This past week, the Epic Poker League held the first of five tournaments for its inaugural season, drawing in 137 of the top pros in the game. One of the pros who passed on the tournament, Canadian poker legend Daniel Negreanu, has taken to his blog to explain to his fans why he decided not to play in the tournament.
From the start, Daniel compares the EPL to another poker tournament that he decided not to participate in, the World Team Poker competition. “I chose not to take part in the World Team Poker event for one sole reason: I didn’t think it would be a success,” Daniel writes on his blog at Full Contact Poker. “The same holds true with the Epic Poker League.”
Negreanu points out that, while the Epic Poker League’s first week of tournaments made a splash on the tournament poker landscape, he doesn’t believe that it can be sustainable without solid sponsorship. “Millions of dollars (is) being given away to players (the EPL added $400,000 to the first tournament and will have a $1 million freeroll in January for the top 27 players), money spent on a TV time buy, money spent on staff, etc., with no way of recouping those funds through licensing or sponsorship,” Daniel observes. “Networks aren’t going to pay you for poker programming because the necessary ratings just aren’t there. The WSOP is the world’s most prestigious brand at this point with hundreds of hours of poker programming on TV, and yet they have been unsuccessful in bringing in major money from mainstream sponsors.”
“People talk about another boom in the United States, but the more realistic view sees poker as a popular niche sport followed religiously by diehards that will never quite regain the popularity it once enjoyed… and that’s OK,” Daniel continues. “Many parts of the world are experiencing a boom much like the one we had here in the U. S., but there is no reason to think that the EPL will be able to create a boom in the U. S. that rivaled the original Moneymaker boom.”
“I could be wrong and they could create something I’m not seeing here in terms of a televised product that captures the mainstream audience and brings in mainstream sponsors, but I’m not,” Daniel declares. “I get the enthusiasm, and understand why the hype has convinced people otherwise, but the league’s financial structure is fundamentally flawed from a revenue standpoint and is doomed to be an epic fail. For the truly elite players, this is free money for them in terms of EV, but the vast majority of entrants are just not good enough to show a profit against this super tough field.”
Daniel also points out in his blog the number of top pros that decided not to play in the first EPL tournament like he did. “When the mainstream audience thinks of poker they think of names like Chris Moneymaker, Phil Ivey, Scotty Nguyen, Johnny Chan, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen, and Doyle Brunson,” Negreanu points out. “None of whom played in the first event.”
Negreanu is one of thirty players who have earned the most exclusive “player’s card” in the EPL, the five year exemption that allows a player to participate in EPL tournaments until 2016. The rules of the EPL do state that a player, to maintain their card, must play in at least one tournament in a given season. If a player doesn’t do that, his card will be pulled, something Daniel faces if he continues to avoid the EPL tournaments.
While Daniel points out several salient points, the factor of who is the head of the league could also have come into play. The EPL’s commissioner is poker pro Annie Duke, with whom Negreanu has had a longstanding, simmering feud that dates back several years. If this is an unstated reason for his decision to avoid the tournaments, that would be unfortunate.
The first EPL event has been well received by the players and the fans alike. The final table of the first event featured Canadian Gavin Smith, Erik Seidel, Jason Mercier, Huck Seed and Hasan Habib, with David “Chino” Rheem taking down the $1 million first place prize. That tournament will be broadcast on the American network CBS and will also be shown on Velocity, a new channel from the Discovery Network that will debut this fall.
The second event is scheduled to begin September 2 with its $1500 Pro/Am that offers the players who make the final table a seat in the $20,000 Main Event, which takes place on September 6. Although he has firmly stated his reasons for not playing in the first EPL tournament, Daniel offers no clues as to his intentions for future events.