This month’s issue of Pool Synergy is brought to you by Alison Fischer of NYCGrind. Click the logo above to view the complete list of this month’s articles.
The topic of discussion for this edition is “Pool and the Mainstream”. My own interpretation of this topic yields many thoughts, but I’m going to focus on how the public views pool and what the pool world can do to help itself.
Think about your city, how many places can you find a pool table? You might not even realize it, but it’s probable that you could drive no more than 5 minutes and find a table. Pool tables are in nearly every bar in every town. I bet you all knew someone in highschool who had a pool table at their house. In the rich part of town, I bet most people with a big house had a pool room, complete with walls covered in pool posters and accessories. Big company executives sometimes have pool tables in their offices, on their yachts, in their beach houses. Pool is everywhere, but it is nonexistent in the mainstream sports world. How can this be?
I think it all boils down to how the general public is entertained; especially in the United States. Think of the two biggest sports in the US: Football and Baseball. Why are they so popular? Honestly, think about it for a minute. The action comes in very small spurts. Most plays are over in a matter of few seconds. How does this keep millions of people entertained for hours at a time? Some say it’s the anticipation of a big event; a 50 yard touchdown run, a 3-run homer, etc. Basketball is a non-stop action sport, as is hockey. Yet, people seem to prefer baseball to basketball; football to hockey. Why? It could be because the rules for hockey and basketball and somewhat more complicated than baseball and football – to the average viewer.
It follows then that the more complicated a game is, the less entertaining it is to the general public. I don’t really want to believe that. I want to believe that the general public is educated and perfectly capable of understanding what’s going on while watching a masters game of Chess or Go. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
People like to watch what they know – not what they have to learn to watch.
In addition to this, is the celebration that happens during an event. A home run is very exciting when surrounded by 40,000 screaming fans, absolutely – and anyone can share in that enjoyment, regardless of skill level or understanding. They know it was a good hit because it easy to determine based on what they can see: the distance the ball traveled. The same follows for any “spectator sport” of this nature. When the outcome of a play is easily determined by simple observation, people like it.
I think this is why sports like golf and even bowling are as popular as they are: it’s easy to determine the outcome by visual means. “That ball is very close to the hole now, must have been a good shot.” “All of the pins are down, good throw.”
Pool doesn’t have this luxury. To someone who doesn’t play pool, a great positional shot means nothing. All they see is someone making a series of “easy” shots with no understanding how they ended up with those easy shots. To be able to enjoy watching pool, the viewer must already know how the game is played and what’s involved in making those shots.
This is something of a catch-22 for the sport of pool. In order to gain new audiences, they must make it available to the masses.
Fortunately for us, the foundation for this mass expose is already being laid. There are literally hundreds of free online web-streams showcasing pool around the world being shown on the internet almost daily. With each new stream, comes new games, new commentators, new characters for the public to follow. Some of them are serious, some are mellow, others are lighthearted, and a select few are just downright funny.
My hope is that sooner, rather than later, someone from the big networks will see one of the larger streams and realize that the public actually likes pool. Once they stop and realize this, they’ll be more eager to be the first ones to market it, nationally, globally even.
ESPN is currently the only channel that regularly shows pool on tv. The organizers of the WPBA were clever enough to make an arrangement with them for this privilege. I sincerely hope that other professional pool organizations (WPA, BCA,etc) follow in their path. Bringing men’s pool to tv would in the least, more than double the number of events to cover – thereby doubling the number of advertising spaces; which should make it easier to sell to other broadcasting networks at some future date. Once the networks start making money, the leagues can start getting more sponsors – which will lead to the players earning more – which could make the dream of being a professional pool player for a young player something far more tangible than it is today.
I really think that the next generation of pool players are going to change the pool world – and even more importantly – the entire public opinion of pool. The level of players currently found in the pro-am and junior leagues is outstanding and, hopefully, once the public gets wind of this new crop of talent they’ll want more of it.