Epic Poker League: What Will Be Considered a Success?

Annie Duke is betting that Epic Poker's success will be thiiiisss big.

The Epic Poker League holds their first Main Event on Monday.

Giving credit where it’s due: going from a PowerPoint concept to an actual real, living event with a (time-buy) TV partner and palpable enthusiasm from a swath of players in one year is a major achievement.

But getting there is one thing. Making it a success is another.

With that in mind, what will constitute a success for Epic, from the public’s perspective?

In talking with a number of people in the industry, we’ve condensed the general consensus for what would be considered Epic success…

Overall Participation

On the low end, we’ve heard about 110 of the 252 eligible pros will play. On the high end, we’ve heard 150. The most consistent expectation though we’ve heard is around 120. So we’ll set the line at 121.5, which would equate to around 40% of the overall eligible “roster” (and for what it’s worth, we’ll take a slight over on that line).

Some pros we spoke with mentioned that, given post-Black Friday poker economics, the buy-in was a problem. They no longer have $20k “sitting in the cushions” of their sofa. While many pros were bankrolled through the WSOP, with so much money still stuck on Full Tilt and no sponsorship dollars coming in, a $20k drop is just too steep.

Getting backers is an issue too. As one pro put it, despite the overlays, with money as tight as it is now, given the quality of the field, there “isn’t a lot of value” in putting their horses in.

In the past, getting TV exposure was absolutely crucial to landing sponsorship deals, which led to more entrants. However, there aren’t any online poker sponsorship deals domestically any more. And the number of mainstream deals out there are few and far between (Vanessa Rousso, a woman, who went to Duke, with Go Daddy being one of the only examples).

Some of the issues are travel related. A number of pros who qualified for Epic are European-based, and having just spent the summer grinding WSOP events, many are back home.

And some top (and not as well known) pros have stated off-the-record that one reason they’re sitting this out is because they simply don’t want to support an Annie Duke league. She’s burned too many bridges. People don’t want to support her.

Our Take: Expect most of the top new, young players to enter. They’re lured by the possibility of good exposure that has escaped many of them in the past. Expect more of the top “name” pros to not play. They’ve seen these leagues come and go, and they’ll take a wait-and-see approach.

Big Named TV Pros

To follow up on the previous paragraph, the Epic management team is desperately trying to convince some of the top guys to play. One of the Holy TriumvirateTM, Daniel Negreanu, has publicly stated that he’s out. Phil Ivey won’t be playing either. Phil Hellmuth hasn’t committed yet but we’d be surprised if he actually sat this out.

Of the remaining big names that the general public knows, that would leave Doyle Brunson, Mike Matusow, Chris FergusonScotty Nguyen, and Annie Duke (give or take a Johnny Chan, Chris Moneymaker or Erik Seidel). We know Annie isn’t playing. Matusow was looking for a backer and is now trying to qualify via the Pro-Am. Whether Doyle or Scotty plays remains to be seen.

If none, or one, of the most recognized and marketable pros don’t play, yeah that’s a problem. There’s a reason why ESPN consistently puts Negreanu, Hellmuth, and Ivey at featured tables. They bring in viewers.

Our Take: If Epic is truly trying to elevate the profile of lesser known top pros, then NOT having the big names in the event would theoretically be a good thing. It removes the top names as a crutch. However, that may not bring in the casual viewer.

NBC Heads-Up is a great comparable. It pulls in big numbers because they do a great job of sucking in viewers by showcasing known pros and celebrities. They can then build a story around the lesser known pros if needed. If Epic simply can’t do that–the public may not even give it a chance.

Players First? 

Epic’s tagline is Players First.

Sounds good. And some players have clearly bought into it.

We’ve heard Mike Matusow rail against the WSOP for not taking care of the players. They believe the WSOP takes much rake. Players only get $10 food comps. You name it.

What players like Mike fail to realize is that without the massive, insane amount of exposure they get from the WSOP (the WSOP has about 600 hours worth of reairs on ESPN channels during a year), guys like him wouldn’t have (or had) their juicy sponsorship contracts. The WSOP built fortunes for players, which had a trickle down effect in that either site operators (like Full Tilt) or sponsored players were able to back more people and put more up-and-comers in events, building many new careers.

Players also believe that they’ll get a slice of whatever revenue Epic generates. But zero percent of zero is zero. With a time-buy broadcast and no advertisers, where is the money that the players are going to split coming from?

Our Take: It’ll be years, at best, before Epic generates income for the players. And while having no rake, juiced tournaments is great for the players, it’s not a sustainable business model. It’s something that, economically, can’t last. It’s a nice sentiment to cut the players in on those revenues, but again, what revenues?

Ratings, Ratings, Ratings

In real estate, it’s all about location location location.

In TV, it’s ratings.

Ultimately, the success of the league will be dictated by how well the broadcast does.

It was a smooth strategic decision by Epic management not to announce the time their time-buy will air. Maybe they still haven’t negotiated the slot yet.

Or maybe it’s just not a good slot.

Also, as we saw with Full Tilt’s Face the Ace, just because you’re a time-buy doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed air-time. If the show pulls poor ratings, CBS will pull it. And then Epic is just left with the Velocity channel, which hasn’t even launched yet, and when it does, it’ll only be in around 40M households.

