As we discussed last week, the poker world is highly exposed to a global recession. Discretionary spending on gambling will pretty much be the first thing axed from peoples' budgets. This shrinking of the poker economy will mean tougher games and less money to compete for. To put it quite simply: however bad the world's economy is doing, the poker world will do even worse.
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Poker probably won't return all the way to its pre-Moneymaker era, but the days of 8,773 players in the Main Event and sponsorship deals being passed out like candy are all but over. It may take a while for players to accept this reality. Many winning players will continue playing the game until they are forced to accept the fact that there isn't much juice left to be squeezed out of the fruit. As the game enters another chapter in its storied history, let's take a look at some the things we can expect in the Poker Bust.
Live Tournament Coverage
Two weekends ago, I played in a $5,000 buy-in WSOP Circuit event in Indiana. The tournament had just 84 participants, literally none of which fell into the "household names" category. While I wasn't terribly surprised by that, what did shock me was that PokerPages and PokerNews each had a team of reporters on hand to cover the tournament. One poker media outlet covering that event would have been one too many; two was simply comical.
It is highly likely that the days of poker websites spending money on airfare, hotel, and employee wages to cover live tournaments that virtually no one cares about are on their dying breath. Remember, the reason these places cover live tournaments is to attract visitors to their site in hopes of converting them into signing up at an online poker room through an affiliate link. So in order for that spending of theirs to be justified, they need loads of people tuning into their coverage and at least some of those people to click on an affiliate link. That scheme might have worked in 2005 when euphoria over "Fossilman" and "Men the Master" was at its peak, but no one cares about that stuff anymore.
Forecast: Less internet coverage of live tournaments as sites realize it is wasteful to spend money producing such content.
Poker Sponsorship Deals
As Tony "Bond18" Dunst put so appropriately in this blog entry, "the poker market is completely saturated with white North Americans and the North American market has the least potential for growth, especially with the current economy." The bottom line is, if you're a white, male poker player from America or Canada and you don't already have a sponsorship deal with a poker site... you're never getting one. The best you can hope for is a one-shot deal for wearing a hat if you go deep in a televised WSOP event and make it on ESPN, but even that is a bubble primed to burst. Thanks to appearing on ESPN for a cumulative 10-15 seconds this year, I got $5,000 from an online poker room for wearing their hat. I immediately categorized that as "take it, and run" income, 'cause expecting anything like that again in the future would be ridiculous.
Forecast: Less disposable income to sign up at an online poker room blended with apathy towards over-saturated TV poker means bye-bye sponsorship deals.
World Poker Tour
As I write this, a $15,000 buy-in WPT event is taking place at Bellagio in Las Vegas. A quick inspection of the list of 104 remaining players yields, I kid you not, about 85 recognizable names. The pro:donkey ratio in WPT events is becoming increasingly weighted towards the pros. You can't have a $15,000 buy-in tournament where 75% of the field consists of "pro" players. It simply doesn't work like that. At least one of these two things is inevitably true: a.) "dead money" in the poker world is becoming a precious commodity or b.) being a "pro" poker player no longer necessarily means you make money from playing the game.
People's general unwillingness to adapt to change in their circumstances will cause them to take a while to admit it, but using money for large buy-in, small-field events that make up the WPT is becoming less and less viable. Since many of the "regulars" on the WPT are staked by a small handful of well-bankrolled players (Cliff Josephy, Eric Haber, Phil Ivey, Erick Lindgren, Issac Haxton, and Haralabos Voulgaris are a few such players), I wouldn't be surprised to see the number of entrants in WPT events decline dramatically in the next year or two when these wealthy players pull the plug on their lackluster staking operations.
Forecast: Value in most $10,000+ buy-in tournaments diminishes as casual players no longer allocate money towards them; the only somewhat "juicy" live tournaments remaining have buy-ins of $1,000 to $5,000 and take place in regional areas (ie: not Vegas).