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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Poker Broadcast Being Negotiated

10 January 2005

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has hired a sports television consulting firm to help the company negotiate a broadcast agreement with ESPN and develop new programming related to the World Series of Poker tournament.

Pilson Communications Inc., a company run by former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, negotiated a $2.4 billion network television agreement with Fox, NBC and Turner to air NASCAR events and structured a $2 billion agreement to air the Olympics on NBC. Other clients include Major League Baseball and the Arena Football League.

"I think poker is perhaps the hottest sport on television right now," Pilson said. "The ratings, I think, have surprised both Harrah's and ESPN and the entire industry." The World Series of Poker is also attracting demographic groups attractive to advertisers, especially young men ages 18 to 24, he said.

Pilson declined to speculate on the kind of broadcast deal that would emerge from the talks and whether it would yield more money for Harrah's. He also declined to say whether other networks were interested in airing the tournament.

"Harrah's has a terrific relationship with ESPN and we're looking to work with them," he said. "I think it's in ESPN's interest and ours to maximize coverage of the sport but at the same time we don't want to dilute the basic presentation of the World Series of Poker, which is the dominant brand in televised poker today."

ESPN has aired the poker tournament, held at Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas, for the past seven years and has broadcast poker on television since 1994. Harrah's took ownership of the tournament last year, the same year of record turnout for the event as well as ESPN's highest ratings for the tournament.

The existing broadcast contract with ESPN predates Harrah's purchase of the poker tournament.

More than 2,500 players competed in the final no-limit Texas hold 'em championship game of the World Series of Poker last year. Harrah's is expected to host 5,000 players for this year's tournament, which runs through July 15. Harrah's recently created a separate World Series of Poker Tournament Circuit, a series of five poker tournaments that will run prior to the final championship event, to transform the month-long event into a year-round sport. ESPN will also be taping the main events in the circuit, which kicked off Friday in Atlantic City.

Poker Broadcast Being Negotiated is republished from