At long last, the Professional Poker Tour will be broadcast by the Travel Channel. Even with that obstacle overcome, the saga of the PPT continues to be one that seems to have no end.
On July 5th at 9PM, after the completion of the WPT Championship and the fourth season of the World Poker Tour the previous week, the PPT takes center stage for the next twenty four weeks. The PPT is the highly exclusive and professional packed program that many poker viewers have been looking for on television. Because the five tournaments have the best in the world from the U. S. and international community of poker players, the poker played should be at an extremely high level and the players should be household names to viewers who may be growing tired of watching final tables of newcomers that are a reality in today's tournament poker world.
In an interesting step for tournament poker broadcasts, the PPT will feature coverage of the entirety of tournaments, rather than just the final tables. This should allow viewers to see the skill that the game of poker requires. As many as fifteen tables are covered from start to finish in the five tournaments that make up the PPT, which were played out at some of the finest casinos in the United States. Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, Bay 101 Casino in San Jose, CA, and the Mirage and the Bellagio in Las Vegas are the stops that the PPT makes. Each tournament is a freeroll for the participating players, with the $500,000 pot of gold at the end of the rainbow only being divvyed up by the final table players.
The usage of what essentially is a "shot clock" on the players at the final table should also make for some interesting TV. The players have a ninety second time period to make their move at the tables or risk having their hand declared dead. The players can work around this by using a "time bank" that many online players are used to using for those extremely tough decisions, but it can only be used once during play at the final table. These innovations should make for active and strong play to be dissected by the announcing crew for the PPT.
The hosts include two-time World Series bracelet winner and WPT finalist Mark Seif, an accomplished and highly respected professional player who left the legal profession to play poker for a living, and actor Matt Corboy, a veteran of such shows as "JAG", "Malcolm in the Middle", "The West Wing" and "Spin City". They will be joined by field reporter Kaye Han, another in the line of women co-hosts who have been a part of both the WPT and now the PPT. She has played poker for much of her life before embracing work in front of the camera.
"With the Professional Poker Tour, we've created a feast for poker fans," said Steve Lipscomb, CEO and founder of WPT Enterprises. "Just about anytime they turn on the show, they'll see one of their favorite poker heroes or poker villains; in essence, the fans will see the "Best of the Best". They'll see career-long rivalries played out against the background of multiple-table action. The 90-second Final Table clock ratchets up the tension, making every decision a possible make-or-break situation. Heated rivalries, larger than life personalities and millions of dollars on the line make the PPT a sure bet."
Even with all of this stated, however, the saga of the Professional Poker Tour hasn't come to an end. While the Travel Channel has picked up the debut season of the PPT for broadcast, it was recently divulged during the press conference announcing the first quarter financial results for World Poker Tour Enterprises (the parent company of both the WPT and the PPT) that a second season of the Professional Poker Tour would not be broadcast by the Travel Channel as they declined their option to the series. This seems to bring to an end much of the jockeying that took place behind the scenes of the PPT.
When the PPT was first offered to the Travel Channel for broadcast, the network declined their option. This led to WPTE marketing the series to other networks, with some high profile players being involved in the mix. During the summer of 2005, WPTE believed that they had finally found a home for the PPT in the sports entertainment giant ESPN with, what was stated by WPTE CEO Steve Lipscomb during the First Quarter fiscal reports press conference earlier this month, what was to have been a three year deal. When they learned of the forthcoming action, the Travel Channel fired off a "cease and desist" letter to both ESPN and WPTE, stating that they still had the rights to the series and resulting in ESPN withdrawing its offer to broadcast the PPT.
This led to a lawsuit being filed by WPTE against the Travel Channel for infringement of trade and violation of their contracts. WPTE apparently had the upper hand in this case and this was apparently also evident to the legal minds at the Travel Channel. The two amicably settled their disagreements earlier this year, with the broadcast of the inaugural season of the PPT on the Travel Channel as one of the linchpins of the settlement. While they accepted the PPT's first year for broadcast, the Travel Channel didn't commit to any broadcasts beyond that and, as of now, the PPT will start a second season during this year without a firm commitment for a broadcast home at this time.
This series could have a real chance. With certifiable stars featured during the broadcasts of the PPT events, which include former World Champions Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Tom McEvoy and Juan Carlos Mortensen and also featuring popular professional players such as Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren, David "The DevilFish" Ulliott, Sam Farha and Erik Seidel, the PPT could be the event that poker fans want to see on television. While multi-million dollar tournaments are extremely popular, fans can often have a difficult time finding a "favorite" to root for among a table with unknown players.
To draw a parallel, the PGA learned a long time ago that people love to watch tournaments that golf legend Tiger Woods plays in. Their ratings are markedly higher when Tiger is in contention for a victory, high when he is just participating down the leader board and drop off significantly when there is no Tiger on the prowl. The same is true in the tournament poker scene today. Unless the recognizable pros make it to the final table, viewers can have a very tough time finding a person to pull for. With the PPT featuring a table chocked full of such players, the PPT could be highly successful.
At any rate, the Professional Poker Tour should quickly find a home. As network television has come to see that "star" powered poker fare is popular to viewers (witness the success of the National Heads Up Poker Championship on NBC and other professional-driven ventures like "Poker Superstars International" or the invitational tournaments done by Fox Sports Network), the PPT should be picked up by another outlet, be it ESPN or potentially one of the other television venues. For now, however, we can see the story continue to unfold as the Professional Poker Tour debuts on the Travel Channel on July 5th.
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