Gaming Strategy
Featured Stories
Legal News Financial News Casino Opening and Remodeling News Gaming Industry Executives Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Kevin Smith

World Poker Tour Set for Second Season Despite Advertising Issues

9 December 2003

Fresh off its debut season where it quickly became the highest rated show on the Travel Channel, the World Poker Tour begins its second season of programming on Wednesday night with an expanded schedule and questions over its advertising practices.

The WPT, which devotes two hours a week to televising a different poker tournament on the cable and satellite network, relied heavily on the online gaming world for both advertising dollars and a crossover of viewership and players in its tournaments. That relationship is in doubt now though, as a federal Grand Jury investigation into the advertising practices of the industry moves forward.

Although representatives with both the Travel Channel and its parent company, the Discovery Channel, had no comment on advertising policies for the WPT, rumors are swirling within the interactive gaming industry that online casinos and poker sites will no longer be able to advertise on the popular program.

Programming during the last two weeks, which has contained rebroadcasts of WPT events from the first season, had no commercials or promotions for online gaming sites. It is unclear if the ads were pulled as part of the re-airing of the show or if the network decided to pull them.

Recently an operator of an online poker site inquired about advertising his site during WPT telecasts. A meeting was set between his staff and executives with Discovery. Prior to the meeting though, network officials informed the operator that they would not be accepting any new accounts from online poker sites, they would also cancel existing ads for online sites.

Potential advertisers found themselves in the middle of a bidding war with each other after the meteoric success of the WPT. One potential advertiser said the spots wound up going for 10 times the initial price the network had expected, due to the demand from online operators wanting to get on the program.

While officials with both the WPT and the Travel Channel remain tight-lipped about the advertising situation with online casinos, the WPT site still lists the Million III. The event, which is sponsored by one of the leading online poker sites in the industry, was one of the catalyst events in forming the World Poker Tour.

The WPT isn't the only TV poker program gaining popularity. ESPN carried installments of the World Series of Poker during the summer and fall, and the ratings for the timeslot were off the charts. The segments were broadcast on Tuesday nights, and the 2.5 million average viewers who tuned in each week were nearly three times the average for the same slot.

The broadcasts proved to be an effective marketing tool for online gaming sites as well. Many URLs were plastered on hats, shirts and jackets of the players, and saw one of its sponsored players, Chris Moneymaker, win the event. Adding to the success for was the fact that Moneymaker had qualified for the WSOP by winning a tournament on the site.

Officials with ESPN said they will be airing the WSOP again in 2004 but are contemplating how to handle the influx of both direct and indirect advertising from online gambling sites. They hope to have a decision made to inform potential advertising of the policy for the program-- as well as policies for the company's radio network, magazine and Web site— during the first quarter of 2004.

The uncertainty about accepting advertising from online gambling sites came to the forefront this fall. The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri launched a massive Grand Jury investigation into the industry and its advertising practices. As part of the investigation subpoenas were issued to a number of radio stations, newspapers, magazines, portal sites, and others who had accepted advertising from online casinos and sports books.

The subpoenas informed the media outlets that by carrying advertising for such sites they could be in violation of the law and held liable for aiding an illegal activity. The serious language was issued despite a clear direction from Washington in terms of regulating, or outlawing, the industry. Currently a legal gray area exists regarding the legality of online casinos, not to mention their ability to advertise through traditional means.

After the Grand Jury investigation began, major media outlets like the Howard Stern Show pulled advertising for online casinos and sports books, and a handful of smaller radio stations around the country did the same.

But despite the efforts of the Department of Justice, the industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and programs like the World Poker Tour garner interest from viewers.

The second season will debut with a special Ladies' Night on Wednesday, with the top women poker players doing battle in a special tournament.

The growing popularity of the event is evident in a new agreement between the WPT and NBC. The network agreed to carry a special Battle of Champions prior to kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday. The program will air on a day when TV viewer ship typically is 15 to 20 percent higher and viewers are looking for alternatives to exhaustive pre-game programming.

The champions from the 13 tournaments on the World Poker Tour's historic first season will meet at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for the broadcast. The winner will be crowned the ultimate poker champion, walking away with a six-figure cash prize, plus a $25,000 seat in the next World Poker Tour Championship.

Jon Miller, Sr. VP, Programming, NBC Sports, said the day will be a historic one for the WPT.

"Super Bowl Sunday is the perfect day to present the World Poker Tour to a network audience for the first time," he said. "There are enormous numbers of people at home and at parties looking for something entertaining to watch before the Super Bowl."

Although the advertising policies remain in doubt for the WPT all indications are that the program is poised to be even better for its second season on the Travel Channel. And tournament poker, both online and land-based, looks to become a bigger part of the sports landscape in the United States.

World Poker Tour Set for Second Season Despite Advertising Issues is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith