The Does Bridge Need Gambling thread got me thinking about the success of the World Poker Tour TV program started by, among others, my friends Mike Sexton and Linda Johnson. And trying to apply some of the secrets to the success of that program to bridge.
1) TV is out. At least to start. And it is likely not needed. Youtube, Netflix and other streamers can reach major audiences and would certainly be more appropriate to the world-wide audience that a bridge "program" would draw.
2) Gambling may or may not be needed as a draw. The poker boom was definitely fueled by the real dream of many college-aged males (in particular, not that females were completely excluded) to make it as a "professional card player." Bridge probably offers a better vehicle than poker for going pro for the expert card player. On the other hand, the luck factor in bridge is so low that there will be very few to no "accidental pros" (known in the poker world as the Moneymaker effect, named for 2003 World Series of Poker champion, Chris Moneymaker). Gambling and huge prize pools may be an separate channel of promotion of the game.
3) Rather than showing a live or even edited competition, a different presentation format or formats (think, newspaper daily bridge column or ACBL coverage of major events, etc.) may draw more viewers. Just putting some of our beloved basic texts (Watson on the Play of the Hand) into streaming video format would go far toward attracting new and younger players to the game.
4) Even so, showing players at the table as they work out who holds the missing Queen or whether the squeeze offers superior odds to the finesse -- or even making uncharacteristic errors, could, especially with the right audio overlay could be made interesting and exciting.
5) I repeat from my comments to the gambling thread. A series of "how to play" videos with a 1-2 minute duration are crucial. Not how to play well, or even how to cover every possible situation that might arise. But how can 4 high school pals, none of whom has ever played before shuffle, deal, bid, play and score a few quick hands of bridge. Then you can follow up with more short videos on how to play better.
6) Putting a human face on bridge Gods, if done well, will draw more players to bridge. To me, this was one of the big secrets of the success of the World Poker Tour series. Whereas ESPN up to that point had mostly focused on the play at the table when televising poker, the WPT made it feel more like a cocktail party or honors dinner where the viewer "got to know" the various personalities. (Comments about be a bridge player or have a personality, choose one and only one anticipated so spare us.) In addition to showing the hole cards innovation, WPT's other big secret was to let us get to know the personalities behind the plays. Audiences picked favorites and began to root for, and more importantly, follow them. It would also be great if rights to old bridge programming could be acquired.
7) I don't think it's a fair challenge to say "Who's going to put up the money?" without having a product or at least a clearly defined idea of what the product will look like. So Lyle Berman bankrolled the World Poker Tour because he had a fair amount of money and he plays and loves poker. There are people who play bridge multiple times a week that make Berman look like a pauper. Build the product first. Or at least have a clear "treatment." Then pitch it to our patrons. Of whom we have many. And keep in mind that the term is "Show Business" not "Show Show." Figure out how to monetize the eyeballs that we do get.
Plus... it's free!