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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.

April: The Road to Nowhere
April 2011
THE BILLIARD Congress of America, amidst flagging membership and declining trade show numbers, recently determined that reducing the size of the board and downsizing the size of the office is the key to future growth. Oh, they also (for all practical purposes) jettisoned a program that was the closest thing to a strategic business plan that the association has had in decades.

In effect, the BCA voted to take a bunker mentality in hopes that the industry's health improves in spite of itself.

The January meeting of the BCA board of directors (a meeting whose tenor, according to numerous directors, ranged from "contentious" to "not real happy" to "unprofessional"), at which the directors implemented the aforementioned reductions and voted not to renew the contract with bowling's Strike Ten Entertainment to run BCA's BankShot Entertainment marketing program (see BD News, pg. 8), moved the BCA closer to becoming nothing more than an annual trade show.

Smaller board. Smaller offices. Smaller minds.

The board's mindset these days seems to be, "We have $700,000 in the bank. If we don't spend a dime outside the trade show, which currently is the BCA's sole revenue producer, we can sustain the association longer."

You see, even with the annual BCA Expo, the association is running at a deficit. By reducing and/or eliminating all the programs that actually make the BCA the industry's de facto guardian, the board figures the association can stay alive at least until 2020, when what's left of the BCA Expo will be held in a three-car garage in Sandusky.

In my eyes, the board is utterly missing the point and is fundamentally altering the BCA's mission and obligation to the industry for the worse. According to the BCA web site, the association's mission is to "enhance the success of BCA members and promote the sport of billiards." Somewhere along the way, the board has gotten it into its collective heads that "billiard industry" means manufacturers and retailers, period. At board meetings they even split into two groups "trade" and "play.' What does that even mean? Billiard rooms and players aren't part of the BCA? They have no bearing on manufacturers and retailers? They are not part of the collective "we?"

Here's a reminder for the board. The reason no one in the U.S. (outside of BCA Expo attendees) knows who the BCA is anymore is because the association became obsessed with the trade show. Through its general disinterest in rooms and its wholesale divestiture of the BCA league system, the BCA board of directors managed to make the BCA irrelevant to the two largest categories in the industry.

Which brings me to BankShot Entertainment. Last year the BCA, realizing it could no longer rely solely on the trade show, engaged the help of Strike Ten Entertainment to create a meaningful benefits program for billiard rooms, while at the same time developing a revenue stream for the BCA. That was BankShot Entertainment. Through STE, the BCA gained national partnerships with Coca-Cola, First Data merchant services and Sysco food services. It was a big-picture idea - increasing room memberships, re-connecting with players, attracting outside-industry business partners, adding bodies and relevance to the Expo - that addressed the association's mission...and future.

The BCA says it spent $240,000 on BankShot in 2010, and, quite frankly, the results were miserable. I know, because I was part of the BSE effort. The rollout took too long. Expectations were unreasonably high. The cost was high.

Still, momentum was starting to build. Room owners, who either had no clue what the BCA was or had long since considered the association irrelevant, were starting to listen. Brand awareness was growing. To me, BSE was an investment in the future of the BCA and the future of the game. Investments sometimes take time and don't immediately produce returns. But you stick with them and forego short-term benefits - and even accept some losses - because the long-term plan is so well thought-out.

But instead of sticking with it and finding ways to make it work, the BCA board did what it does best. It changed directions. For years the BCA board has been notorious for voting to follow a certain path, and then changing that path within the year. It has always lacked commitment.

The BCA will tell you that BSE is still alive, being operated out of the three-person BCA office as a part-time project for one employee. That, my friends, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today's BCA board has little interest in programs that don't provide revenue today.

And in BSE's place? Surely the BCA has come up with an alternate revenue-generating plan that can help drive the entire industry, as its mission calls for.

Nope. It's trade show or bust. Ironically, the one opportunity the BCA has to grow its trade show - both in attendance and exhibitors - is through growth in the billiard room category.

And don't confuse this rant with bitterness because of my involvement in BSE. If the BCA offered another truly strategic revenue-generating idea that served the entire industry, I would stand behind it every bit as passionately as I do BankShot, even if it took several years to break even.

But it hasn't, and has no plans to. The carefully played reduction in board size only increases the likelihood that the BCA's future will be driven by personal agendas. And, as it stands, those agendas are expo-centric.

Of course, the BCA will insist it can't afford new programs and needs to preserve its reserves.

Me? I'd rather gamble and fail on growing the industry than dying a slow death. To me, that's nothing less than the BCA's obligation.