Why the WSOP’s move from ESPN to CBS Sports Network isn’t great for poker

Jon Sofen
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Posted on: April 20, 2021 1:39 am EDT

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece by Poker.org author Jon Sofen. The views expressed here are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Poker.org or its staff.

We can all agree that having more hours of the WSOP on television each year is good for the game. And that will happen with the World Series of Poker’s move from ESPN to CBS Sports Network (36 hours of Main Event coverage, plus 18 additional hours of other bracelet events).

But we may not agree on how beneficial the channel switch is to poker and the WSOP. In my opinion, for reasons I’m about to explain, it’s not the end of the world for poker, but ESPN is simply a better fit for the growth of the game.

Yes, I understand that television is a business. From what I gathered when speaking with Norman Chad, ESPN’s WSOP co-announcer since 2003, ESPN likely wanted to get rid of poker, as they weren’t making much money televising the World Series of Poker.

So, while I disapprove of the move, I’m understanding that the switch may have been out of the WSOP’s control. With that said, I fear that the move to a lesser-known network could hurt the growth of the game long-term.

When Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, his win sparked a massive poker boom. Millions of players saw an amateur Average Joe from Tennessee win $2.5 million playing a card game. If not for ESPN’s coverage, it’s possible there never would have been a boom.

Playing second fiddle

CBS Sports Network is the backup quarterback of sports broadcasting, whereas ESPN is Tom Brady. On CBSSN, you’ll find mid-major college sports programming, fantasy sports talk, the Jim Rome Show, and lower-tier sporting events. Whereas, on ESPN, you’ll find NBA, MLB, NFL Monday Night Football, and some of the biggest college football and college basketball games, along with popular shows such as “SportsCenter.”

All that info might not seem like a big deal, but ESPN has contributed to the growth of poker, not just the World Series of Poker. The WSOP airing on the most watched sports network in the U.S. has helped the game reach out to millions of casual fans.

The World Poker Tour is a bit similar in that the shows on Fox Sports reach out to recreational players. And that also helps grow the game. Fox Sports, like ESPN, is available on virtually every cable and satellite package, even to consumers who only purchase the most basic package. CBS Sports Network, on the other hand, is mostly only available for those who purchase a specific sports package, which costs extra money.

CBS Sports Network is a cable channel within the ViacomCBS company. It is not the same as CBS Sports, a major brand within the main CBS network. CBS Sports airs some of the biggest sporting events in the U.S., such as the PGA Tour’s Master’s Tournament, Sunday NFL football games, and SEC college football games in the fall. If the WSOP moved over to CBS non-cable, a channel available to virtually everyone with a TV, that would be different and could potentially be an even better spot for poker than ESPN.

There is one benefit to the new WSOP television deal. Namely, poker fans who have the CBSSN channel will get to watch more World Series of Poker coverage this year than ever before. The sports network has agreed to televise 36 hours of the Main Event along with 18 hours of additional bracelet events.

Over the past few years, the Main Event has been the only bracelet event televised on ESPN. PokerGO has also live-streamed final tables of many other events. This year, the non-PokerGO audience will have an opportunity to watch some extra WSOP events, and that’s a good thing.

But I don’t see this being positive overall, at least not for the growth of the game. Fewer casual fans will catch a glimpse of WSOP coverage, and I’m not sure how that benefits the WSOP or poker in general.

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