TSN isn't bluffing with poker series

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:56 AM ET

The poker craze, it seems, isn't dying down anytime soon. If anything, it continues to mushroom.

Witness the creation of the Degree Poker Championship, the first all-Canadian version of the popular Texas Hold 'em duel. It's a project that's been in the works for a year at TSN, with the first of four shows airing last night.

It's an all-Canadian affair featuring "everyday" people, said Adam Ashton, TSN's VP of marketing.

"The thing we asked ourselves was 'How do you create an authentic Canadian championship to find our next undiscovered star?' " he said.

TSN conducted an on-line registration for the tournament in the spring and received more than 20,000 responses. Out of that group, 2,000 were randomly selected to compete, equally split into regional tourneys at casinos in Niagara Falls and Richmond, B.C.

Forty-five players -- five tables of nine -- made the finals, which were taped at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort in June. The first of four parts of the TV presentation aired last night, with the others tonight, Sept. 23 and Sept. 24.

The latter episode includes the $100,000 final and a bonus $1 million final hand showdown.

Ashton said TSN hopes to draw about 170,000 viewers each night. The entire series has been shot in high-definition format.

So what's the appeal of it to viewers? Ashton believes a lot of it has to do with the way TV presents it.

"People at home know what's going on," he said.

"To see that unfold is the real drama ... it's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster."

SENS DON'T MAKE CENTS -- YET: The Senators are putting plans to offer pay-per-view telecasts on hold until next season. With the NHL labour dispute not settled until mid-July, the team simply didn't have the time to properly put the package together. "We have a collection of games we'd like to put forward (on pay-per-view). Everyone knows it," said Jim Steel, the Sens' VP of broadcasting. "But we couldn't do too much until the announcement (ending the lockout) came. So we'll spend this year making sure we do it right for next year and beyond." Steel said a package of 5-6 pay-per-view games would likely be offered in 2006-07, with the number growing to 10 or more in future seasons.

KING FOOTBALL: The NFL is off to a hot start on both sides of the border. Fox' 13.6 national rating last Sunday was the network's highest -rated opening weekend ever. Meanwhile, TSN pulled in 434,000 sets of eyeballs for its Colts-Ravens matchup on Sunday night -- up 43% over its 2004 season average ... With ESPN's regular NFL crew on Monday night duty with Saints-Giants this week, Mike Tirico and NFL Network analyst Sterling Sharpe will handle Sunday's Chiefs-Raiders showdown.

AROUND THE DIAL: How much does Mike Weir mean to golf viewership in Canada? This much. CTV's final-round coverage of the Bell Canadian Open attracted an audience of 353,000 on Sunday. That's a massive drop from the 1.436 million who watched Vijay Singh outduel Weir in a playoff a year ago ... Rogers NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers can now catch as many as seven games in HD format each Sunday ... ESPN Classic Canada will air an eight-hour Mark Messier tribute tomorrow starting at noon ... CBS has extended its PGA Championship broadcast deal through 2011.


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