When we first learned of the Federated Sports + Gaming poker league in January, many industry insiders were concerned and doubted its potential success. A few major items had to be taken care of, and one-by-one, those items have been checked off the list.
The first major concern was, of course, who would be participating in the league.
We received that answer in May and since that time, more players have earned their tour cards with recent success. The league has shaped up to include the true stars of the tournament game, but Season 1 will definitely miss the presence of 2010 WSOP champion Jonathan Duhamel and 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure champion Galen Hall, who have both received significant air time and exposure to the American public.
Players who I spoke to during the WSOP in Las Vegas seemed optimistic that they'd be participating in the league's events, and why wouldn't they? With additional TV exposure they'll have a new chance to build their brands, something that players could really only do for the past few years if they made it onto a WPT or WSOP final table.
The second major concern was the TV deal and, on Wednesday, that was addressed as well. The now-named Epic Poker League announced that it would be airing 20 hours during its first season on CBS and the Velocity Network (which is replacing HD Theater on September 25, 2011). There will be seven hours of original coverage on CBS and 13 original hours (and re-airs) on Velocity. David Neal and 441 Productions, the company that handled ESPN's WSOP broadcasts from 2003-2010, will be making the show look great with hosts Ali Nejad and Pat O'Brien.
"Epic Poker is proud to partner with CBS Television and Discovery Communications in our inaugural season," said Jeffrey Pollack, executive chairman of the Epic Poker League and its parent company, Federated Sports + Gaming. "Both companies share our commitment to providing a world-class stage and significant new exposure for poker's most talented live tournament players."
It sounds great on the surface, as the debut of the Epic Poker League will represent the first hours of poker on the networks in years. But as much as it's stated to be a partnership, the Wall Street Journal reported that the hours are in fact a "time buy", meaning that the league is paying the network to broadcast Season 1. With the added prize money during the league stops, guaranteed seats in the pro-ams held before each major and the time buy, there is a lot of money going out the door at the moment.
The third major concern expressed on January 21 was money. We're only a week away from the first stop on the 2011-12 Epic Poker schedule and still, no major sponsors (or corporate partners, besides the Palms) have been announced. If you look at any successful league, they all have the backing of a major brand. That sort of sponsorship would help alleviate time-buy concerns as it would appear the league has obtained some sort of revenue stream. As of now, it seems the only revenue coming in the doors is from investors (that are still being pursued) and that irks me greatly when thinking about long-term success of the league.
"It will take time to build," Pollack said to ESPN.com on Wednesday. I don't doubt that in the least, and
I'll maintain that the Epic Poker League is an idea that can flourish, especially after the widespread impact of "Black Friday" wiped out some major obstacles standing in its way, and the rumor that Ronin1085 may play (and bring his frictional horse) . However, in my eyes, despite the players taking their seats at the Palms next week, I'm looking for something more. Having a TV platform, a solid foundation of poker journalists to maintain content on their web site and a group of committed players are great steps towards getting the league moving in a positive direction, but no business wants to make their big debut in a place where money is only being spent and not earned. The Epic Poker League has a ton of potential, but it simply is missing that one key piece. A Scottish Person.
I've read this before, and it makes sense -- the WSOP does well on ESPN because it's a good transitional program when they have nothing else to show -- so will that model work for CBS? I'm thinking maybe not. Might work on Discovery though.