In 1729, Jonathan Swift published a satirical essay in which he offered a simple yet unique solution for resolving hunger among the starving Irish population. His essay, most commonly referred to by the simplified title “A Modest Proposal,” provided a rather grotesque and shocking solution that would have made Hannibal Lecter proud. His “solution” was offered in jest, yet it sent shockwaves through the tightlaced British culture. In a similar vein, I have “A Modest Proposal” for the billiard industry. By enacting the following recommendations, I believe we could ignite a pool renaissance unlike any other in recorded history and change the face of billiards forever. So buckle your seatbelts, hold on to your hats, and get ready for a bumpy ride! Here is my proposal for improving the image of the industry, and pushing pool into the mainstream. You may not agree with me, but hopefully my proposal will get you thinking.
1. Clean up the Rooms
I’m tired of encountering dark, dingy bastions of ill repute, where honest people who want to find a good game of pool are forced to knife their way in and shoot their way out. On many occasions during my travels I’ve walked into rooms and immediately turned around and left. Why? I figure if an establishment is so dark that you can’t see into the corners of the room, there must be something the owners are trying to hide. Come on. Are electricity bills really that bad? Please, turn the lights on! And while I’m on the subject of pool room environments, could you also please put a little more space between the tables? How would you like it if you were in your shooting stance, about to make a game winning shot, and some oblivious player from another table poked you in the back with a pool stick? Also, please turn the music down. Huh? What was that you said??
2. No Tables less than 9 Feet
Imagine Roger Federer or Andy Roddick being forced to play tennis on a ping pong table. Sure, the ping pong table has a net and a green surface lined with white trim just like a tennis court, but it’s not the same game. What if Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson were forced to play golf on a child’s mini golf course? Again, a mini golf course may have eighteen holes and lots of grass (albeit fake grass), but it’s definitely not the same as the real game. Likewise, why should pool players be forced to play on 8 foot, 7 foot, or (gasp!) 6 foot tables? Blasphemy! I certainly mean no disrespect to the fine folks at VNEA. They’ve done a wonderful job building up a membership of over 100,000 people in a league that plays almost exclusively on 7 foot tables. Great people and a great league. I just hope someday they’ll promote REAL pool! (Uh oh, I’m probably going to hear back about this one!)
3. Dress Codes
Guys, no more cut-off sleeveless t-shirts, PLEASE! The only place I want to see hairy underarms is at the zoo! Now, I’m certainly not advocating that we all wear tuxedos because I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy myself, but let’s try to at least look presentable. And Ladies, please button up the blouses! You’ll garner much more attention (and respect) if you keep it buttoned up and just play a great game of pool. Look at professional golfers, tennis players, or even baseball players. There’s always a dress code. Enough said!
4. No Smoking
When I lived in the Atlanta, Georgia area, I played in the APA. I loved the weekly tournaments and the team camaraderie, but I abhorred the smoky bar room environments that we were forced to play in. When my team traveled around town to play teams at other locations, we once parked outside a bar, walked up to the front of the place and opened the door. Literally, a rolling cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out from the entrance into the night sky. It was the most filthy miserable pool experience of my life. I’m not saying your patrons can’t smoke, just please install smoke eaters, or have a smoking patio outside. Your lungs and I will thank you.
5. No Gambling
WHAT?! NO GAMBLING!!? Yep, you heard me. “But that’s the lifeblood of pool!,” you might say. Okay okay, hear me out. Why is it that pool has such a bad image? I have many theories on this, and maybe I’ll cover them in a future post, but for now, just try this experiment: approach the average person on the street who has no association with pool, and ask for their opinion of the game. In a majority of the cases, the term “Hustler” will come up. Do we really want this image associated with our sport? I must admit, I actually like the idea of being a skilled enough player to become a hustler, but it’s really not what I want to do. I just love the game for the game’s sake. I’m not looking to make a living. I’ve spoken to many players who gamble, and a few who hustle, and the reason they do so is to either supplement their income or make a living because it’s all they’ve ever known. (And what a tough living it is.) Step back for a moment and consider: The reason there’s no BIG money in pool is because the corporations that have deep pockets refuse to assume the risk of advertising in a sport that could tarnish THEIR image. As long as we keep up with the smoking, drinking, gambling, and other nefarious activities, large corporations with deep pockets will not come close to us with a nickel.
How do we go about improving the reputation and image of our beloved sport? We need to strengthen the professional tours. Over the last decade the women of the WPBA seem to have a fairly good track record of maintaining a clean image, promoting the sport, and getting some TV time. Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from them. The professional tours need our support, but without an extensive grass roots system of pool players feeding new talent and money into them, the professional tours can’t flourish. In the United States alone, there are more leagues and organizations than I can count. We have the WPBA, UPA, IPT, APA, BCA, VNEA, Joss tours, Predator tours, Mezz Pro-Am tours, USPPA, WorldPPA, and a veritable alphabet soup of other organizations so confusing that it makes my head spin. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all collaborate, form a coalition, and speak with one unified voice?
This article is not about moral judgments, it’s simply my (somewhat) objective opinion about the changes that I believe could kick start an effort to repair pool’s image. Remember, it’s all about perceptions and marketing. Is pool’s image beyond repair? Are there any examples that I can cite to provide hope that I’m not on a Don Quixote-esque quest? Sure. Just take a look at the skateboard industry. What started out as a bunch of rebellious misfit adolescent teens has now morphed into the X Games. Lots of money, tons of sponsors, and a whole lot more attention and national coverage than pool could ever dream of.
So there you have it. My humble opinion on steps necessary to move pool into the mainstream. Let me know if you have any comments or ideas. Also, please check out the other excellent articles written on this month’s PoolSynergy topic at NYCgrind.com.