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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: Hope Springs Eternal
June 2022

And sometimes it springs a leak.

One way to tell that the game is trending in the right direction is that the objects of criticism — of course, criticism is a constant in all sports but absolutely relentless in pool — degenerate to virtual minutiae.

Gone are the days of big, broad topics like, “There aren’t enough tournaments,” and “There’s no pool on TV,” and “There’s no money in pool,” replaced by endless social media threads about the color of the 5 ball, the color of the cloth and the monthly clothing budget of Matchroom Multi Sport Managing Director Emily Frazer.

That, my friends, is progress.

Incredibly, the pool calendar is almost too full for pool’s top players, with Matchroom and Predator alone producing a dozen significant open and invitational events in 2022, anchored by hefty-if-not-life-changing prize funds.

From a programming standpoint, there is a glut of viewing opportunity, some paid and some free.

And, still, there is criticism, pessimism, and cynicism. And not all of it is totally unwarranted.

The recent UK Open was a microcosm of pool’s current rise and the hiccups that invariably accompany change and progress.

What can’t be argued is that each new event produced by promoters like Matchroom and companies like Predator are ambitious undertakings, and for that there should be absolutely zero criticism. Everyone — players, fans, the sport — benefits when there is spirited competition to continually raise the bar on event production.

The UK Open was as ambitious as it gets. Launching a new event is difficult enough. Launch it in a country where an open event of this size has never been attempted? Then construct a 24-table arena that includes a Center Court TV table bookended by a pair of secondary feature arena tables, allowing for television coverage of all three tables?

Like I said, ambitious.

As has been well discussed, the UK Open filled its 256 playing spots in a single day. And the playing setup at the Copper Box Arena, built for and used in the 2012 Olympic Games, was arguably the most visually appealing and functional pool venue to date.

Strictly from a tournament standpoint, the Matchroom 9-ball events continue to move in the direction of uniformity. (The cloth is gonna be grey and the 5 ball is gonna be purple, kids, so let that go!) But some tinkering is ongoing.

For starters, pocket size is varying between 4 and 4.25 inches with the goal being 4-inch pockets across Matchroom Nineball ranking events. One would assume that Predator will also adopt 4-inch pockets for its 10-ball series, as promoters continue to make pro events more challenging.

But even the 4.25 pockets used at the UK Open presented a problem because of the racks used. Until the sport can produce enough quality referees to handle large open events, rackers are going to be using a template in the early stages of a tournament. That became an issue in London because the decision had been made to rack with the 1 on the spot, making the “wing ball” an all but automatic visitor to the corner pocket. The break was slightly less predictable once the event reached the single-elimination final 16, where referees set the balls using a wood rack.

Perfect? Not really. But every perfect scenario is affected by more than one factor: You can’t have 1 on spot with templates and 4.25” pockets. But putting the 9 on spot with a template promotes the cut break. But wood racks require qualified rackers. Etc., etc., etc.

Ultimately, I believe, the goal will be to have 4-inch pockets, the 1 on spot, using a wood triangle and qualified referees. Again, a lot of things must fall into place for that to be feasible for those producing the tournaments.

The airing of matches at the UK was also ambitious. Again, the goal was to improve on previous efforts. For the first four days of the event, two matches each round were streamed live and for free on the promoter’s Facebook and YouTube platforms. One table had commentary, one didn’t. One table had multiple cameras, one didn’t. And fans were not shy about making everyone aware of those differences.

More announcers, cameras and directors cost more money. Yet fans who complained about a lack of viewing options also complain about paying to view the event. Does anyone else see the irony?

Of course, once the event was pared down to single elimination, the platform in the U.S. was supposed to switch to subscription-based DAZN. Many fans paid the monthly fee to DAZN for the final two days, but a snafu left pool off the DAZN schedule and Matchroom had to switch back to free viewing on Facebook. Instead of being happy, complaints poured in from fans feeling taken, as if the subscription service was a scam.

Plenty of criticism was leveled against Matchroom’s broadcast partners and platforms and fans complained that only one table was being aired in the final 16, but again most fans missed the point. Much of Matchroom’s pool revenue comes from those broadcast partners, and their commitment to those partners is predicated on some level of exclusivity. DAZN and Sky Sports aren’t going to pay for programming if Matchroom airs other matches in the same round on a different platform, drawing viewers away.

All in all, the UK Open was another glimpse of the direction in which the pro sport is headed, and it’s all good. Accept the occasional hiccup and support the effort.

And maintain hope. It springs eternal

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