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.
Mar: Three's Company
I've seen pool's future, and it's on my laptop.
In recent weeks I've had the opportunity to watch plenty of live televised pool action. Both the World Professional Billiard League playoffs and the Women's Professional Billiard Association Masters were broadcast live on ESPN3, and I have to admit I enjoyed it!
Admittedly, at first I dismissed the significance of the broadcasts as yet another step backwards for pool. There was a time when pool was a staple on ESPN. Most readers are probably too young to remember when the WPBA had almost all of its annual 10-stop Classic Tour championships aired on ESPN and/or ESPN 2. Even the long-since-departed Professional Billiard Tour had a season's worth of events aired on cable.
Today, the men, of course, have no tour in the U.S., and the WPBA can't produce enough content to maintain a contract with ESPN. The last vestige of billiard competitions on ESPN proper are the trick shot shows and the women's Tournament of Champions, and that's on ESPN2.
And so, for the rest of pool, ESPN3 it is.
For the uninitiated, ESPN3 is an online streaming service. To ESPN's credit, the site has evolved from on-demand content to live events. The events tend to be overflow content from sports the cable network already, like the 400 nightly college basketball games. They now include the fringe sports that no longer have the muscle to squeeze into ESPN's cable programming lineup. Billiards has now been lumped into that category.
Again, my knee-jerk reaction has been that pool is being pushed farther and farther into sports' hinterland. It was only a matter of time, I thought, that pool programming would be available only in a sort of Pirate Radio version.
But the more I think about it, being on ESPN3 not such a bad thing.
For starters, is the downgrade really adversely affecting the billiard world? Billiard promoters haven't been able to lure significant sponsorship for events or sell significant advertising for their tournaments since the turn of the century, and the promoters shouldn't suffer because of what is perceived to be less exposure.
Besides, in the struggle to find a younger demographic, what better place to be than online? More than 21 million college students have free access to ESPN3 so long as they have an .edu IP address. And virtually anyone who has ESPN as part of their cable package can access ESPN3 on their desktop or laptop, or even better, Web TV!
Additionally, what's being shown still has to be deemed acceptable by ESPN as quality programming. No offense to producers of pool's current streaming content, but there is a difference. The Mosconi Cup, the WPBL playoffs and the WPBA Masters all offered top quality pool coverage.
What's more, by not having to adhere to the constraints of a time slot, the productions didn't have to edit out content, and, in fact, could include additional content vignettes, personality profiles, award presentations, etc.
But best of all, it's live.
Nothing beats the anticipation, excitement and drama of live sports programming. And I will admit that I was a much more engaged viewer watching the WPBA Masters live, as Ga Young Kim and Kelly Fisher battled down to a one-rack, sudden-death showdown
I can learn to live with this.