And now for a bit of revisionist history: The roughly 14 months during which the International Pool Tour completely took over the pool world was one of the best periods in the history of professional pool.
Of course, the tour’s spectacular crash (and the equally spectacular subsequent crash of IPT founder and funder Kevin Trudeau) left its own indelible mark on the game. But for those who were not dialed into the pro tour at that time, and particularly for those who never got a chance to witness one of the four IPT events, let me assure you the atmosphere and excitement were like no other time during my 36 years in this sport.
In terms of wealth, fame and ego, Kevin Trudeau was at his absolute zenith in 2005. He made millions of dollars hawking health, diet and financial remedies through infomercials. He reportedly sold more than six million copies of “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About,” which ultimately steered readers to purchase special memberships to get the actual “cures.”
And he loved pool.
Even better, he loved Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer Mike Sigel. When Trudeau decided to be the rich uncle pool has always begged for, it was Sigel who helped him devise the blueprint for the IPT.
For all his shortcomings, Trudeau was a great idea man. And there were many things about the IPT that were sheer genius.
The mere method with which Trudeau determined what players would be “invited” to be members of the IPT was incredibly creative and brilliant. He hand-selected 100 of the 150 members based on tournament records, input from Sigel and a few of his own quirky guidelines. (For instance, he offered a spot to every living BCA Hall of Famer, and guaranteed each one a $30,000 bonus simply for attending the player’s meeting that preceded the first event. Of course, attendance was mandatory anyway.) Players not in the first 100 who wanted to attain IPT membership were told to submit a resume and cover letter explaining why they felt they deserved to be a member, and what they could do for the IPT.
Letters came from established pros, foreign players wanting to take a shot in the U.S. (Darren Appleton and Karl Boyes among them), hustlers, road players and bums. Trudeau wanted a mix of players. In addition to wanting the top players, Trudeau wanted storytellers and characters. After all, the IPT was going to be as much show as competition.
The first event, “The King of the Hill,” featured only 40 players. Why did Trudeau insist that the other 110 be present? For starters, that players meeting was when Trudeau outlined his battle plan for the IPT. It was also his way of testing the commitment of the players. Were they willing to travel at their own expense to fill out their biography forms, have their photo taken and attend a players meeting? Every player showed. In fact, they all sat through that players meeting in suits and ties and drooled at Trudeau’s gaudy list of promises and hopes.
It was one of the truly memorable moments in my years covering pool.
In fact, watching the players during that brief stretch of hope and glory was eye opening. To see them treated like professional sportsmen was fun. They stood tall. They felt important. They had hope.
The elaborate scoring formula that determined which players would advance from round to round led to players having to sweat over how many balls were pocketed. Players were forced to root for hated rivals in matches against their best friends. At one event, Mika Immonen, Corey Deuel and Rodney Morris were seen rolling on the ballroom floor in a wild embrace after they had advanced to the six-player semifinals round. When was the last time you saw a reaction like that from pro players?
Another Trudeau idea? Coaching. Players were allowed to have a corner man for “coaching and support.” The innovation added an interesting element to the matches, particularly the televised final matches.
And then there was the money. Lots of money. Some $8.5 million promised in the first season, with $100,000 guaranteed to every player who earned “touring pro” status in the second year.
Of course, there was no second year. And the first year failed long before $8.5 million was doled out.
Kevin Trudeau doesn’t need me to tell him that his business plan was severely flawed. He never found the vehicle through which he could get the tour, and his personal message (which was to sell more of his products) to the masses. Still, he forked out $13 million in prize money and tournament expenses trying. Can’t fault him for that.
Pool has enjoyed other big moments. The launch of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Classic Tour and the significant success the WPBA enjoyed on ESPN were terrific. The Pro Billiards Tour’s hook-up with Camel and the subsequent Camel Pro Billiards Series was solid. And, of course, the post-”Color of Money” explosion led to perhaps the single biggest boom period for the sport and industry.
For my money, though, I’ll take those magical months during which pool looked and felt like a professional sport.