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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.

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September: What’s The Good Word?
September 2017

Contrary to the perception many have about this pulpit of a page I preach from on a monthly basis, this space is not exclusively reserved for lamenting the ills of the billiard industry and the competitive side of the game. It just seems that way. What people fail to understand is that the value of editorial commentary is that it is bound by no rules and obligated to no particular “side.” And because of that, most editorial commentaries are most valuable when they point out what others either fail to see or choose not to see. And, more often than not, what get pointed out are warts.

That’s just the nature of the beast. In truth, it’s not fun constantly drawing attention to things that are wrong or things that need to be fixed. But if exposing the industry’s problems — and suggesting remedies — gets people to think and discuss, the process is a success.

Anyone who has read this column over the years has come to recognize that there are few areas of real leadership, so the victims of the pointy end of the pen tend to be recurring names.

One recurring role in this ongoing drama is the Billiard Congress of America. Really, that shouldn’t be surprising, given that in the United States the BCA is pretty much the federal government. And if you’ve read national newspapers or listened to national news, the federal government in the U.S. is a daily source of commentary. Not surprisingly, most of that commentary is critical of government officials and policy.

The BCA catches a lot of grief in large part because so much is expected of it. Until every segment of the billiard industry is riding waves of prosperity, the association can expect criticism. Is that fair? Of course not.

But since we are all in constant search of ways to make the business and the sport better, it is simply easier (and, frankly, more productive) to focus on what can be done better.

Admittedly, that also causes many of us to lose sight of what the association does well. And the BCA does plenty well. So, at the risk of completely ruining a reputation that has taken 35 years to build, let me throw a few platitudes in the direction of Broomfield, Colo. It is very easy to remember the gravy days of the BCA, particularly the post-“Color of Money” years during which the association and its members — the manufacturers, distributors, retailers and room owners — were enjoying unprecedented success. But in the post-recession years of the late 2000s, when the size of the industry shrank to a quarter of its previous size, it was all the BCA could do to simply stay afloat. The history lesson is relevant because it puts into perspective the mountain that the trade association has had to climb in the past six years. The industry’s collective anxiety over righting the listing business has made us all a little impatient.

To its credit, the BCA first hunkered down and then embarked on what continues to be a slow, steady path to stability. Forget riches. Forget glory years. Small, measured steps are what the association preaches.

The problem with small steps is that it takes a while before they make noticeable progress. The impatient tend to not even notice. But at the recent BCA Expo in Las Vegas, the vision and benefit of some of those steps became a little clearer.

The annual trade show, of course, is the BCA’s number one value and its primary source of income. It has taken years for the industry to come to grips with its smaller self, and the expo can be a cruel reminder of just how much the industry has shrunk. But the BCA has been dogged in its quest to make the best out of what the industry is today. This year the BCA launched an “Innovative Products” program, drawing attention to the fact that the hundreds-of-years-old industry can still be creative and innovative.

Will the “Innovative Products” program turn the tide of the show or entire industry? No. But its impact on the exhibitors and attendees was noticeable, and it is a program that will grow in size and value as the years go on. The 2017 Expo also featured the Billiard Education Foundation Junior Nationals for the fourth consecutive year. At first, the Junior Nats were met with quizzical looks and a fair amount of skepticism. “What are these kids doing here? And, for God’s sake, keep them out of my booth!” were the common responses. Today, however, exhibitors welcome the aspiring, young consumer purchasers of the future! It adds an element of excitement to the show. And the BCA’s investment in youth events like the Atlantic Challenge Cup supports its desire to re-build the game from the ground up.

The next step, also introduced this year, was to include the Professional Billiard Instructors Association into the mix and introduce a new program linking instructors to the youth players. It was another small step in creating synergies that should generate activity and business for all levels of the industry.

For all of the punches they take, the BCA leadership — its volunteer board of directors and CEO Rob Johnson — can be proud of the things it has done right. Now, can we talk about the WPA?