Redefining Professional Pool

Before you can fix a problem, you first have to admit what the problem is. With professional pool, that’s very difficult, primarily because it professional pool in the United States almost does not exist.

Almost all professional sports both in the U.S. and around the world have organizations designed to define and organize their respective sports and business plans. This usually starts with something as simple as a group or organization within the sport forming behind a straight forward mission statement.

We could discuss

What a mission statement is and what it should say, but that would be premature because professional pool does not yet have such an organization, and whether the goal or the organization should come first is a chicken or egg kind of question.

Before starting to discuss a possible organization or what their mission should be, I would like to suggest that we define some basic terms and concepts.

For the purposes of discussion, I am defining professional pool as a sport where experts compete for prize money that is greater than the entry fees.

This is an important concept, because many pool tournaments and events pay the athletes primarily from entry fees. If the entry fees for a particular event are merely divided among the participants based on finishing order, and no more money, or very little, was added to the prize pool, that is not a professional sport. If a group of one hundred competitors pays $100 each for entry, and the prize pool is $1,000, the athletes as a group broke even. That is not a professional event, and the athletes as a group did not earn any money. They just redistributed it. To be honest, adding five or ten thousand dollars to an event and adding that to the same $1,000 in entry fees, hardly qualifies either. A $10,000 added tournament that takes one hundred entrants, the average athlete makes $100 for competing. Even if the player finishes in the top fifty, he probably won’t make enough to cover travel expenses.

That is not a profession. It’s a hobby.

To be called a professional sport, athletes must compete in a venue where seats are sold and money is generated aside from athlete entry fees, by the promoter who pays the athletes out of revenues earned from ticket sales and advertising revenue. If broadcast revenues can be added, so much the better, everyone makes more money.

There is a real problem with the current perception of who should be paid, how much they should be paid, why they are paid, and where the money should come from, and most of the misconceptions come from lack of understanding of why professional athletes are paid in the first place.

It’s common amongst athletes to assume that because they work hard at their craft, and have attained a certain level of proficiency at it, they should be compensated, but working hard and being good at something doesn’t make money fall out of the sky. The money has to come from somewhere. Where does a professional athlete relatively large income come from? It comes from the fans who pay for seats in arena’s where sports are played and if enough people are interested to have the sport broadcast, and advertising revenue is generated, the purses and salaries go up. Why?

If a promoter can sell enough seats and advertising space to earn a profit, he is willing to pay the athletes for providing the show. Otherwise he has no incentive to pay big purses and in fact may not be motivated enough to keep holding “professional” events.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The first pool promoter that figures out how to sell a pool show to the general public is going to make a lot of pool players very wealthy, and become very wealthy in the process.

The current problem for professional pool is not the players, or a lack of talent, or gambling, or an uninteresting game, and for sure, the amateur organizations are not killing the game. They are growing a turnkey audience of already interested fans.

The problem is that no one has defined a goal. The goal should be to increase purses. Big purses draw more interest from players and fans alike.

The current model for a professional pool tournament is for a promoter to find a viable venue, sell the players on the venue and the pitiful purse, and then collect as much as he can from entry fees, a few pool related sponsors who might sell a few products, and maybe make a small deal with a hotel or resort that will make him a couple of bucks, then divide up as little as he can to provide a purse and keep what’s left over. The players will complain that the purses were too small, and the promoter will complain that he worked his tail off and made little or no profit.

That isn’t a professional sport. It’s an amateur gathering of pool people expecting more than is reasonable of a very small pie.

The current state of professional pool is this. It’s a very interesting game, played by millions of people and it takes place on a surface that plays well on screen, has a large number of extremely talented and interesting and very expert players, who almost no one knows exist, playing very competitive matches for each other and a very small number of fans to watch, and no one is even attempting to sell the game to a larger audience. They are swapping the same small purses back and forth among the top players, while never even speaking of the game to non-players.

Additionally, the professional players and promoters are making a myriad of excuses for the demise of a game that has never really been promoted as a legitimate professional sport. As a result of all of these excuses being put forth, we have damaged the public perception of the game, making it harder for promoters to sell the game to a new audience.

If pool is to make strides towards respectability, it is important to define the goals. I would suggest that since tours promoted by a single promotion company have been tried several times in the past and failed, that an organization of several promoters be formed to encourage cooperation in putting on a tour involving individual promoters for each event. Through cooperation, they could form a rules committee, possibly involving some of the players, so that there is some consistency in the rules of events. They could also share the advertising, as amortizing advertising costs would allow them to spread the large cost of promoting the events out and reach more potential fans. Cooperating could also lead to a points system similar to golf or tennis and possibly even a qualifying program. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, the game needs the support and a fan base to be developed not just among pool players, but amongst the general public. It is a very interesting game, with character, and characters, drama, it is highly competitive, and it plays at a very viewable pace

I would also suggest that a number of the events take place in existing full time pool halls, as it is often suggested that the very places we all play are in need of additional sources of revenue and it eliminates the cost of moving and installing the tables.

Pool will not be saved by some miraculous outside source or happenstance. The Hustler or The Color of Money will have no third installment, and no other movie production about pool is on the horizon. Manny Pacquiao is going to go from boxing to statesman, and Kevin Trudeau has his own problems and won’t be reinventing pool promotion again anytime soon.

Ultimately, pool is a goldmine of opportunity. It will take a huge effort from more than one to make it succeed.