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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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September: Approval and a Proposal
September 2023

Iíve got stuff on my mind, so buckle up!

First, I love and respect the ownership that Matchroom is taking in branding and building a purposeful ďtourĒ for professional players to follow and for young players to aspire to.

And before you go all social-media-sociopath on me, yes, I realize the World Nineball Tour is not perfect. Iím well aware of the ROI (Return on Investment) challenges the top players are facing. Iím aware that most of the top players are far from ďearning a livingĒ playing in these events. I even realize that the regional ranking events calendar could use a little more oversight and structure.

But if thatís all that you see with the WNT, youíre letting the trees get in the way of your view of the forest.

What I see is continued growth and commitment that simply cannot be disputed or criticized. In 2022, Matchroom added a pair of new $200,000 open events, the UK Open and European Open. In 2023, they added the Spanish Open and Asian Open. The company did all this without major sponsorship, meaning Matchroom is pretty much footing the bill. Of course, they have TV contracts directly tied to pool and also the companyís shared account known as the DAZN contract.

Is that sustainable? Likely not. But Iím a believer in the idea that you have to create and show something big to attract significant outside industry partners. Sponsors donít come flocking on the promise of a polished product, big crowds and strong ratings. Again, itís a commitment that few in pool have ever been willing to make.

Still, for me, the clincher was Matchroomís recent formation of the World Professional Nineball Pool Corporation.

(Although, seriously, they couldnít come up with a better company name than that? Maybe something slightly shorter than War and Peace? I realize the branding is ďNineball Pool,Ē but a little pragmatism would have helped here, like, I donít know, World Pool Corporation? The WPC, as it would become known? After all, your events themselves are not branded Nineball. Itís U.S. Open Pool Championship; European Pool Championship; World Pool Championship; etc. WPC is easy. Itís logo-worthy. And itís still accurate. Still enough time to reconsider!)

What the launch of the WPNPC (ugh!) told me was that Matchroom is officially in this for the long haul. Iíve always felt that they were. Matchroom founder Barry Hearn was never one to give up on an idea even after a few years (or a decade) of red ink. But structuring a company as the foundation for true business development, replete with a formal board of directors for evaluation, ideas and oversight, is next-level stuff. Itís no longer simply an events promotion wing of a larger company. Itís a company. And that means itís time to prove that it can stand on its own.

What does that mean for players? It means a continued buildup of events, new and existing. It means more opportunities in all corners of the globe. And the more opportunities that are presented, the more options players will have to create some efficiencies in their participation. Everyone knows travel is expensive these days. Do you think the Matchroom staff travels for free? Trust me, Matchroom is paying through the nose to attend and stage events just like the players are. I believe they feel the playersí pain. But the long haul requires commitment from all parties on the belief that the effort will pay dividends sooner than later.

And always remember, Matchroomís other option would have been to simply say, ďWeíve stuck with pool long enough and it just hasnít gotten to where we thought it could. Letís start the Premier Pickleball League.Ē

All of this does not mean, of course, that I love everything about the World Nineball Tour. There is at least one thing that Iíd love to see Matchroom do: Tinker with the format in a few of the events.

I propose that the World Nineball Tour have its own Triple Crown. Pick three events on the WNT calendar ó three events that are guaranteed to take place every year ó and tweak them to make each unique. I love the historic U.S. Open and newly introduced UK, European, Spanish and Asian Opens, but they are all carbon copies of one another. Simply using a same-template-different-postal-code approach means youíre missing a great opportunity.

Take two of those events and make them different tests of skill, endurance, whatever. When you think of Grand Slams or Triple Crowns in other sports, the venues and/or format all have noticeable difference ó different playfield composition in tennis; different courses in golf.

The World Championship stands on its own. But make the U.S. Open double elimination all the way through, like it used to be. I realize that TV prevents you from doing double elimination the entire way, but how about double elimination to the final four? Itís essentially single elimination at that point anyway. Call it a ďStepladder Final,Ē like they do in bowling. The loserís bracket players are the 2, 3 and 4 seeds, and the winnerís bracket finalist is the No. 1 seed. On the final day, No. 4 plays No. 3. Winner plays No. 2. Winner of that plays No. 1 for the title.

For the third leg of the Triple Crown, take the European or Asian Open and make the entire event races to 13, or (brace yourself) sets ó or anything that the pros will agree makes it different but still challenging and legitimate. But make it different.

I believe it will make the tour more exciting, the events unique and the interest greater.

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