Are Gimmick Tournaments a Flash in the Pan or Here to Stay

Steve Ruddock : July 28th, 2016
2106 WSOP Schedule

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Lance Bradley recently penned a column at PocketFives.com titled, What We Learned: The 2016 World Series of Poker. One of the five things in his list caught my eye. In Lance’s estimation, the gimmick tournaments (the ones with catchy names like Colossus and Millionaire Maker) might have run their course.

I couldn’t disagree more with this assessment.

Bradley’s data

To make his case Bradley examined the numbers from the four returning “gimmick” tournaments, noting how all four saw attendance numbers decline:

Year 2015 2016 Growth
Colossus 22,374 21,613 -3.401%
Millionaire Maker 7,275 7,190 -1.168%
Little One for One Drop 4,555 4,360 -4.281%
Summer Solstice 1,914 1,840 -3.866%

As a contrast, Bradley notes that Main Event attendance was up some 5%, and draws the conclusion that the WSOP is relying too heavily on the gimmicky events:

“While the marketing gimmicks have shown to be successful in years past, the 2016 schedule may have relied too heavily on them and players appear to have shied away from playing multiple events. On the plus side, the Main Event field size actually showed year-over-year growth, going from 6,420 to 6,737 – a nearly 5% increase.”

Missing events

First, Lance omits the Monster Stack tournament (which is an odd omission as it falls in line with his other data):

  • Monster Stack 2015: 7,192
  • Monster Stack 2016: 6,927 (-3.6%)

More importantly, he left out the tweaked/replacement tournament in the “gimmick” lineup.

In 2015 the WSOP introduced the $777 buy-in “Lucky Sevens” event. This event was only marginally successful, attracting 4,422 entries.

In 2016 the WSOP revamped the event, calling it the Crazy Eights, with an $888 buy-in and adding a unique structure that encouraged reentry. Attendance jumped to 6,761 total entries – despite a 12.5% increase in price.

If we consider these events one in the same, attendance was up 35%.

So year over year attendance across the six branded/gimmick tournaments (Millionaire Maker, Monster Stack, Little One for One Drop, Lucky 777/Crazy 888, Summer Solstice, and Colossus) was:

  • 2015: 47,732 entries
  • 2016: 48,691 entries

When we include the Monster Stack (which helps Bradley’s argument) and the Crazy 888 tournament the numbers reverse. Overall, attendance for the gimmick events was up 2%.

Still the best attended events

Second, even if we assume attendance is down in most of the events, minus the Summer Solstice, these are still the best attended tournaments at the WSOP, and the decline noted by Bradley was fairly negligible to begin with, and can easily be explained by year-to-year variance.

Here are the top attended tournaments at the 2016 WSOP:

  1. $565 Colossus II No Limit Hold’em – 21,613 entrants
  2. $1,500 Millionaire Maker No Limit Hold’em – 7,190 entrants
  3. $1,500 Monster Stack No Limit Hold’em – 6,927 entrants
  4. $888 Crazy Eights Eight-Handed No Limit Hold’em – 6,761 entrants
  5. $10,000 Main Event No Limit Hold’em Championship – 6,737 entrants
  6. $1,000 Seniors No Limit Hold’em Championship – 4,499 entrants
  7. $1,000 + 111 Little One for One Drop No Limit Hold’em – 4,360 entrants
  8. $565 Pot Limit Omaha – 2,483 entrants
  9. $1,000 No Limit Hold’em – 2,452 entrants
  10. $1,000 No Limit Hold’em – 2,242 entrants

Eliminate the Main Event, and the top six tournaments (attendance wise) were all branded events. I’ve  included the branded Seniors event in that group, but feel free to eliminate it, and the gimmick tournaments still account for the top four and five of the top six best-attended tournaments.

What’s the alternative?

Finally, I would first caution using any single year-over-year numbers to deduce any kind of a trend in poker – just look at the up and down nature of the Main Event since 2006:

  • 2006 WSOP — 8,773 entrants
  • 2007 WSOP — 6,358 entrants
  • 2008 WSOP — 6,844 entrants
  • 2009 WSOP — 6,494 entrants
  • 2010 WSOP — 7,319 entrants
  • 2011 WSOP — 6,865 entrants
  • 2012 WSOP – 6,598 entrants
  • 2013 WSOP – 6,352 entrants
  • 2014 WSOP — 6,683 entrants
  • 2015 WSOP — 6,420 entrants
  • 2016 WSOP — 6,737 entrants

More importantly, the declines the other small buy-in events on the WSOP schedule have seen over the past half decade are way beyond the minimal declines most of the gimmick tournaments saw this year.

As I wrote in a previous column, the cookie cutter $1,500 buy-in tournaments have seen attendance plummet. Six such events were held in 2011, they attracted fields of:

  • 3,157
  • 3,175
  • 2,500
  • 2,857
  • 2,713
  • 3,389

In 2016 the WSOP held three $1,500 events, the attendance numbers were:

  • 2,016
  • 1,796
  • 1,860

Obviously, the alternative events are a big reason why these events have tapered off, but compare the overall attendance for the six events in 2011 and it’s still no comparison.

A closer comparison to most of the branded events is the $1,000 buy-in events.

In 2010, the first year they were added to the schedule following the success of the first $1,000 buy-in NLHE tournament, which pulled in 6,012 entrants, the $1,000 buy-in events attracted fields of:

  • 4,345 entrants
  • 3,042 entrants
  • 3,289 entrants
  • 3,102 entrants
  • 3,128 entrants
  • 3,844 entrants

In 2016 there were four $1,000 buy-in NLHE events (some with non-traditional structures like turbos). They attracted fields of:

  • 2,452 entrants
  • 2,242 entrants
  • 2,076 entrants
  • 1,397 entrants

Like the $1,500 events, even at their height of popularity, these tournaments couldn’t bring in the numbers the branded events have.

So, I’m not sure what the alternative to gimmicky events is? It’s certainly not more $1,000 and $1,500 NLHE events.

Upshot

For all of the above reasons, I think the rumors of the death of gimmick tournaments has been greatly exaggerated. If anything, the WSOP needs to rely on these events more.

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