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The World Series of Poker and ESPN recently released a joint statement announcing a new deal between the two companies. ESPN has been broadcasting WSOP tournaments since 2003 and played a vital role in propagating the so called “Moneymaker Effect” – a post-2005 boom in poker that occurred after amateur player Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event. Under the terms of the new deal, both parties have committed to continuing their relationship until 2018.

The press release claims that the WSOP draws in nearly 82 million viewers a year for ESPN. With poker’s popularity continuing to grow, TV executives clearly feel those figures will rise. If, as expected, the UIGEA is repealed at some point over the next few years there is the potential for the increase in audience figures to be immense.

WSOP commisioner Jeffrey Pollack stated that, “The WSOP is proud to call ESPN home for another nine years.” The deal between (WSOP owners) Harrah’s and ESPN means that new shows will be aired across the whole range of ESPN channels, as well as mobile and internet outlets. The current arrangement will come to an end after the completion of the 2010 event, but the new deal ensures that tournaments will continue to be shown on ESPN for a further eight years.

Under the terms of the agreement ESPN will generate at least 32 hours worth of coverage from each WSOP. The run of shows currently airing involved only a few of the 57 events, including the Champions Invitational and the $40k NLHE Anniversary tournament. If audiences continue to grow then the potential exists for a lot more air time. Under the current structure the focus is understandably the Main Event, coverage of which began last night and continues on a weekly basis until October 27. The WSOP will then return to our screens in November, when the remaining nine players reconvene for the Main Event final table.

There has been a flurry of TV Poker news in the past few weeks and hot on the heels of the new ESPN/Harrah’s deal came the announcement that PokerStars was pushing ahead with their own Fox TV gameshow. Poker fans may recall that Full Tilt Poker’s recent effort on NBC, Face the Ace, received a critical mauling and plummeted to the bottom of Saturday night ratings.

The Million Dollar Challenge will follow a similar pattern, pitting amateurs who qualify online against a series of professional and celebrity opponents. The hopefuls will receive coaching from Daniel Negreanu as they face off against two opponents. The tables will then be turned, as the players must defeat Kid Poker in order to qualify for the final table. The remaining 4 will then duke it out in the Grand Final for $1 million.

Players interested in getting involved need to finish in the top 10 of a special freeroll and submit an audition tape. The tape must also include two “poker buddies”, who will be brought along by PokerStars to lend emotional support. Episodes are due to be broadcast on October 11th & 18th, November 22nd, December 13th, and December 27th – all at 4 p.m ET.