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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.

August: As Good As It Gets
August 2009
IN THE title-defining moment of his 1997 Oscar-winning performance, Jack Nicholson, playing the misanthropic Melvin Udall, pauses in the waiting room of his psychiatrist's office and wonders aloud, "What if this is as good as it gets?"

As an accused misanthrope myself, I admit to wondering the same thing as I walked through the aisles of the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas during the recent Billiard Congress of America International Billiard & Home Recreation Expo.

Not that the walk was particularly depressing. There were people in the aisles. Business was being conducted. Exhibitors had smiles on their faces. There was a sense of relief in the air, a "we've seen the bottom, and, by golly, we're still here" attitude.

There was even dare I say it optimism.

But what if this is as big as the expo is going to be from now on? What if the billiard industry has settled into the size at which it will remain? Will that be enough to sustain the BCA? Will it be enough to prevent the billiard industry from simply being sucked into the faceless abyss known as "general sporting goods?"

It's a scary thought.

Naturally, I threw the Melvin Udall line at BCA CEO Rob Johnson. And, naturally, he insisted the show has a good chance to grow at least to a level that can continue to support the association, which, in turn, can continue to support programs to keep billiards relevant as an industry.

And I tend to believe him.

The BCA did a commendable job in 2009, dramatically paring down its overhead and expenses without noticeably devaluing the expo - its primary revenue generator. And despite low overall attendance at the expo, the percentage of attendees who sought information and education through the BCA seminars was incredibly high. Seminar attendance was probably helped by the later show hours, but more likely attendance was high because dealers and room owners are hungry for information that will help them stay in business. That, in itself, was encouraging.

One of the key initiatives outlined by the BCA as it looks ahead is stabilizing, and indeed growing, membership. The BCA hopes to do this by enhancing member benefits, but the association has been singing that tune for years. The truth is, members will always complain that they don't get enough benefit from membership, when the reality is that few members make the effort to realize the benefits already available to them.

Since I'm already on a memorable-quotes-from-popular-movies bender to make my point, do you remember Tom Cruise pleading with his last remaining client in "Jerry Maguire"? "Help me help you," he says. "Help me, help you."

That should become the BCA's pitch to dealers and room owners when it comes to membership. The BCA's Johnson was absolutely right when he said, "We want to support membership, but for that to happen the membership has to support us."

And that's where a little blind faith has to play a role. The BCA has committed itself to developing educational and marketing opportunities, affinity programs and consumer promotions that will benefit its members. But much of that will depend on dealers and room owners helping the BCA by becoming members. At this point, it's in the best interest of retail store owners and billiard room proprietors to become members of the association. At $200 a year for retailers and $150 a year for room owners, it's not asking a lot. And membership will help in two ways. Directly, the dues will help the association continue operating. Indirectly, beefed up membership numbers will help the BCA in its efforts to roll out new programs, and in its efforts to draw new exhibitors into the trade show.

The billiard industry, and the BCA expo, may never get back to the levels of its '90s and early 2000s heyday. But it can certainly build itself back up to a level that will keep it its own industry for years to come.