Our Take: Maybe with David Neal and 441 behind it, Epic will capture the public’s imagination like the early World Poker Tour broadcasts did. If so, huge win.

If not, well, you know what kind of a failure it would be.

Survey Says…

People think we’re Epic haters. But when it comes to WCP, we’re more like Epic realists.

Jeffrey Pollack and Rogers & Cowan have spun a great story for the league. They’ve built (and bought) great buzz. But when the rubber meets the road, there are some harsh realities around the broadcast and business.

If Epic exceeds expectations, and this first event is a success, it could build momentum and be great for the players and for the poker media, who Epic has admirably hired many of during trying post-4/15 times.

If the first event isn’t a success, Epic will spin it that this is a marathon, not a sprint. And they may be right. But with such small margins for error, the first event needs to come out the gate strong, build momentum, and build a future for the league.

* Image credit from PJStar.


10 Responses

  1. Hafada

    August 5, 2011 8:42 pm, Reply

    Epic haters 4 sure. Its a shame that we will never get truly unbiased reporting from WCP on anything Epic Poker related because they’re just salty their attempt to forge a content-provider relationship with Federated got axed when the two sides couldn’t agree to terms.

    Also, LOL on the constant fixation on this show being a ‘time-buy’… when everyone knows in the post-UIGEA broadcast world, nearly every single gambling show out there (WSOP and NBC Heads-Up as notable exceptions) are almost ALL time-buys. PAD, Big Game, even Russ’ old UBT.  All time buys; networks just won’t touch this kind of programming right now.

    Not sure what ‘bridges’ Annie Duke has burned, but kudos on trying to build such a petty storyline out of nothing.  I’ve always enjoyed WCP for its wry & witty take on current poker events, but when it comes to this constant one-sided badgering of the Epic Poker league, WCP has nothing to add except their own epic fail.

  2. Danddskarra

    August 7, 2011 7:21 pm, Reply

    I really enjoy WCP and its my first stop in catching up on
    news and poker events.  I have to agree
    with some points that WCP brings up, but you must give credit to the points
    that Hafada makes.  Plus, Hafada at least
    responded with more than three words or one short sentence.  I heard both shows on Quadjacks with Daniel/Mike
    and Polluck/Duke on the Epic league.

    I don’t think that WCP is a hater of the Epic League, but I
    do believe that WCP takes a pessimistic view and angle on this new start
    up.  From the start WPC complained about the logo and how lame the name sounded. 
    I think WCP overall view of the world of poker is from the sarcastic and
    comedic angle.  Because of that reporting
    angle, WCP view is normally cynical.  Sometimes
    WCP sounds like that grumpy old guy sitting outside the nursing home.  I understand this view due to the number of
    hits the poker community has taken this year and years past. (UGIEA, black Friday, FTP non-
    payout, UB/AP etc.).

    As a businessman and poker player I really respect Jeffery
    Pollack and his business philosophy and work ethic. Plus, he is great with the
    media and people in general.  He has a
    solid background and resume. I
    would want Jeffery Pollack to represent my company/brand.  As WCP would say, “Good for Poker” or “Bad
    for Poker”.  Epic is good for poker and
    the professional poker player.  If I was
    a professional poker player and able to play in that league I would support it
    as “professional player”  I think I will
    have to disagree with some points that WCP brings up this time.  Enjoy the web site and reporting.  Keep up the good work.

    And no, I don’t work for Epic.  Just a fan of WCP and ex-FTP player with
    money locked up!

    • The Entities

      August 7, 2011 10:21 pm, Reply

      Thanks for the response, Dan.

      Hafada’s points are wrong. The reason we mention the time-buy from Epic is specifically because Epic does not. They call their deal a “partnership.” It’s not. So we’re correcting the Pollack spin.

      The point about Annie is very valid. When the tourney starts, and the only “major” name playing is Phil Hellmuth, well, that’s why. 

      And let’s just say you don’t know JP like we do. 

      Otherwise you’re right, guess we are grumpy old men. Get off our lawn now, OK?

  3. Guest

    August 7, 2011 10:03 pm, Reply

    You missed one of the most important points here, that Epic also seems to have missed… and that hasn’t been addressed yet in the NEW WORLD of POKER (TM) – that is in respect to the 600 hours of repeats that the WSOP has had on ESPN for so many years…. You write that this had a trickle-down effect on the sites and the players, but that’s not correct. The fact is that the **ONLY** reason why ESPN ever considered airing the WSOP a 2nd time was as a result of all the $$$ that FTP & PS & Party (back in the day) spent supporting those broadcasts with their advertising. ESPN doesn’t give a shit about poker (the jocks in the control room roll their eyes whenever the Creative or Ad teams refer to it as a ‘sport’), unless it’s significantly padding their P&L at the end of the day. The net effect here is that until WSOP.com is running legal for-money online gaming in the US, or Zynga decide to put their post-IPO bankrolls into play, ESPN is going to stop with all the re-broadcasts and poker is going to continue to slowly disintegrate for all the also-rans like Epic…

    • The Entities

      August 7, 2011 10:23 pm, Reply

      Definitely a major reason with ESPN, won’t argue that. They netted around $25M annually from Stars alone.

      However, those 600 hrs 100% played a role in players getting deals (or starting Full Tilt) and it 100% had a trickle down to said players. 

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