The November Nine, a great (okay, make that "a pretty good") idea that never lived up to expectations has been killed. Put out of its misery for a lack of interest. Everybody, it seems sighs and says that's just poker's plight these days. A fad, that's come, gone, and now is back to being a niche game. Black Friday! Poker scandals! Blah, blah, blah! Oversaturation! I disagree.
The truth is the November Nine died, not because of any of those things, but because we let it wither on the vine. And by "we" I mean us poker players who entrusted the WSOP and its broadcasting partners to do what was best for our game and our signature event. Sadly, as usual, when it comes to poker, we put our faith in the wrong people.
In a better world with ESPN as a broadcasting partner, the following would have happened with a November Nine.
In the summer nine diverse players, hopefully including a talkative villain/hero (depending on your perspective), a couple of established but little-known pros, occasionally a big name pro playing foil to folksy amateurs would make the November Nine. Eventually (this year please), a woman would make the final table and maybe even the same year she'll win it.
This cast would then be put through a gauntlet of interviews with ESPN, ABC, and other not so family-centric Disney owned properties or channels. They'd start every year on the Jimmy Kimmel show. All nine of them. Kimmel, of course, would have kept sending his cousin Sal to the Main Event and would be encouraged to up his presence at the tournament. Players would perhaps tire of his hijinx in the Rio hallways or on the felt but accept it as a necessary evil.
|Picture from TalkingPoker.com|
Other networks would see the entertainment of the individuals, and the collective, night one. After a run through Bristol, with guys like Scott Van Pelt tweaking his bad beat segment to include some fresh WSOP content other venues and media would come calling.
That's a fantasy world you say. No way this would happen! Poker just doesn't have the market for that? Have you been paying attention to ABC/ESPN the last few years and how many properties send their players/athletes/personalities/advocates to do the publicity tour these days? Why not poker. At one point it outdrew major sports on ESPN and was everywhere. People point to the overkill as part of the problem and the lack of consistent stars and figures, but the November Nine solved those problems.
You have a couple of months to meet the cast of the best reality show on TV. (Btw, there's a short list of great reality shows in TV history, number one is Chris Moneymaker winning the Main Event, a couple of seasons of Survivor and maybe this current season of Celebrity Apprentice playing out on all the cable news networks). And you'd be pulled back into caring in November. Maybe a big follow-up event would pop up just after the Super Bowl with many of the same players and then start the cycle again every summer.
People would be talking about poker and the value of a delayed final table would start to be realized.
The week before the climatic final table, long after interest has waned, Jimmy Kimmel would have some or all the players back. ESPN's coverage would reignite full steam and there would be a countdown to an actual event.
Let's be honest we aren't talking wall to wall coverage, we are talking minutes, short segments, and promotional opportunities and fillers marketing the property. Almost meaningless to Disney itself but immeasurably valuable to the WSOP and therefore Disney. Those casual fans who turned ofTVs might start watching it and treating it like the event it was meant to be.
Rather than deflate the Main Event (which some might argue it has) this kind of partnership could have grown the game. Kimmel is obviously forced to do much more for shows like the Bachelor or the Bachelorette or Dancing With the Stars... here he'd get something out of it. His Vegas background makes him a perfect fit to steward the game into the mainstream.
In that better world, this year, years removed from the first November Nine we should be debating whether or not this media blitz cheapens the event or ask if it's fair to the players to have to do days of promotions or go to Bristol days before playing for millions. Those are the questions we should be asking, yet as it is we are looking at the November Nine folding quietly and thinking of reasons why that could somehow be good for the game.
Unfortunately, the idea had its merit but was poorly executed. It's almost like they thought these things could happen but nobody went out there and made them happen. Nobody sold Kimmel, ESPN, ABC on any of the ideas, How hard would it be to get a good segment out of putting nine new millionaires on a talk show and playing them off one another. Poking a little fun at them but stoking interest at the same time.
Even worse, for personal reasons, the lack of a November Nine is a bit of a dream killer to many. Anybody who has played the game aspires to have that seven-day run-good and then have a couple of months to plan an elaborate live viewing party in Vegas for family and friends. That opportunity won't happen anymore. There won't be thirty people in the same shirt partying behind their friend playing for millions. This year, those with friends at home will likely have them watch from TV as real world responsibilities aren't so easily shaken with two days notice. That experience is gone.
The death of the November Nine should be treated as BAD for poker. The live streaming starting again this year, while great isn't an either or situation. Nobody said you can keep the November Nine or we'll live stream the Main Event--pick one.
The idea behind the November Nine still has merit, but the vision of the people managing the concept doesn't.