Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008 | 11:20 a.m.
With TV ratings on an upswing for the 2008 World Series of Poker broadcasts so far, executives with ESPN have lofty expectations for Tuesday evening's same-day coverage of the main event final table (5 p.m., ESPN, Cox cable channel 30).
"We're excited and we know anybody who follows the World Series of Poker is going to be tuning in," said George McNeilly, senior director, corporate and consumer communications for ESPN. "Our focus is year-to-year, and we are seeing ratings growth from 2007 to 2008."
ESPN has been airing 2008 World Series of Poker programming since July, and coverage of the main event since September.
Ratings for the World Series of Poker on ESPN have increased 6 percent overall in 2008 from last year, according to McNeilly.
The Oct. 28 broadcast of the main event from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. was the highest-rated episode of the 2008 World Series, McNeilly said, with a 1.59 household coverage rating. That represents a 38 percent increase from the 1.15 generated by last year's equivalent episode, which aired from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2007.
"We've seen very good growth trends over the past several weeks as the main event was drawing to a conclusion on the air," McNeilly said. "I think a lot of the things the folks at the World Series of Poker, Harrah's and ESPN met to talk about are coming to fruition."
It's too early to tell whether the unprecedented 117-day break before the main event final table has had a direct result on the ratings, McNeilly said.
Certainly the final table had a "major sporting event atmosphere," he said, drawing a capacity crowd of spectators to the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio. Peter Eastgate of Denmark won the no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament and its $9.1 million top prize early Tuesday morning.
"Every indication so far is that the hiatus is paying dividends," McNeilly said. "It will be interesting to see how we do Tuesday night, but these recent trends have us feeling very good about the state of the sport.
"We're bullish on poker, and the World Series of Poker in particular has an exceptional fan following. It has a big-time feel and it has a history and a heritage that really is incomparable."