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Taking A Mulligan
Apr 5, 2019, 2:00 PM

Matchroom’s acquisition of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships was met with great joy by the pool community. Bold plans and grandiose promises heralded a bright future for America’s oldest and most significant major pool tournament. A guaranteed purse of $300,000 for the 2019 event was announced when entries opened to 128 players. The response from players around the globe was so swift, despite the $1,000 entry fee, that the field was opened and quickly grew to 175, then 200 and finally to 256. More than 100 players asked that their names be placed on a waiting list.

Not unreasonably, most players assumed that since the number of entries doubled, the prize fund would also jump. Simple math shows that a $300,000 guaranteed purse with $128,000 in entry fees equals $172,000 in added money. With 256 players, that $172,000 would bring the total prize fund to $428,000. Makes sense. Even if Matchroom only added $100,000, some rationalized, the purse would still be $356,000.

So, imagine the players’ surprise when Matchroom quietly posted the prize list on its website yesterday, indicating that the total prize fund would remain at its originally announced $300,000. Just $44,000 added to the U.S. Open? Heck, Barry Behrman’s U.S. Opens routinely featured $50,000 added. Some players expressed disbelief. A few others were flat out angry. What happened to all of those big promises? This is a Matchroom production, right?

Of course, everything is not quite as simple and clear cut as it seems. “The cost of this event is staggering,” Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer said, when asked about the prize fund surprise.

It seems money that might have been added to the prize fund was gobbled up in staging and production costs.

Honestly, I understand both sides of this. The players have every right to be disappointed in the prize fund. And Matchroom has every right to spend its money where it sees fit in the production of an event.

In an effort to get each side to understand the other’s concerns, I offer the following comments:

To Matchroom — A $300,000 event doesn’t impress players if the entry fees account for 85 percent of the purse. Players are travelling from all over the globe, at great expense, because you have a pristine reputation and you’ve gone to great lengths to tout your takeover of the U.S. Open as game-changing. They are coming because it says “Matchroom.” These players are paying a $1,000 entry fee, at least that much to get to Las Vegas, $200 a night for lodging, $6 for a bottle of water and will be prisoners in the arena at Mandalay Bay because the field needs to be trimmed from 256 to 16 in three days. And obviously, going from 128 to 256 players with no increase in prize fund has an adverse effect on the prize distribution. So, don’t blame the players if they feel somewhat disrespected. Staging and production costs are astronomical? I get it. But the players did not demand that the event be at the price-gouging Mandalay Bay, yet they have been punished.

Beyond that, the World Cup of Pool ($250,000) and World Pool Masters ($100,000) are 100 percent added money (invitationals with no entry fee). The U.S. Open’s $44,000 in added money makes it the fourth largest added-money pro tournament of 2019 — the World 10-Ball Championship ($100k), the WPA Player Championships ($50k) and the International 9-Ball Open ($50K). This U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships qualifies as the lowest tier WPA points event. That’s not Matchroom. Matchroom sets the bar, it doesn’t limbo under it.

To the Players and Fans — If anyone in this industry deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the gift of a mulligan, it’s Matchroom. If they can be faulted at all in this matter it is in focusing so hard on taking the event itself to the next level. “We’re going to take this event and make it mainstream,” was Matchroom founder Barry Hearn’s message when he announced the company’s acquisition of the U.S. Open.

That doesn’t mean simply posting a huge prize fund. That means creating a must-see event that has people buzzing. I get that too and creating that perception costs money. Look no further than the Mosconi Cup, pool’s only true must-see event. Matchroom took an event that was already successful and ramped it up another level in 2018. That gamble didn’t come cheap, but it paid off. The result? The players will benefit next year with double the prize money. From the sound of it, staging and production plans for the U.S. Open are every bit as bold.

And that is what players and fans should understand and accept this year. Give Matchroom a prize fund pass in April and let them focus on making the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships the Mosconi Cup of open tournaments. The impact will be long-lasting and the reward to the players is certain to follow.


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