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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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May: Detente for the Future
May 2023

It is obvious to anyone even remotely connected to the billiard industry that over the past decade the business side of pool has suffered from what a memorable Seinfeld episode once referred to as “shrinkage.”

The billiard industry has shrunk?

“Like a frightened turtle!”

Fewer poolrooms, fewer homes with pool tables, fewer casual players, fewer brick-and-mortar retail stores, fewer manufacturers, and plenty of consolidation among those that remain. Of course, this isn’t unique to billiards and the industry/sport is still blessed with some very strong companies and a dedicated following of players and fans.

It would stand to reason, then, that the industry would band together to strengthen and grow the game and the business. Pulling in the same direction is, of course, critical to survival for small, niche industries like ours.

And yet, I just spent a sizeable portion of the month of March going to two billiard trade shows. This from an industry whose sole annual expo had shrunk to anemic levels in the past five years. So, of course the answer was to split them into two miniscule trade shows and run them in the same month in cities nearly 2,000 miles apart.

I’ve written before about the reasons for this split — the traditionalist BCA insisting on running its annual expo in late summer to cater to small retailers, while some of the industry’s biggest manufacturers have argued for a spring show to better service the industry’s largest buyers and allow the manufacturers, many of whom produce overseas, more time to create, test and develop product lines.

On the heels of the pandemic years, which wreaked havoc on supply chains in all industries, the rogue Billiards Industry Group (B.I.G.) split off in 2022 and joined the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Expo, which caters to retailers who specialize in grills and the outfitting of outdoor spaces. The HPBE was in Atlanta in March. The BCA maintained its traditional spot in Las Vegas in late June. Neither show produced eye-popping results.

With a divided industry, the BCA decided the answer was to shift its 2023 expo to March and join the coin-op/amusement show Amusement Expo International.

So, the billiard industry recently hosted two shows in which they occupied a small footprint on large shows aimed at other industries. Again, not surprisingly, both shows were unfulfilling. The industry’s already shrinking buying population deserved better treatment. But there were axes to grind and teeth to gnash, and so the manufacturers stuck to their guns and spent way too much money to exhibit and service way too few customers. ROI, baby!

At the very least, the dueling expos opened everyone’s eyes to the folly in which we are embroiled. Now, let’s do something about it.

To their credit, both the BCA Board of Directors and B.I.G. members have begun discussions to bring the industry back together under one roof.

But reconciliation will not be easy, and some of the reasons are understandable.

For starters, the two groups actually have different needs from an expo. The B.I.G. manufacturers are largely home gameroom driven and, in addition to wanting to service their multi-store and big box retailers, seek new groups of buyers to help grow business. Affiliation with operators of coin-op equipment is not going to be appealing. Even grill and patio retailers offer more opportunity.

BCA exhibitors who carry products that amusement operators may want — coin-op tables, house cues, accessories — seemed to find some incremental business in Vegas.

Still, the core of the discussions should be about the billiard industry that already exists. And at least one problem has solved itself. The crux of the B.I.G. supporters’ argument was for time of year, which the BCA has now agreed with. (And had the BCA not been so obstinate three years ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but I digress.) Would the B.I.G. group give up its HPBE affiliation and join the BCA in Vegas? It seems the most logical solution, in part because the HPBE is a more expensive show to exhibit in and attend.

What’s more, the BCA is a trade association, and it has long run programs with revenue earned from the annual expo. And what the association does is important — junior programs, instructor programs, the BCA Hall of Fame and, in the past at least, business programs for both retailers and poolrooms. The association that operates the HPBE isn’t likely to let the BCA retain booth revenue.

But I wouldn’t expect B.I.G. supporters to go back to the BCA without gaining some leverage in input and decision-making regarding the expo and BCA-supported programs. They split off in large part because of a lack of trust and faith in the BCA Board of Directors. Would the BCA consider offering several spots on the board of directors to B.I.G. founders, assuming those companies would return as dues-paying members? Would the two groups explore affiliation with another spring trade show that might better suit both groups? B.I.G. members are rightfully concerned about a change for 2024 because many have already put deposits on booth spaces at the HPBE show in Nashville. Would the BCA consider buying out those deposits, knowing that the additional revenue would likely cover the buyout in 2024 and would lead to stronger revenue going forward?

Anything and everything should be on the table, and talks should not cease until an agreement on a single expo is reached.

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