‘The Phil Ivey Effect’ has the potential for a massive impact on poker TV audiences. We decided to investigate the Ivey phenomenen

As ESPN and Harrah’s rub their hands in anticipation, Michael Kaplan discusses whether the ‘Ivey effect’ will have the impact they’re hoping for…

Backstage, watching action on the feature table at this year’s WSOP, Mike Sexton was getting worked up. The cause of his excitement was Phil Ivey’s ongoing ascent in the tournament. ‘ESPN, Harrah’s, and the game of poker itself, they all need Phil Ivey to make the final table,’ insisted Sexton, as a couple of dozen contenders remained. ‘If that happens, ratings will triple on the nights of the Main Event. Spend three months promoting the greatest poker player in the world and that is huge for poker.’

As everybody knows, Sexton’s wish came true in terms of Ivey making the final table. However, the reality of three months devoted to the promotion of Phil Ivey (and, in turn, the WSOP) may be more of a challenge than the actual act of him squeaking into the November Nine. After the final table was set, a reporter asked Ivey how he plans on dealing with the inevitable media onslaught. ‘I’ll change my cell number and leave the country,’ he replied, adding, half under his breath, ‘I’m not kidding.’

No Home Jerome

Taking no chances with its World Series coverage, ESPN managed to land an early sit-down with Ivey, soon after he made the final table. Producer Jamie Horowitz does not seem particularly worried about getting the access he needs. ‘Phil Ivey is not a guy who lives on an island,’ says Horowitz. ‘He has close friends in the poker community. Phil is cognizant of the growth of poker. The pros understand that there is responsibility to the game. You can also argue that the growth of the game increases pot sizes. If tournaments don’t grow, then Phil Ivey’s profits from the game don’t grow.’

One big advantage that comes with having Ivey at the final table – regardless of his level of interest in doing interviews – is the amount of material WSOP producers can work with. As much as the WSOPs are telecasts of games, they also get moulded into dramatic stories that culminate in the final table. In telling those tales there are always key players who evolve into primary characters. Typically, they come to the Series as unknowns. Finding early footage of them tends to be a scavenger hunt that hinges on these previously anonymous players having gotten into big hands with better-known opponents.

Not so with Ivey. Cameras tracked him right from his very first hand. There’s plenty of material with which to provide a videotaped clinic on how to play a Main Event as well as a compelling narrative built around the game’s biggest superstar. Back in 2003, when Chris Moneymaker aced the Main Event, the crux of the tale centred on the unlikelihood of an amateur taking down pros. This year it’s a mirror opposite. ‘Now we’re wondering if a pro can ever win again,’ says Horowitz. ‘We will try to give justice to all nine players, but we will be remiss if we don’t give additional weight to the Phil Ivey story.’

Man of mystery

No doubt Full Tilt would be thrilled to have Ivey out there, doing interviews and promoting the brand he helped launch. But that seems to be a long shot. By all indications, he’d rather be playing golf or poker or craps than participating in promotions that seem arduous or intrusive or lacking in significant upside. As he told his good friend Barry Greenstein on a recent instalment of PokerRoad.com’s weekly Tuesdays with Ivey interview, ‘I’ll start thinking about [the final table] like a week before the event… I’m just looking forward to playing in November. That’s it.’

ESPN, of course, has other plans that include a major build-up. Ivey told Greenstein that, considering his small chipstack, he might not even make it to the break. And, along those lines, there are thoughts that shaping too much of the WSOP coverage around Ivey will make him look a little silly if he busts out early. Jamie Horowitz does not share those concerns. ‘Everybody is aware that there will be a lot of attention and a lot of focus on Phil Ivey,’ he says. ‘This is too big a story for it to be any other way. It transcends poker and it transcends Phil.’

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