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.
November: You Can Give It Away
YOU’VE HEARD the phrase, “You can’t give it away.”
It’s usually said in reference to something that has virtually zero value.
What I’ve learned is that it can also be a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
Let’s take pool for instance.
Now we can start by pretty much eliminating television rights fees. Has any TV network anywhere actually paid to air pool?
The answer, to the best of my knowledge, is “no.” Sure, networks in the U.S. and abroad have expended their own money and resources to produce televised pool. In its early days of broadcasting, ESPN picked up the tab for its production costs. It even popped for a few live events … a made-for-TV mixed doubles event back in the ’80s, the PBT World 9-Ball Championship in the ’90s, and a few Ultimate 9-Ball Challenges.
In Europe, Sky Sports can be lauded for spending millions on the production of British promoter Barry Hearn’s stable of pool events — the Mosconi Cup, the World Masters, the World Pool Championships and more. And in Asia, ESPN Star has produced several World Pool Championships and other events.
But even those instances are few and far between. These days, pool has to buy its way onto the airwaves, paying for its own production in exchange for some commercial inventory. And even that model is disappearing.
I’m not saying anyone is to blame, or even that pool had much choice in its television infancy. But the fact of the matter is that no network in the U.S., no matter how big or how small, will ever pay for the right to broadcast pool. Why not? Because once you’ve given something away, it becomes awfully hard to start charging for it.
Obviously, the biggest reason is that pool is not in such demand that TV networks feel compelled to pay rights fees to prevent competition from airing the same product.
But the problem extends beyond television production. The problem has now hit the sponsorship arena, and it’s there that I worry most about the future of professional pool.
Not that pool was ever rich with sponsors, but the game has become so desperate that sponsorship is being given away. And it’s had a terrible effect on some major events, which will affect how the players are paid in the future.
Take the World Pool Championship. There has not been a world 9-ball championship in men’s pool since 2007. Prior to that, Hearn’s Matchroom Sport had pieced together a nice nine-year run, producing incredible television and the game’s biggest paydays. But in recent years, with the glut of “world championships” and the virtual gifting of events for little return, sponsors find little reason to pony up serious money. So Matchroom’s sponsorship demands for the World Pool Championship aren’t being met and the event is all but extinct. Sure, Matchroom makes money from its events. It’s supposed to, and in the long run the game benefits. Instead, the World Pool Championship will almost certainly return to it’s low-budget, low prize fund days of the late ’90s, when the finale was held in a tiny ballroom in Alicante, Spain, in front of a hundred onlookers.
Who loses? The players do. It doesn’t matter that the game is still receiving its share of television exposure. The people who produce the events, as well as the people who sponsor the events, are finding that promoters are more than happy to take whatever they’re offered.
How do we reverse this trend? Million-dollar question, there. Perception is reality, and the perception is that pool comes free.
Is the sport prepared to show some muscle and say “no” the next time someone tries to chop it at the knees? Or is it content with its life as a charity case, good only for “utility programming”?
I guess it’s our choice.