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MATCHROOM’S WORLD 9-BALL TAKEOVER
Jan 23, 2020, 2:00 PM

How it happened. What it means.

There were several “tells” in World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) President Ian Anderson’s early January letter to member federations that the WPA Board of Directors had voted to terminate the Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation’s contract for the men’s World 9-Ball Championships. According to Anderson, the QBSF’s decade-long run as promoter and producer of the world championship event was terminated because the association was unresponsive when pressed to make improvements to the event, which suffered from lack of promotion and organization.

The letter also stated, “We do have another organizer who will take over our prestigious Championship as of this year and will do the event very proud.” In other words, the WPA had clearly been in discussions with another promoter while the QBSF still had a year to go on its contract and seemed determined to get them to breach that contract. To astute followers of the sport, that could mean only one thing: Matchroom Sport, pool’s knight-on-white-horse, was once again riding in to save the day, as it had with the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship.

“Obviously, it didn’t just happen last week,” Anderson said, referring to Matchroom’s Jan. 22 announcement that it had “acquired the rights in perpetuity” to the World 9-Ball Championship. “We had been discussing this for some time.”

Not surprisingly, the idea to regain control of the world championship, which the U.K.-based promoter staged from 1999 through 2008, was hatched by creative and tireless Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer.

“It stemmed from a brainstorming meeting in our offices,” said Frazer. “We’re always talking about building the pool lineup to grow the sport and also have more to offer our sponsors and broadcast partners.

“We don’t necessarily say, ‘What’s out there? Let’s go take it,’” Frazer added. “The U.S. Open more or less came to us and [Matchroom founder] Barry [Hearn] liked the idea. The Word 9-Ball never really came to us. We did a little research on the event, where it is and where it’s been. I approached the WPA in Russia in September, then we put together a proposal for Barry. He loves the idea of building Matchroom Pool. We’ve got five major unique events under our belt and the World 9-Ball was the perfect piece to add to that.”

Not surprisingly, the news of pool’s biggest and most respected promoter taking over the World 9-Ball Championship, which had devolved to an almost secondary event that a number of top players avoided, was met with great joy.

“Wow, what a day for our sport!” gushed International 9-Ball Open champ Jayson Shaw.

“Unbelievable news for the pool world!” echoed Russia’s Fedor Gorst, who only three weeks earlier won the world title in Qatar.

And just what can players expect from the Matchroom-run event?

For starters, Hearn announced a $200,000 prize fund for 2020, which will be held Oct. 14-18 at a yet-to-be-determined site. Hearn also stated that “the 128-player event will be open to men and women.”

The latter statement makes fairly clear that Matchroom will now make the decisions that affect qualification for the world championship. Previously, it was the WPA that dictated the player allotment and parceled them out to member federations. While Frazer insisted that the system won’t be dramatically changed, some changes will be instituted to assure a field that Matchroom would deem most representative and, of course, marketable. “For one,” said Frazer, “we’re in an age where women should be competing with the men. The WPA is in agreement with that, and I think that all federations should be open this and should actually be encouraging it.

Women at the top of the WPA ranking list can qualify as such. I think that if 10 players come through the EPBF, one of them should certainly be a female. “As for allotments and qualifications,” she continued, “we’re not looking at coming in and completely changing the qualifying criteria. It should include all of the different federations and we want to keep that consistent, but there are changes that we think should be made. For instance, Matchroom champions will have a spot.”

“It’s far too early for us to comment on this from a federation standpoint,” said Rob Johnson, CEO of the Billiard Congress of America, the North American federation member to the WPA. “We are expecting follow-up with the WPA and Matchroom to learn more details. But we are thrilled Matchroom has commited to this event and look forward to seeing them work with the WPA to take it to the next level.”

While players in the U.S. unanimously applauded the change-of-hands, in universal agreement that the event will return to its glory days of the early 2000s, they’d better have their passports in order.

“We are looking at a lot of venues,” Frazer said. “But it isn’t likely that the event will be held in the U.S. For starters, events in the U.S. are so costly. Also, the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has found its place in the U.S., and we’d like to keep the U.S. Open and the World 9-Ball Championship separate. Also, we’ve got other plans for the U.S.

“The U.K. is a consideration,” she added. “But it won’t be in Cardiff (site of Matchroom-produced World Pool Championship from ’99-’2004). I don’t like repeating history. This is a new event for us and we have no desire to turn back time. We are also interested in Asia — Macau, the Philippines, etc.” According to Frazer, the October dates were a coveted timeframe.

“Often times, our dates are driven by venue availability and/or our broadcast partners,” she said. “But with the World 9-Ball, the dates we chose were based on the pool calendar. We had always had our eyes on putting something in those dates. The World 9-Ball will fit nicely as the end of the ranking year for U.S. and Europe as it relates to the Mosconi Cup and the marketing and promotion of Matchroom events. Previously, the World 9-Ball was not in a great time of year, right before the holidays and right after Mosconi Cup. It was tough on the 10 players that had just finished playing for their lives.”

While few people in the pool world would question the WPA’s wisdom in handing off the event to Matchroom, whose record in pool promotion is spotless, a few admitted to raised eyebrows Hearn’s use of the term, “in perpetuity.” Anderson quickly dismissed any concern.

“While ‘in perpetuity’ does mean forever,” Anderson rationalize, “it’s not really forever if Matchroom, for example, cease to do the event or players stop playing it. Matchroom simply wanted assurance and security that they won’t build the event up, only to have someone else hijack the event from them because their contract expired.”

What is not open to any question, however, is Matchroom’s reputation for promoting and producing the best events in the sport.

“Our first goal,” said Frazer, “is to increase the prestige of the World 9-Ball Championship. And as long as we can see that there is a future to the event, we’ll stick with it.

“I think this says a lot about the vision we’ve shown,” she added. “We want to see pool grow.”


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