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.
October: Do You Believe in Miracles?
I have to admit, I like this marketing-driven change that has us watching the Olympic Games every two years. Winter Olympics in 2006, Summer Olympics in 2008, Winter Olympics in 2010, and so on. It affords me more frequent opportunities to poke fun at events deemed more "universal" and more "demanding" than cue sports.
The Summer Olympics, recently completed in Beijing, China, offered a bevy of borderline comical "disciplines." Among my personal favorites was Trampoline. Although I didn't catch much of the action (what with that big-eared swimmer dominating the 25 hours of daily coverage), I could almost hear the color commentator for the Trampoline event gushing about the gold-medal favorite.
"You know, Boris was a child prodigy. According to his parents, Boris was bouncing on his bed and touching the ceiling as early as 4! By the time he was 6, he was bounding from his bed to his brother Sergi's bed without incident. That's just astonishing!"
Yeah, great. I heard Boris is also a medal threat in the 3 meter wet-towel-snap competition.
Even more ludicrous? Air rifles (cue concerned mom to Black Bart: "You'll shoot your eye out!") and synchronized diving. Where do you go to even practice synchronized diving?
Yet the cue sports, with organized competition in more than 90 nations and played by nearly 100 million people worldwide, languishes on the sidelines.
Part of me thinks, "So what?" Do the fringe sports really derive all that much benefit from their inclusion in the Olympics? Do they come home to sponsor-driven pro tours? Do sales in their respective industries spike? My television currently gets something in the vicinity of 10,000 channels, and I've yet to come across a single Professional Synchronized Diving Tour or Trampoline World Cup event. For that matter, what do swimmers do between Olympics? And what do gymnasts do after they turn 12?
But as much as I try to rationalize pool's non-inclusion on the sports world's biggest stage, there's one compelling reason to keep reaching for those five gold rings.
And what got me thinking more about the impact of youth on the entire industry was a comment attributed to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge regarding the inclusion of BMX in Beijing. (Yes, even bicycle motocross was an Olympic sport this year.)
"The IOC must adapt to changing attitudes of young people if it wants to stay relevant," said Rogge. "With youngsters turning fast to other sports competitions like the X Games, the IOC has to change."
Added one BMX competitor, "This is our chance to bring our sport to the world and give kids another avenue to express themselves, because not everybody likes to play baseball and football."
A writer friend of mine commented that perhaps the growth of sports with today's youth stems from the simple fact that they can express themselves. That certainly seems to be the mantra that drives "extreme sports."
Can pool offer that vehicle for expression? Of course it can. And it has. When "The Color of Money" spurred meteoric growth in both poolrooms and participation in the late '80s, do you think it was Paul Newman's aging character or drab tournament scenes that piqued kids' interests? No, it was Tom Cruise strutting around the table, twirling his cue to the strains of "Werewolves of London." (A practice lamented by many a poolroom owner.)
We missed the opportunity to channel our efforts to the youth back then, but it's never too late to retool our efforts. Maybe pool should focus more on that "express yourself" theme. Think any of today's televised events drive kids to pool tables? Doubtful. And the IOC obviously doesn't view cue sports as relevant with today's youth.
Pool certainly has the potential to resonate with kids. From the limitless possibilities for creativity on the table, to equally limitless potential for creative expression at and around the table, there's no reason pool can't attract the attention and passion of America's youth.
As my friend wrote, "Bottle up and sell the chance for kids to express themselves, and they'll flock."
Pool has survived all these years without any concerted effort to attract young kids, and it will continue to survive.
But without today's youth driving interest in cue sports, the Olympics - and indeed industry growth - will continue to be unattainable goals.