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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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April: A Match(room) Made in Heaven
April 2018

This has the potential to be a game changer.

The cat is out of the bag. (See Wing Shots, pg. 12.) It turns out Brady Behrman, son of the late U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship founder Barry Behrman, had a pretty good reason for being evasive when questioned earlier in the year about the future of the world’s longest-running major pool tournament.

Apparently, Behrman and his sister, Shannon Paschall, who became owners and caretakers of the U.S. Open following their father’s death in 2015, did some soul-searching following the 2017 edition of the tournament — the 42nd consecutive year the event had been conducted. Despite its long and storied history, the weeklong tournament was physically and emotionally taxing for the Behrman kids, both of who operate their own businesses. Plus, after all was said and done, the event isn’t much of a moneymaker; high risk with reward that was mostly personal gratification.

So Behrman did something his father had done four years earlier. He reached out to Matchroom Sport founder Barry Hearn to gauge the promoter’s interest in adding the U.S. Open to his portfolio of international pool events that includes the Mosconi Cup, the World Cup of Pool and the World Pool Masters.

And this time, Hearn was interested.

To his credit, Brady wasn’t so much concerned with a big sales price (the notoriously big-thinking Barry Behrman posted an asking price of $2 million in 2014) as he was finding someone to grow the event and keep his father’s legacy going.

Hearn liked the idea of taking on the historically significant title, so long as he had “full ownership” and control of the event.

So for a nominal fee and the potential of future revenue sharing, Hearn and Behrman agreed on the sale.

And just like that, the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship’s profile soared to another level.

I’ve written before that the U.S. Open is important to pool. It gives history and credibility to the professional side of the sport. That a sole, independent promoter ran and built that event — that brand — for 40 years is astonishing. But, as Hearn said in an interview following announcement of the acquisition, “The U.S. Open is 42 years old, and it hasn’t grown.”

And he’s right. The U.S. Open certainly grew from its humble beginnings at Behrman’s original Q-Master Billiards poolroom in Virginia. And it has always drawn a decent-sized crowd of passionate, knowledgeable fans. And Accu-Stats founder Pat Fleming, who had a longtime contract with Behrman for video rights to the event, did yeoman’s work producing the event since Behrman’s death. But, as a tournament, it appeared to have plateaued.

With Matchroom at the helm, all that changes.

Hearn, every bit the colorful Barry Behrman’s equal when it comes to ego and optimism, has grandiose plans for the U.S. Open. He immediately announced that the tournament would relocate to Las Vegas, although it will lose its “Annual” status by not taking place until 2019. He also promised an increase in the prize fund, which was in excess of $200,000 in 2017 as it is.

What he didn’t guarantee — because he didn’t need to — is that the U.S. Open will have the look, feel and organization of a major sporting event. After all, that’s the only kind of event Matchroom produces.

Of course, the most important element Matchroom brings to the U.S. Open is broadcasting connections. Hearn’s Matchroom MultiSport division, of which pool is part, just signed a new seven-year deal with Sky Sports, the U.K.-based European sports cable network, that guarantees the U.S. Open will be aired live. He also has deals that will assure live coverage of the U.S. Open throughout Asia. And he insists that the event will receive live coverage throughout the U.S.

“We will truly make [the U.S. Open] global,” Hearn promised.

Undoubtedly, some American pool fans will bemoan the event’s shift from the Norfolk, Va. area as sacrilegious. Others will probably question a British company’s control of the U.S.’s most valuable pool asset.

Me? I see the U.S. Open eventually becoming the showcase tournament it should be. One thing we have learned about Barry Hearn over the years is that he is fiercely loyal to his brands and properties. Rest assured he will nurture the U.S. Open as he has the Mosconi Cup, which started in a bowling center and for years offered free tickets to help build an audience. The difference is that with the U.S. Open, he was gifted a 42-year head start.

I’m also excited to see Matchroom back in the open tournament business. Matchroom’s other three pool events are invitational fields. But from 1999 to 2007, Matchroom ran the World Pool Championship. They were the best international 9-ball events ever staged, and they produced some of the most thrilling matches and most unlikely heroes the sport has witnessed.

There is everything to love and nothing to dislike in Matchroom’s acquisition of the U.S. Open. No matter how you slice it, the U.S. Open just stepped up in class, and pool is certain to be the beneficiary.