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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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February: Taking The Bull By The Horns
February 2022

Well, now, that’s more like it!

If Matchroom’s recent bombshell — that it was adding yet another $200,000 open 9-ball tournament to its schedule for 2022 and had worked with the World Pool-Billiard Association to develop a purposeful worldwide points system for the discipline — doesn’t get you excited for the game’s future, it’s probably best you start following the pro axe-throwing circuit.

For the uninitiated, Matchroom announced that player participation in all its marquee invitational events — the World Cup of Pool, rebranded Premier League Pool, the World Pool Masters and the Mosconi Cup — would be based on a global ranking system. Naturally, the British promoter’s open events, like the World Pool Championship, U.S. Open Pool Championship, European Open and U.K. Open, are part of the list of ranking events. But to aid in the growth of non-Matchroom global events, the Nineball World Rankings will include events like the International Open, Derby City 9-Ball, Kremlin Cup, five Euro Tour events and National Billiard League tournaments.

Of course, this is all good news. But you have to look deeper into the development of and plan behind this announcement to truly appreciate its magnitude.

Let’s start with the addition of the European Open, a $200,000 open tournament. How interesting it was that this new event was almost a footnote on Matchroom’s announcement of the Matchroom Nineball Schedule and the World Nineball Rankings. Not only does it immediately rank with the biggest money tournaments in the world, but it brings a major open event to the continent (tentatively scheduled for Germany) for the first time in, well, forever! European players who have been chained in servitude to the Euro Tour for decades will flock to this event with the same ferocity as Brits displayed in taxing the promoter’s bandwidth when spots in the UK Open became available in early January.

The European Open also further reinforces Matchroom’s commitment to open tournaments. For years, Matchroom founder Barry Hearn argued that his company was an event producer creating high-visibility invitational tournaments solely for television programming purposes. He never wanted to leave the success of his events to the uncertainty of 200-player fields, nor did he want to babysit that many players from around the world.

Two things seemed to happen to alter that philosophy. Hearn transitioned to a tour promoter in both snooker and darts, both with Midas touch success. And, at 74, having stepped down from daily oversite of Matchroom operations, he appears to be keen on doing the same with pool, as evidenced by his appearance at the start of the video announcing the new schedule and ranking system.

Secondly, he undoubtedly has been bludgeoned in recent years with requests from his ambitious and indefatigable Multi Sport Managing Director Emily Frazier to expand the division’s pool portfolio and mirror the blueprint used to grow snooker and darts.

The next few years of Matchroom’s overall plan for pool will undoubtedly cost the company plenty. But if Hearn has proven anything over the years, it is that he will invest and take his lumps if he has faith in the long-term plan.

As for the WPA stamp that Matchroom is affixing to its schedule and rankings, it is a move I wish they’d have made years ago. Yes, the WPA is a necessity for pool’s desire to be a global professional sport. But it has been toothless and ineffective for years, and Matchroom’s desire to impact the growth of the sport would have been dramatically slowed had it waited for the aging battleship that is the WPA to make any semblance of a turn.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Matchroom should facilitate the overhaul of the world organization and set it up in an office down the hall from its own offices in Bristol. The WPA needs to be autonomous, but it also needs financial backing and a babysitter. Please help it do what it is supposed to do — work with federations around the world to create opportunities for its players, and market the sport.

Finally, it will take several years, but this is the path towards standardized rules and formats for a legit pro 9-ball tour. Many of the events affiliated with the 2022 schedule will operate with disparate rules and uneven prize money. But they are on the clock. As early as 2023, riding the coattails of the Matchroom Nineball Schedule will require bigger commitments, both financially and structurally. In fact, already the traditionally miserly Euro Tour has upped its prize funds. It’s still not where I believe it will have to be going forward, but the fear of being left behind will have promoters digging deeper in coming years.

The Matchroom Nineball Schedule and World Nineball Rankings also leaves the door open for promoters of other disciplines to continue to build their own events and tours. I don’t see this as a gauntlet thrown in the direction of other promoters, like Predator and Cue Sports International, who have committed heftily to a world 10-ball tour.

I don’t blame Matchroom for wanting to create a tour and system that focuses on one game. You stick with the girl you brought to the dance. No confusion. No flip-flopping. Tours focusing on different disciplines can coexist, and in the end the players will be the beneficiaries.

Could pro pool actually have a future? I like its chances.

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