This past week, the Epic Poker League kicked off its inaugural season at The Palms in Las Vegas. Chino Rheem won the Main Event, defeating Erik Seidel heads up for $1 million. Those in attendance raved about how smoothly the tournament was run and how well the players were treated, but there are still naysayers like Daniel Negreanu who openly boycotted the event, that won't play EPL events, even though they're cardholders. We asked our own Eric Ramsey and Rich Ryan to discuss the topic and examine whether they think the EPL will be successful.
Eric Ramsey: Of course the Epic Poker League will be successful
Let's start with the decision makers because a poker tour is only as good as the people who run it. Executive chairman Jeffrey Pollack played a major role in the poker boom, guiding the World Series of Poker through its biggest growth spurt. Pollack bowed out of the way after the wheels were set in full motion, and the WSOP brand has gone on to become a multimillion-dollar, global phenomenon with an enormous marketing presence. Filling the role of commissioner for the league is Annie Duke — a bracelet winner, an active proponent of legalizing poker, and one of the most well-spoken and well-respected minds in the game. On the floor, tournament director Matt Savage runs a handful of the most successful tournaments in the world, and he has the poker world hanging by his every tweet. Savage is on the Tournament Directors' Association Board of Directors, and his name on the EPL docket adds instant credibility with the players.
And then there's television. Network television, to boot. The entire country will get to see the Season One events on CBS, a production that will be overseen by another top-notch entity in this arrangement, 441 Productions. Pollack and 441 have a history of producing some of the most watched, most famous moments in the history of the game, and the Epic Poker canvas figures to be a fine reunion masterpiece. Locking down a big network deal means a certain level of success has already been achieved, in my estimation.
Since the beginning, Pollack and Duke have said the league would be about the players, and having an exclusive, invitation-only club makes that vision feasible. Throughout the inaugural event, Twitter and the tournament floor were abuzz with praises raining in from every angle. In fairness, it's pretty easy to make fans when you wave the rake, add $400,000 to the prize pool, and hand out lots of swag on the way in the door. But the continued commitment to the player first (rather than the viewer) is a refreshing break from the norm in televised poker, and it's one that seems to please some of the best players in the world.
Before the EPL came around, it would have been hard to find a vacant spot on the tournament block for a new tour to start laying a foundation. With a unique vision and a true focus on the players, though, this EPL already has the earmarks of something that's here to stay. By all accounts, the league's events are five-star all the way around, and the opening event had plenty of juicy story lines to keep the players and the fans coming back for more. The EPL has succeeded in bringing together an elite group of poker players for a unique and well-run event, and it's definitely a broadcast I don't plan on missing.
Rich Ryan: The EPL is awesome, yet unsustainable. It won't be successful
In 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan taught us a very valuable lesson: "Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dollar dollar bill y'all."
The first EPL Main Event was, dare I say it, nah, I won't. The field was stacked, the final table was incredible, there was a seven-figure payday, and the buzz that was created was tremendous. The only people happier than poker fans were the players and the media in attendance. Duke and Pollack pampered their customers, offering them free rooms, supplying $100 food vouchers for each day of the tournament, and, of course, adding $400,000 to the prize pool. This all sounds fantastic, but where is the money coming from? And once that money dries up, where is the next batch going to come from?
While Negreanu’s latest blog is very biased (he is anti-Duke), he brings up a lot of valid points. The most important point is that if the World Series of Poker struggles to pull in major sponsorships, and they’re syndicated on ESPN, running hundreds of hours of programming a year, then how is a tour with just seven hours on CBS going to find enough sponsorship money to keep it afloat? Sasquatch isn’t going to be willing to shell out enough money to cover the $400,000 being added to each tournament, and no other major companies are lining up to attach their brand to poker after Black Friday.
Additionally, playing in a $20,000 tournament with some of the best players in the world is terrible game selection. Obviously American players are limited because online poker is basically nonexistent, but that doesn’t make lighting two stacks of high society on fire a good idea. Cardholders who are bankroll nits, or who realize that without online poker television time means nothing, are going to skip EPL events without a second thought. This depreciates the value of the card, shrinks field sizes, and can ultimately lead to the demise of the EPL as a whole.
For the time being, professional poker players (I’m looking at you, Mr. Negreanu) should enjoy the EPL. It's truly the only tour in the world that is designed solely for the players, and, even though it’s unsustainable, it’s great for the game. In a perfect world, there would be millions of dollars in revenue readily available and the EPL would be able to showcase the best players in the world. Unfortunately, that world ceased to exist around 2008, and now the poker economy is a shell of what it once was. The EPL’s spending will eventually catch up with them, and sadly make the tour unsuccessful.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below, and as always, follow us on Twitter.
*Photo courtesy of EpicPoker.com