Demographics of Billiards and the State of Billiards in America
I don't know the demographics, but I have done some
extensive research relating to the advancement of the sport in general. As of
late, I did read that the GAME of pool is played by more Americans than any
other game. However, I believe the majority of those "active players"
are league members, social shooters, bar bangers, and the like.
When I look at the professional player rosters of the '80s, and '90s, in my opinion there were MORE high-caliber players at the top, i.e., Mike Sigel, Allen Hopkins, Nick Varner, Earl Strickland, Kim Davenport, Jim Rempe, Buddy Hall, than today. There were not as many leagues then as there are today. The leagues have helped to advance the sport, but those in the professional arena are constantly struggling, to include players, promoters, TD's, sponsors, vendors, and the like.
Professional pool venues experience difficulty in making a profit because of the low attendance. Americans and moan about the lack of TV coverage and exposure; yet, they scream bloody murder if they have to pay $25 for admittance to see live play. When I go to see the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore, I ain't getting out of there without dropping 100 bucks, and that depends on the tickets I buy. I did see Cal Ripken, Jr., up front and close break Lou Gehrig's record, $1,500 per ticket. In the last 4 years I have attended professional tournaments, I have YET to see a vendor who was happy with sales at an event.
Then there is the infighting among various entities, professional pool organizations, print media, leagues, rule-making organizations, which sure doesn't help things. When everybody is chewing on the same bone, there is bound to be some competitive atrocities, i.e., changing rules willy nilly to accommodate a select few, vendors refusing to provide service because the league ain't in their inner circle, restricting venues to "member" players (the recent 43-player attendance at the first leg of the $300,000-added Hilton NAOT), just to name a few things. Although the UPA, the men's professional pool organization, is continually attempting to make strides, I think they shoot themselves in the foot on occasion.
Professional pool is a rich man's high, as far as I'm concerned. I was unable to attend every single event available last year and still incurred expenses over $40,000, from January 2004 to December 2004, to get my horse in the pit, and this only includes the continental United States. The entry fees alone were close $10,000, and the remainder is lodging, food, and travel expenses. I cannot imagine what the other pros incur in expenses traveling the globe. If a pool player is not sponsored, does not have a full-time job, it does create a hardship to be all that you can be.
The LEAGUE is where it's at currently (IMO), the average-Joe player, for lack of a better term. They are more in numbers. The American professional pool player numbers are diminishing, much like the dinosaur. Yet, I would venture to guess that the majority of LEAGUE players have full-time employment, hindering their capabilities to attend as many events as there are available throughout the year. Some folks I know save up all year to go to Las Vegas for the playoffs, and that is the extent of their pool travels. They are family folk with responsibilities, which comes first and foremost, and pool is their hobby.
The regional tours like Joss, Planet Pool 9-Ball Tour, Hampton Ridge, Pechauer, Fury, Viking, to name a few that come to mind, provide opportunities to players of ALL CALIBER. Since they occur on weekends, this allows the employed pool players to attend, the biggest bang for the buck I think.
The ring game trend which has become very popular is enjoyed by quite a few folks, but I've gotta tell you, an unsponsored player posting up a $3,000-plus entry fee is a financial hardship for most of the players I know. To attend the DCC, January 14th through 22nd, as an example, for the whole duration creates a very large expense from the get-go. Unless the prospective ring game player is sponsored or independently wealthy, they don't have a few extra dimes available. This is why the ring games at the recent U.S. Open and Big Apple never got off the ground.
Yet, the general pool-playing public enjoys the ring game phenomenon. When a Redskins player loses a game, he walks off the football field with a salary. When an unsponsored pool player gets knocked out of a ring game, he may have just shot his wad and leaves with empty pockets, but still incurs the associated expenses of attending the event.
The Skins Billiards Championship, which will be shown on ESPN today at 4:00 p.m., EST, had a $5,000 entry fee. Five of the 16 players sponsored themselves, and there was $50,000 added, making a total prize purse of $130,000 for the players to shoot at, which was quite attractive.
The topic is worthy of a dissertation paper. It is unbelievable that there are so many Americans who do play pool, and yet, pool as a sport is at the very bottom of the heap.
When you throw all of the ingredients in the pot, it boils down to POOL in America is a HOBBY, a leisurely pastime for the mass majority. For it to ever elevate to a SPORT status in the USA remains to be seen. Not one mention in any sports media, print or broadcast, about the Team USA winning the Mosconi Cup is very revealing. You and I'd rather be watching a pool game on ESPN than a bunch of idiots stuffing their beaks with hot dogs.
What we need is unity, structure, and cleaning up the drug addicts that exist in the pro side of our sport. We need well dressed professionals representing our sport. This will attract sponsors which brings in money. You could even go so far as recruiting companies to sponsor players paying them a salary. Make them wear your company golf shirt as a way of marketing your company. Much like what we see in NASCAR. This can take the money side of it for the players. NASCAR has very reasonable ticket prices to pay for everything else. The same could happen for billiards. I think this might be the best way forward. Change my mind comment on the blog with your take on this.