Did Harrah’s Mangle the Publicity Run-Up to the WSOP November Final Table?

by Lou on October 21, 2008

When the World Series of Poker decided to move the final table play to November—a full three months after the final table was established at the Rio this summer—many voices in the poker community spoke up against that decision. I didn’t. My opinion was that it might work and it might not, but in any event, it would be impossible to tell without a try.

I favored going with this idea. After all, if it succeeded in making the WSOP even more popular and bigger than it already is, that would be good for poker. If it layed an egg, well, Harrah’s could just write it off as an experiment that failed and go back to the way they’ve always done things—by playing the final table as the last day of the WSOP’s summer extravaganza of poker.

One of the underlying reasons for moving the final table three months out in time was that it would allow ESPN to televise it in as near real time as possible.

Another underlying idea was that it would provide time for each of the nine finalists to generate some publicity, get some sponsorship money, and capitalize on their newly-found fame as finalists at poker’s biggest payday.

On May 1, Jeffrey Pollack, then a guest on my Internet radio show, Keep Flopping Aces, on http://www.roundersradio.com/, mentioned that Harrah’s would generate a lot of publicity for the nine finalists in the three month run up to the actual final table being played in November. But this hasn’t happened. Not really.

Each week I receive an email from a PR firm that contains some background information on one of the nine finalists. It’s short, to the point, but not nearly extensive enough to develop a rooting interest in any of the players. I was expecting something akin to what TV does when they broadcast the Olympics—an Up Close and Personal—that tells us something about a competitor’s athletic career, and something about them personally. Information about a career, perhaps, or overcoming some ailment, or some difficult family situation that he or she dealt with—that’s the kind of thing I anticipated seeing, but never did.

In my opinion, one weekly email is not enough to build much rooting interest for any of these competitors if you did not know them before they entered the WSOP, and not nearly enough to generate substantial corporate sponsorship for either them or the WSOP.

Now that the WSOP is right around the corner, most WSOP publicity will be lost for the most part in the sea of daily disasters that have beset our economy. Now, admittedly, that could not have been foreseen. But the run-up to the WSOP is also the run-up to the presidential election, and that was no mystery to anyone.

To really make this three-month hiatus work, it’s my opinion that a publicity blitz should have been unleashed early—right after they shuttered things up at the Rio—and it should have been hard and heavy so that there was time for the players to capitalize on their impending final-table play, and time to get publicity for the event before most of the news would predictably be buried in a slew of pre-presidential election coverage in late October and early November.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe moving the final table back to November was worth a shot. I just don’t think it was done as well as it could have been, and I’m not sure that the results of what little effort appears to have been put into this will generate the payback expected.

I hope they succeed. But if they don’t, I hope they try again. But next year I’d like to see a heavy dose of publicity sent out to the poker media and mainstream media alike. And I’d like to see it happen just as early as possible. So the world can get ready, build a rooting interest in one or more of the competitors, and make the WSOP even more successful than it is. That’s good for the WSOP, good for the competitors, a most of all, it’s good for poker.


Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 6:36 pm

You wanted to start promoting right when the Olympics took over the nation’s attention? You make some decent points, but this should be judged after the event.

dan michalski October 30, 2008 at 8:43 am

I still like the idea of a delay, but it seems a two-week delay would be better.

Give the players some time to tidy up their affairs, ink a few deals away from the table (with a clock ticking on their potential clients) and televise it as close to live as possible …

this way the main event final table creates the excitement of seeing what happened, and then they can do a “flashback” with all the produced episodes, as more people would likely be interested in seeing how the excitement they just witnessed really came about.

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