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Could WSOP Main Event learn from LeBron James

By most accounts, the 2014 WSOP Main Event was a success. This year's Main Event drew 6,683 players - the fifth largest field in the tournament's history. Moreover, attendance increased greatly from last year's field of 6,352 players. And we can mainly owe the attendance increase to the $10 million guaranteed first-place prize that's up for grabs come November 10th. But is the promise of a giant top prize really a sustainable model for the future?

Vin Narayanan of Casino City Times doesn't seem to think so. In fact, he even thinks that WSOP officials could learn a thing or two from NBA star LeBron James. Here's a small excerpt from what Narayanan wrote:

James changed the aspirational narrative to better fit new goals and a new reality. And he changed it because his current one was broken. Measuring success by championships wasn't adding to the legend of James. And he knew his window of opportunity to do that had closed in Miami. So he changed the story. The World Series of Poker needs to do that with the Main Event.

For years, the current promotional model has been the idea that anybody can become the next Chris Moneymaker. In 2003, Moneymaker, an accountant and amateur poker player from Tennessee, earned his $10k Main Event seat through a $40 online satellite. Then he went on to win the tournament along with a $2.5 million prize. Afterward, the idea was pushed that if Moneymaker can win, so can any other Joe amateur.

As Narayanan points out, pushing this dream still works for $1,500 buy-in events like the Millionaire Maker (7,977 players in 2014) and "Monster" stack (7,862). However, selling players on a $10,000 buy-in tournament like the Main Event has become a lot more difficult, namely because the competition is so much better. Again, Narayanan had some good thoughts on this as he wrote:

Registration was up at this year’s Main Event, but whether the $10 million guarantee can generate consistent growth is an open question.

The Main Event fields are too strong and too competitive for an amateur player to plunk down a few bucks in a satellite and win $10 million. And everyone knows it. The last time we had a “true” amateur at the final table was Darvin Moon in 2009.

Online poker did its job and did it well. It created a generation of highly skilled poker players who play the game extremely well. As a result, winning the Main Event isn’t an achievable dream for most players. And more importantly, there isn’t a new generation of players coming up behind the online boomers.

So what does Narayanan propose, rather than the outdated idea that anybody can win the Main Event? He claims that a better promotional tool would be spinning the WSOP Main Event as a "bucket list" thing, where every poker player needs to play this tournament at least once in their lifetime. Some of those whom he uses as examples include a Boston limo driver who's playing in honor of his deceased son, a Texas chiropractor who wants to test his skills against the best and a quadruple bypass surgery survivor who has a new lease on life.

These stories may not tug on the wallets of amateur poker players who want to get rich. However, the WSOP Main Event isn't approaching its 2006 record attendance level of 8,773 any time soon. So the bucket list idea certainly can't hurt.