[toc]The early weeks of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) were rocky. People criticized the drop in attendance, most notably in the Colossus event, which failed to crack 20,000 entries.
The news of the poker behemoths demise was premature though. This year’s WSOP Main Event drew 7,221 players. It is the largest field since 2010 and the third-largest field in WSOP history.
The Main Event is also the massive cherry on top of a summer that already set a new attendance record with 116,604 entries with one last bracelet event to go. Across the summer, WSOP generated over $227 million in prize pools. With one postlim event to go, it should break the overall money awarded record as well.
Main Event will pay over 1,000 places
The Main Event payout structure pays the top 15 percent of the field. With such a good turnout, that means a record 1,084 players will make the money in the tournament. The minimum payout is $15,000. The winner is taking home $8.15 million. Moreover, everyone at the final table is going to become a millionaire.
This is the first year since 2008 the final table of the Main Event will play out in July as well. The WSOP did away with the November Nine concept. Instead, there will be a two-day break before the final table plays out over the course of three days nearly live on ESPN.
The action gets down to a final table on Monday, July 17. The final table will play from July 20-22.
Flatter payouts were the shot in the arm WSOP needed
In 2013, it looked like the WSOP was in danger of dropping under 6,000 players in the Main Event for the first time since 2005. The 2013 Main Event field drew 6,352 players. It seemed entirely possible 2014 would cross that dangerous threshold.
So in 2014, the WSOP decided to celebrate ten years at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino with a guaranteed $10 million payday for first place. The move helped turn around four years of declining attendance. However, 2014 and 2015, the Main Event basically just held steady.
In 2016, the WSOP flattened the payout structure. That appears to be the shot in the arm the biggest poker event of the year needed. Attendance climbed to 6,737. This year, the flatter structure was back. The coverage on ESPN was also live for the first time since 2011, which perhaps helped boost the field past 7,000.
WSOP.com added another reason to come to Vegas this summer
While there is no single reason to clearly attribute to the rise in attendance, one thing to consider is the expansion of online poker offerings on WSOP.com. The site offered events in past years, but this year featured an expanded number of online events.
There were three online bracelet tournaments, two of which resulted in seven-figure prize pools. There was also an entire online poker series featuring online tournaments and satellites to every bracelet event, dubbed the Summer Grind Tour.
The number of players online pales in comparison to the total present at WSOP this summer. However, the growth of the online presence, including round-the-clock satellites, could be at least partially responsible for the live event growth.
Photo courtesy of WSOP / Drew Amato