Is The Glut Of Bracelet Events Behind The WSOP Attendance Decline?

Big names are stepping up and winning bracelets, but the World Series of Poker has seen a sharp decline in attendance this year.

pile of bracelets

Even with the World Series of Poker (WSOP) front-loading its 2017 schedule with several key events, attendance during the first week of the series has experienced a marked drop-off from last year.

Big names come to play

But it wasn’t all bad news. The Colossus, One Drop High-Roller, and both Tag Team tournaments were all among the first 10 events of the series. Suffice it to say, the WSOP couldn’t be happier with the headlines that emerged from the Rio Casino. After all, some of poker’s biggest names have gotten off to a great start at the 2017 WSOP.

Poker power couple Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov took down the $10,000 Tag Team event – Team Daniel Negreanu finished in third place.

Doug Polk won the One Drop event, besting Team PokerStars Pro and Triple Crown winner Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier for the title.

Jesse Martin and Upeshka De Silva joined the ranks of multiple bracelet winners.

But as happy as the WSOP brass might be with the results of the events, they have to be just as disappointed in the overall attendance at this year’s series.

Attendance down across the board

After 11 events, an attendance trend is clearly emerging, and it’s not a positive one.

Nine of the 11 events held thus far were on the 2016 schedule, providing us with an opportunity to directly compare attendance numbers. The two exceptions are the $10,000 Tag Team Event and the $333 Online Event, both of which are first-time events at the WSOP.

Thus far and without exception, attendance has been down this year.

Tournament 2016 Entries 2017 Entries Change
Event #1: $565 Casino Employee Event 731 651 -11%
Event #3: $3,000 NLHE Shootout 400 369 -8%
Event #4: $1,500 Omaha 8 or better 934 905 -3%
Event #5 $565 Colossus 21,613 18,054 -16%
Event #6: $111,111 One Drop High Roller 183 130 -29%
Event #7: $2,500 Mixed Lowball Triple Draw 236 225 -5%
Event #9: $10,000 Omaha 8 or better Championship 163 155 -5%
Event #10: $1,000 NLHE Tag Team 863 843 -2%
Event #11: $1,500 Dealers Choice 389 364 -6%

Branded events struggling the most

The most alarming declines have come in the biggest tournaments: the branded, featured tournaments.

Attendance was down nearly 30 percent in the One Drop High Roller event. Colossus saw total entries drop by 16 percent.

WSOP tournaments keep growing in number

Before you start running to pull the panic klaxon, total attendance for the series could still see a year-over-year increase. A key reason for the attendance declines is the increased number of events on the WSOP schedule. This is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination.

Since 2010, the number of bracelet events on the WSOP schedule has ballooned from 57 to 74, a 23 percent increase.

  • 2010 World Series of Poker: 57 events
  • 2011 World Series of Poker: 58 events
  • 2012 World Series of Poker: 61 events
  • 2013 World Series of Poker: 62 events
  • 2014 World Series of Poker: 65 events
  • 2015 World Series of Poker: 68 events
  • 2016 World Series of Poker: 69 events
  • 2017 World Series of Poker: 74 events

It will be interesting to see the final comps for total attendance and total entry fees from last year to this year at the end of the series. This is a question I’m sure the WSOP wrestles with every year: Do we want to offer more tournaments or is it better offer fewer events and have larger fields?

If the final tally shows attendance is up than it’s clear, a more robust schedule brings in more players, and the WSOP should just keep on keeping on. But, if the total attendance numbers fall year-over-year, the WSOP may want to look at paring back the 2018 schedule.

Here’s why I think the latter might be the best way to proceed.

Liquidity begets liquidity

It’s well-known in the online poker world that the more players a site possesses the more attractive it becomes to other players. Liquidity begets liquidity.

The same dynamic applies to tournaments and the WSOP.

But for tournaments, it comes down to how many people are in the area, and on the fence, about playing an event. Keep in mind that other Las Vegas casinos offer tournaments during the WSOP. For example, an $1,100 buy-in tournament at the Venetian attracted nearly 900 players for its Day 1A on Monday.

Some players come to Vegas with a set schedule they plan to play. Others show up looking for any tournament to play.

So, if you have 2,000 of players on hand (an arbitrary number I pulled out of my… hat) and offer three events, 1,500 players might have their eyes set on a specific no-limit hold’em event. Another 200 might be there to participate in one of the other non-hold’em events. Then there are 100 others that might have the final non-hold’em event marked off.

It’s the final 200 players that really matter, the other 1,800 have already made up their mind. These undecideds are the players that you need to convince to play your tournaments. Moreover, these are the players that determine if you beat or fall short of last year’s tally.

What is the magic bracelet number?

The final 200 players are likely looking at things like where the best ROI is. Since the fields for the non-hold’em events have fields of 200 and 100 players respectively, they might start looking at other casinos.

Conversely, if there were only two events to choose from, the 1,500/200/100 breakdown might become 1,500/250, with 250 players making a last minute decision.

In the final example, even though the number of fence-sitters has increased, the WSOP tournaments are a bit more appealing. And as more and more people register, the tournament becomes more and more enticing.

You might even poach players who came to town to play in the Venetian event.

Basically, if the WSOP offered fewer events, but these events are larger-field events with larger prize pools,  it might be a better attractant. In my mind, the perfect number of bracelet events is right around 60.

Steve Ruddock

Author: Steve Ruddock

Massachusetts-based Steve Ruddock is a longtime member of the gaming media. An avid poker player, he covers the legal US online poker and casino markets for a number of online and offline publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, USPoker.com, PlayNJ.com, and USA Today.