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Matchroom Acquires U.S. Open
Mar 22, 2018, 11:05 AM

After several months of questions and speculation, the mystery surrounding the future of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has been unveiled. British event producer Matchroom Sport, promoters of the Mosconi Cup, World Pool Masters and World Cup of Pool, has taken over ownership of the world’s longest-running major pool tournament.

According to both Matchroom Sport president Barry Hearn and Brady Behrman, son of the late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, a deal was signed that gives Matchroom “complete ownership” of the 42-year-old 9-ball championship.

“There are probably only four or five major pool events out there,” said Hearn in a phone interview with BD. “They may not all even necessarily be profitable events, but they have history and profile. One of them is the U.S. Open. I think Matchroom has most, if not all, of the others. We like to have control of a brand, and our brand is 9-ball.

“We are going to take a historic event and make it mainstream,” Hearn added. “That is our charge.”

Hearn confirmed that the Matchroom-produced 43rd U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship would not take place until 2019, and that the event will shift to Las Vegas and boast an increased prize fund.

“We’re going to smash it up right from the start!” Hearn said.

“This relationship is not about ownership or money,” said Brady Behrman, who assumed control of the U.S. Open with sister Shannon Paschall following Barry Behrman’s death in 2015. “It’s about the event itself and growing pool. Knowing that our father went down this this path, and knowing how he cared for the event, the fans, the players, the industry and that he wanted the event bigger and better, there is no doubt that Matchroom will carry on our father’s legacy.

“My dad once said before a finals match, ‘These players should be playing for $100,000, but I can’t do it alone.’ With Matchroom, we’ll see increased prize funds and international expansion of content syndication for the Open, which ultimately grows the event, the purse and the nostalgia of the U.S. Open.” Behrman said he contacted Matchroom in January to gauge their interest in taking over the event.

“Shannon and I are both very busy in our own businesses,” he said. “And we wanted to ensure that we take the steps necessary to elevate the event our father produced for 40 years in an effort to give the players, fans and sponsors something special, something monumental. We can’t make that happen. Matchroom’s vision aligns perfectly with our ideals.”

In fact, Barry Behrman had contacted Hearn nearly four years ago with a similar offer.

“Barry contacted me a few years ago about the Open,” Hearn recalled. “He was enthusiastic and loved being the front man for the event. He wanted someone else to assume the risk, but at the same time he wanted to maintain control. I considered it briefly because I’m a pool fan. But it would have been financial suicide.

“This time it was the right time and the right place,” he added. “The Barry Behrman legacy will live on. We’re going to rename the trophy the Barry Behrman Trophy.”

Questions about the future of the U.S. Open surfaced in February when Behrman informed the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, site of the U.S. Open for the past three years, that the 2018 event would not be held there. The Sheraton had been holding the week of Oct. 21-27 for the annual tournament. Accu-Stat’s founder Pat Fleming, who had taken over as the event producer for the past two years, said in February that talks with Behrman had gone nowhere and that his future as part of the event — as event and/or live stream producer — was unclear.

Based on that uncertainty, and with the Sheraton about to release the October dates, Fleming announced plans to produce his own international 9-ball event at the Sheraton in the U.S. Open’s stead. [See side story below.] Meanwhile, Hearn pointed to the U.S. Open’s potential as one of the factors in procuring the historically rich tournament.

“The value of the U.S. Open is its history,” the promoter said. “Our goal is to make the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship a global event.

“The sports business is all about perception” Hearn continued. “Perception to the broadcasters and audience and to the public about how big an event is. How big an event is and how it is perceived is all in your hands. When we do big boxing events, the perception is that if you don’t get a ticket on the first day, they’re gone. That snowball works. In darts, we sell 11,000 tickets in 10 minutes. We’ve built the perception that these are must-see events.

“In pool, you can show up whenever, or if, you feel like it. That’s a killer. The Mosconi Cup now shows what you can do in pool. You can create that demand and that perception. In pool in the U.S., there has never been that fear factor that you might miss out.” While increased prize funds and first class production are important, what Matchroom brings to the U.S. Open’s future is broadcast reach that the event has not yet enjoyed. Accu-Stats-produced broadcasting of the U.S. Open over the years has satisfied fans willing to pay to view the event, and rights deals did deliver packaged content to parts of Asia, but the addition of the U.S. Open to Matchroom’s vast portfolio of sporting events ensures a wider audience.

