This article is part of Volume 8 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the June 2010 edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at Untold Stories: Billiards History.
This month’s PoolSynergy topic is How to Fix Pool. I admit right up front that I have no claim to expertise in this area. I’ve never even run a major tournament, let alone a tour. I have run a league, but a small one. But I have read hundreds of posts on various forums from those in the business & who are knowledgeable about the issues, so that obviously makes me competent to solve this seemingly intractable problem. 😉
Jake didn’t provide a specific definition for what he meant by ‘fixing’, but it’s pretty clear in his intro post that prize money is a good working definition. To fix pool, then, is to bring the purses of events up high enough that touring pros can make the kind of money made playing golf or tennis.
A good start at finding a workable model for a successful professional Pool Sport would be to look at all other successful professional sports to see what they have in common. Here’s my list:
- One clear set of rules, used in every event in every location.
- Multiple games can be played successfully, like in tennis with singles & doubles, but each game can have only one set of rules.
- Every match has at least one official, whose rulings are final.
- One governing body, comprised of all, or a subset of the owners/promoters.
- One group representing players that negotiates with the owners/promoters.
- There is a schedule of events published well ahead of time. All events are held on time.
- Prize money is high enough to not only entice all the great players, but to entice others to practice hard to earn their way in.
- Prizes are guaranteed and always paid out in full.
- No one involved in the sport in any official capacity, promoters, players, officials, can gamble on pool.
- There must be a complete separation between promoters and players and officials. No person can play more than one role.
- There must be sufficient fan interest to interest sponsors.
- In person fans are more important than TV or streaming video fans, but all are important.
Fixing pool will have to be done at the Promoter level, rather than at the player or fan level. Of the three, promoters are the alpha dogs, because both the players and maybe the fans will follow them, but they will not follow the others unless they can make a profit.
Promoters have by far the most at stake, having to raise a lot of money, work their butts off for months or longer to plan, organize and implement a major enterprise. They are business people first, pool addicts second. If not, they quickly become second raters, or worse, contribute to the malaise, and perpetuate the idea that pro pool is a loser.
There is no dearth of moneyed entrepreneurs in this country willing to take a risk to own a major professional sports franchise, or even the opportunity to build one from scratch. But there has to be a decent chance to make some money, or none will be interested.
Big picture, what’s needed are promoters, players, fans and sponsors. Fans, though, are the key. Without fans there will be no sponsors and no opportunities for promoters to make money. Without a large fan base, prize money is limited to entry fees and what a few sponsors will contribute. Sponsorship today tends to be limited to companies within the pool industry because non-industry sponsors don’t see a way to gain from their contributions.
Players will go wherever the money is, and I believe as soon as there’s economic viability, financially strong entrepreneurs with integrity will step in to do the promotion. The problem that needs to be solved is fans.
One way to raise fan interest, which in most events is lackluster at best, is to steal a page from the Mosconi Cup playbook and make Pro Pool a team event. Teams can play a number of individual games, maybe some scotch doubles, maybe a mix of different games, but each overall match-up between teams would have the same format.
There was more fan involvement in the Mosconi Cup matches than in other events. The excitement at those matches was palpable. From the fist pumping of the players excitedly celebrating their wins to the roar of the crowd, to the back slapping from teammates in enthusiastic team spirit, these matches had something special. The players and fans were involved emotionally, viscerally. Every game in every match counted. That is what we need to find a way to have more of, and I think a team format can do it.
With teams you root for one side or the other and you’re involved in every game of the tournament. In tournaments today most people only get interested when their favorite player is in a match. Their interest also piques from the semi-finals on.
So that’s what I think is needed for pro pool to be fixed. What can you do to help it along? You can go to events in person. If you can’t go then watch the stream, but being in the crowd is by far the best. Objective numbers of fans will drive money better than anything else. Sponsors and Promoters are businessmen, not philanthropists. If there is an opportunity to make money, they’ll be there with bells on; if not, they’ll be somewhere else. It really is as simple as that.
Links to all past editions of PoolSynergy are on the PoolSynergy – History and Schedule page.
My Previous PoolSynergy Posts
Nov 2009 – Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories
Dec 2009 – My First Big ‘Aha!’ Moment in Pool
Jan 2010 – Three Outside Influences on my Pool Education
Feb 2010 – Some of My Favorite Pool Players
Mar 2010 – 10 Reasons Why Gambling is Bad for Pool
Apr 2010 – Attitude is Everything
May 2010 – Poolosophy: Pool Student’s Approach to Pool