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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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June: “Can’t Be Done!”
June 2019

Performing under pressure, particularly amid lofty expectations, is something few do well. Some people, however, seem to thrive on it. The more pressure, the more daunting the challenge, the more focused and relentless the pursuit of success.

The recent U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship produced such pressure, which was palpable even before the first ball was struck at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in late April. The U.S. Open has been the premier professional tournament in the United States for more than 40 years. It is a career-defining title for its champions.

But in this case the pressure of which I speak was not on the players, although nearly every one of the 256 players that traveled to Las Vegas from around the globe felt the pressure that comes with dreaming of winning the event.

No, in this instance the pressure was on Matchroom Multi Sport to live up to its promise to take the venerable tournament to “the next level” in 2019.

As pool fans have learned over the years, Matchroom prides itself on producing the sport’s best events. Promotion and staging are every bit as important at Matchroom as players and prize money. Prior to its acquisition of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, however, Matchroom had spent more than a dozen years producing only smaller invitational events staged in one-table venues: the Mosconi Cup, the World Cup of Pool and the World Pool Masters. (Matchroom did run the World Pool Championship from the late ’90s through the early 2000s.) The U.S. Open, was a significant step up in weight class.

Not that Matchroom shied away from the challenge. On the contrary. It spent more than a year hyping the event, preparing players and fans for a tournament unlike any other.

With the expectations came questions. And with the questions came concerns. List me among the group of tournament watchdogs that worried for the event’s success. There were discussions concerning the event’s timeframe. Word made its way around the industry that Matchroom had less than 24 hours to stage the 40,000-square-foot arena that would be used for the first three days of qualification rounds. That’s one day to place 34 tables, hang lighting, set up a control station and place signage and seating.

“Can’t be done,” was the common response from people that have installed tables and produced tournaments.

Know what? It got done. It took Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer and her crew 22 straight hours of work to make it happen (including some fancy footwork when a crate containing streaming equipment, set furniture and all of the ball sets failed to show up), but the job got done. By the time the players arrived for the first round of play, the arena that greeted them was organized and stylish.

But, certainly the idea of trimming the field from 256 to 16 in three days was ridiculous.

“Can’t be done,” the naysayers repeated.

Not only did the scheduling go off without a hitch, but it was done without a single match testing midnight. In fact, the final 16 was set by 7 p.m. on the third day.

And when the event moved to the nearly 700-seat, single-table television arena, any concerns disappeared. This was Matchroom’s wheelhouse. The finals arena was dramatic and exciting, and you could sense that the players were feeding off the atmosphere. The matches were thrilling and the drama made for compelling TV.

“I never faulted people for being worried,” Frazer said, following the event. “The more I heard it the more I was driven to show we could do it.”

In the end, Matchroom delivered exactly what it said it would. And for all of the discussion over added money, entry fees and prize fund, it was obvious that many people (myself included) may have been missing the point. Matchroom’s priority was to create an open championship the likes of which had not previously been produced in the U.S., to create a look and feel and atmosphere that would generate a buzz, attract a live crowd, draw solid TV viewership and, in the end, present an event that potential corporate sponsors would pay to be part of.

Matchroom did its part. The event was spectacular.

Perhaps the only sour note for me was the response of pool’s fan base. The first three days of the tournament were streamed on Facebook Live for free. The production level was outstanding and viewership numbers were strong. But when the event switched to subscription sports streamer DAZN in the U.S. ($19.95/month) for the final three days, the obligatory moaning from the sport’s penny-pinching fans filtered through social media.

What’s worse, the DAZN feed was hijacked and shared on Facebook The pirated feed generated some 80,000 views. (Several pro players even shared it!)

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that pool’s own “fans” are jeopardizing the event’s chances of landing corporate sponsorship, which would, of course, increase the prize money for the players and help build the U.S. Open (and other tournaments) into a major sporting event.

Apparently, that doesn’t worry Matchroom.

“We are planning something even bigger for next year,” announced Matchroom Chairman Barry Hearn.

What? Can’t be done!