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.
June: Swimming Up Stream
I’VE SEEN the future of pool on television. It’s channel listings void of the words “pocket billiards.”
Oh, there’s still plenty of women’s collegiate softball. And cheerleading contests.
I even noticed the National Spelling Bee, carried live, on ESPN.
Judge: “The word is ‘Extinct.’”
Contestant: “Can you use that in a sentence, please?”
Judge: “The sport of pocket billiards has become extinct on television.”
Contestant: “Oh, of course. E-X-T-I-N-C-T. Extinct.”
To say that the professional tournament scene in the U.S. is flagging is a gross understatement. Save for Matt Braun’s annual Challenge of Champions (which occasionally even features a U.S. pro), the men pros haven’t been seen on television in the U.S. since balls were made from ivory.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Classic Tour continues to get new programming on ESPN, but that relationship has to be getting pretty tenuous. The entire WPBA television calendar is now made up of taped matches from three tournaments, one in January, one in June and one in November. That’s it.
So, where does that leave pool fans jonesing for cue action?
I’ve seen the future of pool from that perspective as well, and it’s online.
Live streaming challenge matches and pool tournaments are everywhere these days, from the Las Vegas studio arena of Justin Collett’s The Action Report, to Accu-Stats’ productions of the U.S. Open and Derby City Classic, to EuroTour events and virtually any tournament staged in Asia.
The Action Report, or TAR, as it is better known, does a phenomenal job with its staged winner-takes-all one-on-one tilts. And Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer Pat Fleming’s Accu-Stats coverage of the sport is second-to-none.
But I don’t think I’m being technology-challenged by suggesting that it’s just not the same as watching matches on standard TV. I get live streaming broadcasts. I understand that the future will produce more streaming content on handheld devices.
My primary concern is that network and cable television at least offer the potential to draw new fans to the sport. The hard-core fans will follow pool wherever it leads them. But in the exponentially exploding world of technology, how will pool get noticed?
And if pool thought getting relegated to ESPN2 pushed it further into the background of sports programming, wait until the major league sports take full advantage of technology. The battle between big-time sports to engage fans through social media and drive content digitally is going to be massive.
Where does that leave pool?
It will leave pool where it’s always been — fending for itself; having to make its own breaks; hoping to get a little lucky along the way.
Hopefully, the bright, talented and tech-savvy young entrepreneurs from the U.S. and beyond who are guiding pool’s quest for visibility will figure all this out.
It won’t be easy, mind you. Is the pool market big enough to solely support fee-based streaming? Is ad-based streaming a possibility for pool? What opportunity does pool content offer marketers?
The global nature of marketing today may actually offer more opportunities to pool than what it faced on the sports landscape domestically.
But of one thing I’m fairly certain. Pool on network and major cable will lessen before it increases.
But even that presents opportunity. Pool needs to be seen live, and streaming content isn’t beholden to time constraints.
So what does the future hold?