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.
Sept: Barry Extraordinary
If there has been one constant in pool over the past 20 years...one dependable, predictable, positive constant...it is Barry Hearn.
In a period during which the professional side of pool, for both men and women, grew to incredible heights, then plummeted to the current atmosphere of cancelled tournaments and unreliable promoters, Hearn’s Matchroom Sport has churned forward. Not a ripple of doubt surfaces when Matchroom announces an event. Not a single complaint of “late payments” or “insufficient funds” has been uttered.
And I haven’t even touched upon the massive worldwide exposure Matchroom events garner.
How extraordinary it is that the person who has done most for American pool in the last two decades doesn’t even live in America.
Then again, Barry Hearn is anything but ordinary.
Hearn, a Brit who will enter the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame alongside pool star Jeanette Lee in December, has promoted pool tournaments since 1993, when he staged the European Pool Masters.
Hearn, an accountant by trade, launched Matchroom just ahead of the immensely popular and wildly lucrative snooker boom of the 1980’s. He had purchased a chain of billiard clubs “as a property investment” in the early ’70s, but fell in love with the game. Soon, he was promoting events and managing players, including Steve Davis, who went on to become the game’s greatest champion.
By the late ’80s, snooker players were carving up over $4 million in prize money, inking huge endorsement contracts and playing on live television in front of audiences of 18 million viewers. The money continued to grow.
So, again, why dabble in pool?
Hearn is, above all, a wildly optimistic visionary and a firm believer in cultivating brands. He has never been interested in one-hit wonders, preferring instead to find an underexposed product and carefully build a brand around it. Thankfully, Hearn saw that in American pool.
“Pool is so much bigger worldwide than snooker,” Hearn said in a BD interview a decade ago. “I’m much more interested in a global audience.”
The launch pad, of course, was the Mosconi Cup. To grow the sport, Hearn knew pool needed a flagship event. A Ryder Cup-style battle between Europe and the U.S., he surmised, would allow personalities to develop, allegiances to form and a brand to emerge.
And what a brand it is. Nothing in pool compares to the Mosconi Cup. And, for my money, few televised sporting events anywhere are more compelling or exciting as the Mosconi Cup.
Over the years, Hearn has continued to grow the Mosconi Cup, as well as the renamed World Pool Masters and World Cup of Pool.
One of my biggest regrets is that Hearn and Matchroom let go of the World Pool Championship. With the helpless World Pool-Billiard Association running its annual “world championship” in non-descript hotel ballrooms in Spain with less television coverage than a hair-growing competition, Matchroom assumed control of the event in 1999.
Under Matchroom’s guidance, the World Pool Championship was a proper tournament, with 128 qualified players from around the world battling in massive event centers, with a center court table adding the pressure of TV lights. The prize money for the WPC grew from $250,000 to $400,000 over the nine years it operated then event. It was, for every player, the true world championship.
Then the WPA began sanctioning world championships in other pool disciplines, like 8-Ball and 10-Ball. While the WPA saw equity and dollar signs in the additional championships, Hearn saw brand erosion.
“We never even mentioned 9-ball,” recalls Hearn. “It was the World Pool Championship. That was the brand. The player who won it was the World Pool Champion.”
As with all its properties, pool is a made-for-TV sport to Matchroom. His relationship with Sky Sport, ESPN Star and other broadcast partners, has helped generate more than 800 hours of live coverage (and many times that of taped programming) of pool events to television sets around the globe. Hearn is not interested in owning the sport or running a tour. He’s interested in creating great brands and great programming.
And Hearn’s company surely profits from its programming of pool. At least, I hope it does. If it doesn’t profit, Hearn might drop pool and turn his attention to his other properties, like darts, boxing, fishing, bowling, golf and, of course, snooker.
And where would that leave pool players?
In his 20 years of promoting pool, Hearn has staged 65 international events and has paid out nearly $9 million in prize money. A Matchroom main event has never carried an entry fee.
Few American pool fans would know Barry Hearn if they bumped into him at a tournament. But just ask the players how important and revered Barry Hearn is. Ask them how they feel when they get the call (or don’t) from Hearn’s office for an upcoming Matchroom event.
Then you’ll get an idea of why Barry Hearn is going into the BCA Hall of Fame.