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.
November: Agent of Change
I’M NOT sure if this is a story about Jeanette Lee, or about Tom George. Doesn’t really matter.
Everyone knows who Jeanette Lee is. Even people who don’t play pool know “The Black Widow.”
In large part, that’s because of Tom George.
I have great respect for both, and their story as teammates of sorts is pretty interesting to me, and pretty enlightening.
Anyone who was around when Jeanette stormed onto the billiard scene in 1993 will recall that Jeanette Lee was never lacking for confidence, drive or the willingness to work harder than her competition, both at and away from the table. In her mid-20s, Lee had already ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the Women’s Professional Billiard Association and quickly became one of the most recognizable figures in the sport. At the time, Lee was managing her own public relations, media, exhibitions and charity event appearances.
But the marketing-savvy New Yorker also knew that in order to leverage the Black Widow brand and negotiate significant endorsement and exhibition deals, she would need help.
Enter Tom George.
Lee, who never passed up an opportunity to network, met George, then a sports agent with Advantage International, at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation dinner in 1997. Lee later flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Advantage people.
“I wanted representation,” Lee remembers, “and I went there and said, ‘I’ll give you the leads. You just need to follow up on them.’”
A year later they were full-fledged partners.
I’ve talked with George a lot over the years, and I remember right from the start he told me, “In sports like billiards, there is usually one player per generation who has real star power. After Mosconi there was Mizerak. To me, Jeanette’s the only one who has the potential to be at that level.”
Over the years, Jeanette has become a transcendent star and has earned a significant amount of money. And no one is happier about that than Tom George.
“I was a founding member of Advantage/Octagon,” said George, who recently left Octagon to become VP of Sports Marketing at lottery company MDI Entertainment (see Wingshots, pg. 12). “I’ve probably brought in more deals and more athlete marketing than anyone at Octagon. And Jeanette’s success is my most satisfying accomplishment.
“No one works as hard as Jeanette. No one cares as much. Jeanette never lets you down.”
In the sports marketing community Lee is almost legend.
“In 13 years she’s missed one gig,” said George. “It was a free PR gig and she was really sick. I had to force her to stay home. I tell that to experienced sports marketing people and they gasp!
“She was scheduled to perform for the NFL Players Association at the Super Bowl in Atlanta. They had huge ice storms and flights were cancelled left and right. I called her to tell her it was OK if she couldn’t make it in. She cut me off and said she was already on her way. She and [husband] George drove. All she was getting for that gig was two tickets to the game.
“That dedication generates more opportunities from the Octagon business departments because they know she does a great job and will deliver the goods after the sale.”
There’s another reason George is so proud of his relationship with Jeanette.
“The marketing is secondary for most athletes,” he pointed out. “With Jeanette it’s her primary job. Ninety percent of her income is outside the competitive element of her sport. At the beginning, I made more money than her. That’s not the case anymore.
“I can honestly say that we’ve made a significant difference in the quality of her and her family’s life.”
They can both be proud.