life. In one of the first non-bracelet events ever broadcast by ESPN, the Champions Invitational featured 20 former Main Event winners take to the felts. The unconventional 10-handed final table saw 1983 champ Tom McEvoy come out on top, taking home a vintage red 1970 Corvette Stingray and the Binion Cup. McEvoy defeated 2002 Main Event winner Robert Vakonyi heads-up in a final table that also included Peter Eastgate, Carlos Mortensen, Doyle Brunson, Huck Seed, and Dan Harrington.
Next week, the Ante Up for Africa charity poker tournament will headline ESPN coverage and begins at 8:00pm ET. The gala featured a veritable “who’s who” of the celebrity world, including “Rounders” star Matt Damon, “Pearl Harbor” actor Ben Affleck, “Celebrity Apprentice” candidate Herschel Walker, “Seinfeld’ star Jason Alexander, “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Brad Garrett, rapper Nelly, and legendary boxer Mike Tyson. The latter has developed a cult following stemming from his cameo in the blockbuster hit “The Hangover.” Tyson did not bring his tiger to the red carpet.
Poker stars who turned out to the charity event included Ante Up for Africa co-founder Annie Duke, Greg Raymer, Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Jennifer Harman, Joe Hachem, Jason Mercier, and Andy Bloch. ESPN Coordinating Producer Jamie Horowitz told Poker News Daily what makes airing the charity gala unique: “We are excited to present a different type of poker tournament. In the Ante Up For Africa event, the story is more about the journey (the celebrities, the stars, and the pros) than the destination.”
Twenty-four hours of coverage of the 2009 WSOP Main Event will air on ESPN beginning on August 18th. The Main Event final table is scheduled to air on November 10th beginning at 9:00pm ET. Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest WSOP news.