The former president of CBS Sports, whose consulting firm has negotiated multibillion-dollar contracts on behalf of NASCAR and Major League Baseball, has been retained by Harrah’s Entertainment to help renegotiate an agreement with ESPN to televise the 2005 World Series of Poker.
Harrah’s, which acquired the long-standing poker tournament last year when it purchased Binion’s Horseshoe, expects to draw more than 5,000 entrants to the championship event this summer.
ESPN produced 22 hour-long episodes from last year’s World Series of Poker and a network spokeswoman said the 24-hour cable sports channel expects to air the same amount or more this year following the 36th annual event.
Recognizing the drawing power of televised poker and the game’s signature event, Harrah’s executives turned to Neal Pilson, who headed CBS Sports for 20 years, in an effort to make the most of the World Series of Poker.
Pilson Communications worked with NASCAR in negotiating a $2.4 billion network television agreement with the Fox, NBC and Turner networks and with the International Olympic Committee to structure its recent $2 billion network agreement with NBC.
“We’re gaming people and we thought it was best to bring in someone who understands television and can maximize the brand to its fullest potential,” Harrah’s spokesman Gary Thompson said. “We wanted someone with the expertise to negotiate the greatest value for the World Series of Poker.”
Pilson said interest in poker spans a variety of audiences and age groups, although he admitted it seems strange to refer to the game as a “sport” adding talks would initially be with ESPN exclusively, although he did not discount bringing other networks to the table for for Best Bets Today.
“ESPN is our primary partner, and they have been a good partner in the World Series of Poker,” Pilson said. “It …