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: The Team Dream
DESPERATE TIMES call for desperate measures.
The tournament scene for professional pool players is in shambles. These days, a typical six-month tournament schedule requires players to have their passports stamped on at least three continents. And that's IF the tournament even takes place. The World 10-Ball Championship, originally scheduled for the Philippines in October 2012, then cancelled just two weeks before it was to begin, has been postponed again. A second promoter, this one in Europe, pulled the plug recently, sending players once again scrambling to rearrange their travel schedule.
So players, looking for some stability to go along with reasonable opportunity, are descending on Las Vegas for the game's next big thing - team billiards.
The brainchild of Canadian entrepreneur Larry Chiborak, the World Professional Billiard League is a 12-team league that is scheduled to compete in a 26-week season. The teams, made up of three primary players and two alternates, represent cities around the country. They will compete in a custom-built arena in Las Vegas. The game is Bonus Ball, a hybrid game that combines 9-ball, snooker and one-pocket.
Of course, many pool fans already know about the WPBL and Bonus Ball because it was scheduled to be launched back in November 2012.
But, as seems to the be case with professional billiards, all events are subject to change and "postponement." Initially, the opening week of the season was delayed until February due to zoning permits. More recently, the delay to a late-May start date was caused by an allegedly negligent contractor hired by the WPBL to build the 13,000-square-foot arena just south of the Las Vegas airport.
Meanwhile, on the promise of a share in $1.1 million, distributed throughout the season as salary and prize money, many of the game's top players set up camp in Las Vegas preparing for the season's launch.
To their credit, the players haven't griped about the delays, nor have they publicly complained about time and money spent preparing for the inaugural season.
My initial reaction is that any effort to draw new attention to the sport is good. I admire Chiborak's ambition and willingness to pour so much money into his project.
Certainly, he's put a lot into the image of the WPBL. The teams have edgy names and high-concept logos. Although I profess neutrality in coverage of the sport, I'm sure I will secretly be rooting for the Chicago Rockets, with captain Rodney Morris, Mika Immonen and Raj Hundal. (Although, given the chosen city and Hundal's inclusion on the team, I can't believe they didn't go with "Chicago Hitmen" as a team name! Very disappointed.)
According to Chiborak, the predictability of both the schedule (the entire schedule, with days and times, is already set) and match length (two and a half hours) will help make the WPBL "accessible and entertaining." All matches will be available live through streaming video.
The arena itself should be a marvel, with stadium seating for 100 in the main arena, a production booth with state-of-the-art broadcast equipment for web and TV, a dozen additional tables, a practice room, gift shop and bar.
If the finish product looks anything like the blueprints, the WPBL Arena could well become the home of virtually all televised pool events in the U.S.
What I have yet to decipher is the business model that will allow Chiborak's ambitious undertaking to have a second season. Streaming video of the matches will be the primary revenue source, at least until viewer numbers merit outside sponsor interest. Will that be enough to generate the $1.1 million needed to cover salaries and prize money for 2014?
Overall, the concept of team billiards is attractive. Professional bowling has adopted a similar strategy to create interest in the sport, while maintaining it's season of individual competition. Billie Jean King's World Team Tennis has been around, in several incarnations, since 1973.
Still, neither sport expects the team game to become more popular or lucrative than the individual game. At the highest levels of play, pool, like bowling and like tennis, is viewed as an individual sport.
Still, I will root for the WPBL's success, as I do for all ventures that attempt to breathe new life into the sport.
And I will root for the Chicago Rockets to bring home the title!