“The U.S. Open will be part of our Sky package,” said Hearn, whose Matchroom Multi Sport portfolio (of which pool is part) recently inked a new seven-year broadcast deal with the European sports cable network. “So, Day One, I know the U.S. Open will be broadcast live in 35 countries.”

And in the U.S.?

“I’m hopeful for the U.S. broadcast market,” he said, adding that the U.S. Open will be aired live in the U.S. in some form or fashion. “We’re almost there. What is changing the dynamic is the packaging of Matchroom as a company. We come in with 12 different sports and 2,000 hours of live coverage. There’s a movement in the digital marketplace. Whether it is ESPN Plus or Turner Broadcasting, there is a need for programming and heightened interest in niche sports.”

Neither side would discuss details of the U.S. Open’s sale, other than to say that the Behrmans were paid a nominal license fee, with potential to share in future profits.

“It’s important that people understand that we didn’t sell out,” Behrman reiterated. “We want to see the U.S. Open grow and go on forever. Reaching out to Matchroom was the best way to make that happen. They will do incredible justice for the event, and for pool in the U.S. and internationally.”

According to Hearn, as part of the deal, Behrman and Paschall will have input, but Matchroom will have the final say on event decisions.

“We will keep the family as part of the event,” Hearn said, “But we have the freedom of ownership to say, ‘This is the way forward.’”

Hearn added that particulars about the U.S. Open under his stewardship are still being worked out, but international qualifiers will be part of the equation.

“We will make the U.S. Open truly global,” he insisted. “I want players from around the world. More importantly, I want people around the world talking about the U.S. Open.

“We have an ego as well,” Hearn said. “We like to grow events. Can we ever get to a $1 million prize fund? One thing players know is that with Matchroom you get paid and you get top money.” As big as the U.S. Open is in America’s pool history, Hearn insists there is much work ahead.

“This is a big job to be done,” he said. The U.S. Open is 42 years old and it hasn’t grown. How do you fill an arena for the U.S. Open like we do for Mosconi? We need the event to be inspirational. We need to inspire. We have to have kids saving their money for their entry fee or to make the trip to Vegas to watch the U.S. Open.

“Do I expect the U.S. Open to be profitable from Day One?” Hearn wondered. “No. But I will spend the money to make sure the U.S. Open is produced properly on Day One. And I’m confident that over a three or four year period we will end up with a major event.”




Fleming Announces New Event in U.S. Open Time Slot

The Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va., will, indeed, host a major pool tournament in late October for the fourth consecutive year. But it will not be the 43rd Annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship. Accu-Stats founder and promoter Pat Fleming said he has signed a contact with the Sheraton to run his own international tournament on the dates previously held for the U.S. Open.

Fleming announced his intention to run an event called the U.S. International Open, Oct. 21-17, 2018, at the Sheraton. He did so without knowledge that U.S. Open owners Brady Behrman and Shannon Paschall, the son and daughter of late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, were in the midst of selling the U.S. Open to Matchroom Sport.

“The dates were saved with the Sheraton for Oct 21-27, 2018,” said Fleming. “The [World Pool-Billiard Association] blocked those dates on their calendar. We also made some commitments with hotel for risers and such.

“I had to make a decision on the hotel,” Fleming continued. “They loved our event.”

Fleming said he send the Behrmans an email stating his intention to move ahead with his own event.

“I have the support of Diamond Billiard Products and WPA sanctioning,” Fleming said.

Fleming said he plans to restrict the field to 128 players. The prize fund will pay 32 places, and the payout will be the same as the 2017 U.S. Open: $40,000 for first place and $2,250 for 24-32. As with the U.S. Open, the entry fee will be $1,000.

“We will still be paying a quarter of the field,” Fleming said. “And, we will grant free entry to the most recent 10 U.S. Open winners. Players who won prior to that will pay a $500 entry fee. We still want the past champions in the field.”



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