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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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January: What Just Happened?
January 2023

Pool had a pretty good year last month!

It was a December to remember on many fronts. From the Mosconi Cup to “60 Minutes” to ESPN’s “30 For 30,” the sport was as visible in and, more importantly, outside traditional pool circles as it has been at any time in recent history.

The 29th annual Mosconi Cup launched the month in grand fashion at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and what a scene it was. More than 2,300 fans packed the arena for all four sessions, and the atmosphere was borderline Mardi Gras. While the customary contingent of European fans was noticeable with their Euro and national flags and sing-song chants, the 2022 version was the first in 10 visits to Las Vegas in which the American fan base completely owned the arena in both numbers and volume. Dressing the part in red, white and blue everything, Team USA backers were in full throat from the opening break to the final 9. It was far and away the most electric atmosphere of any pro event I’ve attended in 40-plus years.

And, yes, I realize Team USA came up short. Again.

And, yes, I’ve sifted through the annual social media suggestion box filler: “It’s too one-sided. The Mosconi Cup needs to be changed.” “If the U.S. wants to be competitive, it needs to add Canada. And Mexico. And Puerto Rico. And Alabama.” “We need the Reyes Cup, with Europe against Asia.”

People! Stop!

The Mosconi Cup isn’t going anywhere. And it’s not changing.

Why?

Overall and recent records be damned, the Mosconi Cup has a life of its own and it has grown into the top-producing product in Matchroom’s pool portfolio…and by a long shot. Do the math on 8,000 to 10,000 fans in four days at, say, $65 a seat. Forget concessions, merchandise sales, etc. So, yeah, let’s scuttle this because the paid audience gets bigger every year so we can stage a Europe vs. Asia match in Kaohsiung instead. Please.

Also, it’s got 30 years of history. Pool doesn’t have many events with that kind of history. There is value to the brand and value to the sport.

As for competitiveness, it was only three years ago that the Yanks had won back-to-back Cups. Since then, there was the 2020 Cup-In-A-Closet edition and the 2021 Your-Captain-Has-To-Play edition.

To me, the 2022 edition may prove to be the most impactful Mosconi Cup since 2007, when Europe really started to believe it could win. Trust me on this, the atmosphere, intensity, drama, and competitiveness that was on display in Las Vegas is going to change the U.S. commitment to developing talent for years to come. In the arena alone, there was Billy Thorpe and Nick DeLeon and Shane Wolford and Chris Reinhold. You don’t think they left that arena committed to getting back onto that stage? And do you know how that happens? They will have to get on the grind in 2023 and mix it up with the big boys at every opportunity. And that will breed success.

And aspiring players? They are going to want the same. Team Europe captain Alex Lely saw it. “It’s getting closer,” he said. “I can see it.” American captain Jeremy Jones gushed about wanting to push the country’s young players to work their way up the proper way.

And the Mosconi Cup is the driver of this commitment. If you were there, you saw it. If you weren’t, you need to be there in 2024.

Then, on the very day after the conclusion of the Cup, there was “60 Minutes,” the most respected television news magazine in the U.S., featuring Shane Van Boening and sharing his story and the story of competitive pool’s growth to more than 10 million viewers.

The piece, developed by veteran Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim (who also wrote the book, “Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious,” about pool player Danny Basavich) went into Van Boening’s beginnings in the game, his overcoming being deaf, and his rise as America’s best player. The segment also plugged the sudden growth of professional pool.

Not to be outdone, ESPN followed a week later with its much-anticipated “30 For 30” documentary on pool icon Jeanette Lee. The hour-long doc also traced Lee’s early struggles with racism, sexism, and physical hurdles along the road to becoming the most well-known pool player of all time. Of course, it also delved into the recent diagnosis of Lee suffering from ovarian cancer.

Both pieces were exceptionally well produced and told compelling stories. I’m guessing virtually everyone that reads this column will have seen both. And, if you’re like me, your phone blew up with messages and notifications from friends who thought it was cool that “your sport” was getting some national airtime.

Will either of these looks into our world change the course of the sport, the industry or either of the subjects? That remains to be seen. But you cannot discount the importance of bringing substantive stories about our sport and our heroes into the homes and consciousness of millions of Americans who don’t see us daily. That has a lasting effect.

Christmas came a few weeks early for pool in 2023!

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