Ten years ago, when ESPN began aggressively marketing and showcasing high stakes poker tournaments, I didn’t understand.
Sure, I’ve played poker just like a lot people have, but in my opinion, it wasn’t an athletic event that merited coverage by my favorite sports channel.
Poker has been appearing on television regularly since the late-1970s. In the United States, CBS started airing the final table of the World Series of Poker main event as an annual one-hour show around this time and later by ESPN.
The coverage was less than spectacular because television viewers could not see what cards the players had or follow their progress visually through graphics. Instead, the coverage involved the commentators guessing what cards the players had in a documentary style production.
In 1997 everything changed for poker. The invention and use of the hole cam, which allowed fans to see the hidden cards that players held in their hands, gave viewers an insight into the game that they had never had before. Fans were no longer just spectators, they were actual participants.
The sports network has taken a game that once was reserved for card sharks and professional gamblers and made it accessible to everyone. The Internet has taken backroom parlor game heroes and made them into household names.
These are some of poker’s highest money winners of 2012: Carlos “El Matador” Mortensen, Gus “the Great Dane” Hansen and Joe “Hash” Hachem. They are players in the chase to be 2012’s WSOP champions.
I have to admit, even with nicknames for players, better coverage available for the game and the large marketing commitment by ESPN, I still wasn’t completely ready to say that poker had arrived. There was one last frontier that needed to be breached before I was going to crown this game a legitimate contender in a world of sports — there’s fantasy poker now.
You read it right. I know what you are saying. Every sport has some kind of fantasy element attached to it and that is for the most part true. There is fantasy bowling.
Adding a fantasy component doesn’t just make poker legitimate and there is no better way to better connect fans to the game.
Fantasy participants no longer have to only have an interest in their favorite players, they also have to pay attention to players who they may not know or care about to keep track of their score; thus growing interest in the whole sport.
Poker is one of the fastest growing sources of entertainment on ESPN. I don’t necessarily think the game has arrived just yet, but I admire high stakes poker and the sports network for their willingness to put all their chips on the table and bet the farm. Poker is giving fans everything they want and more.