American Pool: Developing the Game in the UK

September 11, 2013 09:09

American Pool is an incredible sport; it is explosive and exhilarating with players making the most amazing shots. Yet if this is the case why is it not catching on in the UK?

This article will try to explore a few of the reasons.
American Pool, which is played on a 9 x 4.5ft table, consists of at least 5 regularly played disciplines. The most popular are the games of 9-ball and 8-ball and these games are played all over the world at an amateur and professional level.
The American style tables first started being put into UK clubs in the early 90’s when operators could see the benefit of offering cue sports for all. These tables are easy to play on and take up far less space than snooker tables.
The lack of popularity of American Pool in the UK is caused in part by conservatism, snooker and English pool are both very traditional sports and at a tournament and professional level are played in very traditional ways. Players wear suits, waistcoats and dickey-bow ties. American Pool is very liberal; players do have to adhere to a dress code but this is not so strict. Audiences tend to be a lot more vocal too!
The next point that I touch on is that there are over 5 million snooker and English pool players in the UK. In the case of English pool, it is always going to be very difficult to convert a player to the larger tables because their local pub can’t house a 9ft pool table. This is the case for the vast majority of public houses throughout the UK. The main player base does not want to travel to a pool hall and pay £7-£8 per hour to play a game of pool when they can go around the corner to their local pub and pay 50p per game. Not that it is all about money, it is convenience too. That is not to say that these “pub pool” players do not enjoy American Pool, I am sure they do, it is just seen as a night out for them and something that only happens rarely.
We then have to consider the impact of television and media coverage of Cue Sports. Snooker commands huge television audiences from its broadcasts on the BBC. The BBC is accessible in nearly every home in the UK, which means that anyone can tune in to watch if they want to. By having the game easily accessible on the TV networks people get a buzz for the sport and want to go and play themselves. This is especially prevalent considering the large sums of money that the professional players receive for winning a tournament. Who would not be attracted to that aspect of the sport?
In contrast American pool is only available via the SKY Sports network (although some is now reaching British Eurosport) and is shown at very inconvenient times. I am not sure of the number of homes that subscribe to SKY Sports but it is probably only about one tenth of the total number of households that can view the BBC. Of these 10% the majority are subscribing to watch the football not the pool. So it all comes down to promotion and exposure. Without reaching the mass market via terrestrial TV American pool will not develop and although English pool does not have the exposure either it is accessible due to the number of tables available in local pubs.
Something that I touched on earlier that further cements the case is prize money. A sport is only attractive to TV audiences (in the first instance) if players are seen to be earning huge sums of money or if the TV networks can see that there is already a mass market. In snooker this has previously been the case (more recently prize funds have dwindled but they still are into the £100,000’s), which is why young people especially want to take up the sport, it is relatively cheap to play and if you get good then you can earn some money playing the game.
In American Pool prize funds in the vast majority of cases are made up solely of entry fees. This means that it can be expensive to play with no real rewards for winning. Even in the USA and on the main professional circuits, sponsorship in the form of added prize money is at a premium. It is not very attractive to players if they cannot be seen to be making a living. I don’t want to paint a completely bleak picture because there are around 30-40 players that earn a very decent living through tournaments and endorsements.
So in conclusion it is easy to see that until the exposure of the sport changes and sponsors come on board the sport will not grow in the UK and our cueists (who I believe to be the best in the world) will stick to what they know.
The game also needs a grassroots level, which is something I tried to introduce when I launched APN Leagues (now owned and operated by a different party). It is grassroots tournaments, coaching and leagues that will build the player base in the first instance, then all the other factors mentioned above will almost fall into place.

NOTE: Since this article was originally written back in 2007 Britain has gone on to be one of the dominating forces in World pool, Daryl Peach won the World 9-ball title around 5 months after the article and then players like Darren Appleton, Karl Boyes and Chris Melling have started winning world title and world ranking events on a regular basis. Couple this with the likes of Jayson Shaw, Phil Burford, Mark Gray and Imran Majid who have won major events either in the USA or Europe and you can now see that strength in depth in the professional game.

Although many of the points I explored in the original article are no longer quite so valid it is still very clear that developing the game at a grass roots level will continue to be a problem when the vast majority of UK based players are playing English pool or snooker.

Long may the British domination continue!
© Pete Williams, Billiards Boutique - March 2007 (Update written in September 2013)

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