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Welcome to Pool! It’s Dying, So Don’t Get Comfortable. ~ Kyle Eberle

“Less than a year into learning pool for the first time, Kyle Eberle, one of my beginning students, has plenty of enthusiasm and more than a few opinions about our sport.” ~ Jacqueline Karol

The sport of pool is fading rapidly.

Pool halls that have stood for decades are vacant or closing. Professional tournaments barely pay out enough for the winners to cover travel expenses. You could make more as a greeter at Walmart than most manufacturers pay out in endorsements. Pool bars with in-house leagues and weekly tournaments struggle to find players and the ones who do show up are frequently putting the last five dollars they have into the league fees envelope.

You know how you can tell a regular at most pool bars? They are the ones who know where the key to the coin-op table is hidden so they don’t have to pay 75 cents for another game. The gravy days following The Color of Money have long since faded and in its place is a professional sport where there is a better than average chance that one of the top players in the country is living out of his car.

The one surplus in pool is how many opinions there are about how to fix it.

Pool isn’t successful because it’s not on TV like golf. Wrong!

Sure. Golf is a $76 billion dollar industry and the TV coverage is a big part of that formula. However, media coverage alone isn’t the key to success. Don’t believe me? Distance running is estimated to take in about 25% of the nearly $300 billion dollar fitness industry and rarely makes national television.

Tournaments would be better if they paid out more. Wrong!

I agree that there would be more players signed up if the events paid more and possibly even a few more people watching. However, the revenue generated by tournaments just barely covers the payouts that are there now. How many stories have gone around about players receiving post-dated checks after winning an event?

Pool needs another big movie like The Color of Money. Wrong!

It took Martin Scorcese and a $52 million dollar grossing movie (a lot by 1986 standards) to raise awareness in pool. Aside from feasibility, the problem with another movie awareness surge is that just like before it will be a short-lived windfall for an industry poorly positioned to turn that into long-term profits.

Pool needs another big tour like the IPT. Wrong!

Really? What pool needs is a big, well-promoted tour that will prove to be financially unmaintainable? Its not that the IPT was a bad idea or that it was even poorly executed. It was actually a great idea and by most accounts is still one of the best-promoted tours ever. Much like the Hollywood solution, big tour events turn professional pool players into rock stars. However, without the corporate sponsorships and consumer draw, the money simply isn’t there to keep it running.

Most other opinions about how to fix pool are similar to the ones above and are all part of a flawed top-down solution. No one asks professional golfers how the PGA should be structured to be profitable and for the same reason we are long overdue for shelving the solutions offered up by professional pool players. Other successful sports such as golf and distance running both learned one simple fact: professional players and events are great for promoting an activity, but that’s about it.

Both sports, long ago also learned an important lesson: beginners pay the bills.

In the U.S. alone, Golf generates around $4 billion a year in equipment sales. Similarly, running shoe sales average just under about $3 billion a year. That’s just from the equipment used to play those sports and helps explain why the corporate sponsorships in both are substantial. Experienced participants in those sports are also the ones least likely to spend much money on equipment. Just like pool, they are the most skeptical about new technology, most likely to fall back on familiar brands or proven methods and spend a smaller percentage of their disposable income on equipment.

So what do golf club and running shoe manufacturers understand that pool equipment manufacturers don’t? They both understand that the bulk of both of their equipment sales revenues are only sustainable with a regular influx of new participants to the sport. Granted, these new participants may only stick with it for a shorter period but during that time they will spend more than many experienced participants will for their entire career.

To survive, pool needs to repackage itself to a wider audience.

New players won’t care about tournament payouts or tours. They want an activity that is welcoming, encouraging and fun. Pool needs more charity tournaments, leagues with generous handicap systems, fun group lessons and an image of being a safe, family friendly activity.

The pool industry needs to make the road from curious first timer to beginner a much easier trip and when a bump in the road is found in the form of a jaded, experienced player, the pool industry needs to gently grind that bump into dust.

The message needs to be loud and clear: either you are part of our friendly pool community or you need to step aside.

For the complete version of this article please go to:

Kyle Eberle has played pool for less than a year. He began with some private lessons, then three month Pool School, and is about to graduate from the seven month Advanced Course. Next he plans on attending the 12 month “A” School.

Photo: {source} Editor: Dana Gornall
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