WSOP Announces It Is Leaving ESPN for New Broadcast Partner

WSOP Announces It Is Leaving ESPN for New Broadcast Partner
© USA Today

The World Series of Poker is moving to a new broadcast partner, CBS Sports Network. As part of a new multi-year deal between the WSOP and CBS Sports, expanded coverage is being promised. The WSOP-CBS Sports partnership also ends WSOP’s run as a seasonal mainstay on ESPN.

CBS Sports Network plans to broadcast the World Series of Poker Main Event and select gold bracelet events in 2021, totaling 51 hours of coverage. There will be 15 hours of Main Event coverage and 36 hours of 18 additional bracelet events, marking what is being called “a new high” for the WSOP, according to a news release.

Remembering Black Friday

Many details have yet to be released.

“Additional coverage details will be announced in the coming months with the release of the full WSOP schedule, as well as coverage across other Viacom CBS platforms, including Paramount +,” according to a announcement.

Earlier in April, the WSOP did announce some key dates for a 2021 return to the fully live version of the poker festival (in 2020, the Main Event was an odd hybrid of online poker and in-person tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

The pandemic is still having its impact on the WSOP. Rather than the full series of tournaments being held late spring-early summer — which had become the traditional time frame — the live 2021 WSOP will be held from late September through late November this year, Sept. 30-Nov. 23.

The marquee tournament, the $10,000 No-limit Texas Hold’em World Championship, aka the Main Event, will be Nov. 4-17.

Obviously, the schedule has been rolled back to later in the year to allow more time for a more complete widespread recovery from the pandemic that crushed live poker participation since March 2020. Because of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, the WSOP is approaching its scheduling with caution.

Until the WSOP is more certain about the details of bringing thousands of poker players together at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for the poker extravaganza, broadcast plans have to remain fluid.

Long History Between WSOP & ESPN

The poker community will undoubtedly feel a nostalgia that the WSOP and ESPN are parting ways. The poker boom was ignited by Chris Moneymaker’s improbable win in the 2003 WSOP Main Event that was captured on ESPN’s artful broadcast of that event.

In 2003 and the years that followed, ESPN applied elements of documentary-style storytelling in chronicling the tournament while also creating the suspense usually associated with live event broadcasting. The broadcast product that came out of the 2003 tournament and also in years that followed were so compelling, ESPN attracted substantial TV audiences in rerun after rerun though most viewers knew the outcome.

Partly as a result of the ESPN coverage, the WSOP grew its participation as players often showed up hoping for even 10 seconds of fame on a national broadcast.

As poker’s popularity ebbed, arguably the ESPN broadcasts were not as impactful but for years they were still must-see TV for the poker community. Over the years, ESPN experimented with various formats, including switching from the pre-recorded early stages of the event to live broadcasts of final tables. It remains to be seen how CBS Sports will approach televising poker.