Epic Poker League signs deal for 20 hours of TV air time

The upstart Epic Poker League, which kicks off its initial round of events next week at the Palms, has signed a broadcast deal with the CBS Television Network and Discovery Communications to air a combined 20 hours of programming.

The agreement, which is expected to be announced today, will give the league, the brainchild of former World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and poker professional Annie Duke, prime television slots within seven hours of CBS’ weekend sports television schedule.

The Epic Poker League is planning four events at the Palms in August, September, December and January, each of which will have a $20,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Main Event.

The inaugural Main Event will take place Aug. 9-12 in the Palms convention center.

The top poker professionals must meet a set of qualifications set up by the league to enter the Main Events. Among the current list of more than 200 qualifiers include past winners of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event, final table participants and the tournament’s past Players of the Year.

Pollack said the goal of the tournament’s television coverage is to introduce the audience to players they may not be familiar with.

“Not all the players who qualified for this league are household names,” Pollack said. ” A big focus will be on the names you should know.”

The league’s top 27 players, based on the tournament’s scoring and rating system, will meet in February for a $1 million entry-free championship event.

Pollack said the television coverage will be limited to the Main Events and the championship match. He said a television schedule would be released by the end of the summer. In addition to CBS, 13 hours of programming will air on Discovery’s new Velocity by Discovery cable channel, which Pollack said is expected to be available in about 40 million U.S. homes.

Emmy Award-winning sports anchor Pat O’Brien will anchor the coverage and poker personality Ali Nejad will serve as color commentator.

Longtime television sports producer David Neal and 441 Productions, which produced the World Series of Poker for ESPN, will produce the broadcasts. Neal produced the coverage for nine Olympic Games, four National Basketball Association Finals, and two Major League Baseball World Series.

Neal said the idea behind the broadcasts will be similar to his productions for the Olympics, profiling players that are involved in the action.

“Storytelling personalizes these players for viewers,” Neal said. “The key is to do it in short bites as to not take away from the action at hand.”

Neal said the production “will present poker in its top form.”

During the recent World Series of Poker, many of the game’s top names stayed away from the competition, mainly due to the federal government’s crackdown on Internet poker in April, which put three of the top online gambling websites out of business in the U.S.

Pollack didn’t believe poker players would stay away from the Epic’s event. Duke, the league’s commissioner, spent time at the World Series of Poker this month signing up players.

“Annie had a good response and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to participate with the exposure and platform that we are providing,” Pollack said.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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