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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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August: Be Still My Heart
August 2021

As delighted for him as I was when it was announced in April that Barry Hearn was stepping aside as chairman of Matchroom Sport, the company he founded in 1976, I was at the same time a little nervous. After all, the idea-a-minute sports promoter had earned his way into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame by including pool in his event portfolio and producing the sport’s top events for more than 25 years. And while his company, which also includes huge divisions for boxing, snooker, golf and darts, is teeming with passionate and creative management, it was Hearn’s love of American pool that has driven Matchroom’s continued championing of the sport.

Hearn’s new “role” is as an advisor in event strategy and global development — which I assumed meant traveling the globe first class and writing it off to the company!

But after spending the better part of an hour on the phone with the always enthusiastic and loquacious silver-haired promoter, my anxiety has been replaced with optimism and excitement. To hear Hearn explain it, extra time away from daily Chairman duties will free the still-vibrant 73-year-old to focus on “global development and commercialization” of Matchroom properties. And, because the big bread-winner divisions — boxing, snooker and darts — already run like Swiss watches, Hearn plans to devote much of his energy to pushing pool to its full potential. In our interview in this issue (pg. 44), Hearn said he expects Matchroom to add several new events to its 2022 pool calendar. He also suggested that he will “be concentrating on pool more than anything else over the next 12 months.”

That has to be music to the ears of pool players, fans and the entire billiard industry. Anyone that knows Hearn at all knows that he has booked precious few losers in his 45-plus years as a promoter. With dynamo Emily Frazer heading up the Matchroom Multi Sport division (in which pool is the major property) and the smooth-talking, globally respected Hearn selling the sport and events, professional pool could take a huge step forward in 2022.

But that wasn’t all. In fact, the most illuminating and encouraging part of our conversation was Hearn’s assertion that Matchroom might use its successes with World Snooker Ltd. and Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) as blueprints for the creation of a global “tour” for pool. Whereas in the past Hearn had talked about Matchroom continuing to strictly be a big-event producer and banking on the rest of the pool world to build the base for professional players, talk today has turned to “taking the lead” and building the sport that assures that players have the opportunity to truly become “pool professionals.”

Part of that development would have to include a close relationship with the sport’s governance. In snooker, Matchroom is the majority owner of World Snooker Ltd., with the governing World Professional Billiard and Snooker Association (WPBSA) being a minority owner. In professional darts, Matchroom owns the PDC, with Hearn as chairman, and produces the sport’s pro tour. In both cases, Matchroom handles the commercialization of the sport and events. The governing bodies operate autonomously. “We don’t want to be the governing body,” Hearn has insisted. “But you need one to understand the journey they’re going on.”

Hearn admits that, despite pool’s fractured nature, its impoverished governing body (World Pool-Billiard Association - WPA) has value by nature of its link to the International Olympic Committee. That credibility makes selling the sport easier for Hearn, but it’s not critical.

I’ve always argued that the WPA does have value but can’t stay out of its own way. But since Matchroom has already acquired the rights to the WPA World Pool Championship “in perpetuity,” it may as well gobble up the WPA and move it to the U.K.

Can’t get in bed with an IOC world governing body? The WPBSA is the snooker arm of pool’s umbrella body, the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), and it lives in Matchroom’s backyard and is linked at the hip.

It is my greatest wish that Matchroom plug pool into the blueprints that have seen snooker and darts players earn comfortable livings as professionals As Hearn said, both have “10 times the prize money of pool and a calendar of events where everyone is practicing for a specific purpose.”

Now, doesn’t that sound like a real sport?

The issue, of course, is making that governing body effective and self-sufficient. Unfortunately, in its current state, the WPA is neither. Nothing against longtime WPA president Ian Anderson, who has filled a relatively thankless role for many years. But the WPA has become a toothless organization that wallows in board meetings and continually has to defend itself against cancelled events and calendar snafus. And Anderson is 75 years old.

The WPA needs someone at least marginally younger, more progressive and with some marketing savvy at the helm. And someone who can work with Matchroom in adding meat to the bones of both the WPA and pro pool. Then the governing group can govern and the producers/promoters can produce and promote.

Clearly, Matchroom has the resources to create that kind of environment. Ideally, the WPA members would agree to a reorganization and relocation. It would still operate independently but it would be within arm’s reach of the primary source of its funding (sanction fees). And led by a more polished, progressive front person, the WPA could work in tandem with Matchroom to start really organizing and promoting the professional game worldwide.

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