Should the WPA do More to Assist its Players?
This week I am writing my thoughts in response to a press release issued by the World Pool Association (WPA). (I will state that these are personal thoughts and I have no knowledge of the internal workings of the WPA or other governing bodies).
The release, which you can read in full here, was issued this week in regards to unpaid prize money at the China Open 9-Ball Championships that ended on May 11th.
It’s going to be a long article! So grab a coffee and maybe even a snack, get comfortable and read on.
Issues With Historical Payments
In the press release the WPA state that there have been issues with payments in the past both to players and to the organisation in terms of it’s sanctioning fee.
My first question would be why do they continue to deal with event promoters if there are historical problems with payment?
Any governing body has to show some form of governance and show explicit support for the player base otherwise there is in effect no organisation at all. Without players even the WPA would not exist.
I find it truly remarkable that the WPA are not taking a firmer stance on behalf of its members. Nowhere in the Press Release does it say what actions the WPA will be taking to ensure players receive remuneration from the event.
As with all major sporting events there are contracts in place between governing bodies and promoters. These of course are and should be in place to protect all interested parties.
The press release itself mentions that there is a contract for all WPA events,
In all contracts it is clearly written that all parties are expected to be paid immediately after the event, but no later than thirty days after completion.
What it doesn’t go on to add is what happens when a promoter defaults on this obligation.
There has to be something in the sanctioning contract that sets parameters on what happens under a default, otherwise surely the contract is worthless?
In my opinion the WPA need to start openly supporting the position of the players, passing the blame is simply not good enough.
Ian Anderson, the President of the WPA comments that it is the sole responsibility of the CBSA (Chinese Snooker and Billiards Association) in regards these matters,
“These late payments and denial of blame are damaging to the reputation of CBSA, it is clearly their sole responsibility”, Mr Anderson said. He added that this is a failure of the CBSA for not ensuring that payments are met on time, and hoped that the CBSA would pay closer attention to such serious matters in future.”
The WPA is the World Governing body for Pool and it sits underneath the WCBS as the umbrella organisation for all Billiard Sports and above that the IOC. Stringent measures need to be in place so that this does not happen in the first place let alone in the future so therefore some of the blame must lie with the WPA in continuing to sanction events where there are historical issues.
If it was a new event and a new promoter I could perhaps be a little bit more lenient with my statement but even in this case there has to be more safeguarding of the players. Without the players there is no WPA.
What Does World Ranking Status Mean?
The China Open 9 Ball Championships is held in high regard with very good advertised prize money and a large majority of International stars wishing to compete.
This means that the event is awarded World Ranking status. By participating players gain points towards the official WPA rankings and the event also counts towards determining player selections for both Team USA and Team Europe at the Mosconi Cup.
With the event carrying such prestige on the world stage more should be done in advance to ensure that the financial obligations of the tournament are met, especially where the players are concerned.
I would say at the current time under the current structure this should be the responsibility of the WPA, they are the governing body that are awarding these tournaments ranking status. By this I don’t mean that tournaments should be underwritten by the WPA but strategies need to be put in place to ensure the future of the sport at a professional level.
>> Could a certain amount of prize money be held in escrow in advance?
If a promoter cannot do this then the tournament simply does not get sanctioned and will not carry the ranking points. It could have a knock on effect of reducing tournaments in the short term but there would be major long term benefits.
>> Does it devalue the World Tour?
When events such as the China Open are given negative press in this way it may start to not only make players consider whether they should actually attend but it also, in my opinion, starts to devalue the notion of a World Tour.
>> How can we stop the reliance on Player funded tournaments?
The majority of top tournaments are still essentially player funded, with only a percentage being added or guaranteed prize money. For the sport to be taken more seriously I think it needs to move away from player funded events. Of course players would still pay to enter but there would need to be less reliance on this as the main prize money source.
What this would then do is to encourage promoters to be able to guarantee prize funds in advance.
However, in reality this is probably the hardest thing to achieve in the current climate. Every professional sport is going after the same limited sponsorship funding, and with pool being relatively small and with very little in the way of media coverage pulling in sponsors is going to be even tougher.
The WPA do need to be proactive in this area though to try and achieve this goal, and I am sure behind the scenes there is already a team or individual in place to try and attract sponsors.
In the 15 years I have been involved in pool the Prize money has been pretty stagnant especially at National and European level. Even where prize funds have increased it would be interesting to know in real terms whether it is simply just a case of entry fees going up rather than any external financial support.
Imagine a World Tour not being reliant on outside promoters. All funded from within the WPA itself. This surely would be the ideal?
For me a World Tour and World Ranking events should be the pinnacle of any sport. They should be so well organised and held in such high prestige that the future generations of pool players want to aspire to be like the modern day stars. I simply think that this isn’t the case in the current situation.
The Pool World is Relatively Small
The pool world is of course quite small in comparison to a lot of professional sports, this is in terms of prize funds, number of high echelon events, player base, fan base and media coverage.
If the sport ever has the ambitions to be a truly professional sport then other models from other successful sports need to be looked at as a basis for the future.
For me the perfect model is that of professional Tennis, incidentally set up as a professional body by the players. Maybe pool needs to move in this direction, a governing body created by players for the betterment of all players.
Under the ATP model every single tournament is “sanctioned” right from the small Futures events where new Tennis players cut their craft right up to the Grand Slams. This means there is a real structure, players can measure progress, and can look at how they can develop to move up the rankings.
Pool could take a similar model. A national governing body would be a member of the WPA and it’s playing members would in turn pay to have a player licence (nothing too expensive and the same for every player regardless of ability or stature).
Small national ‘tours’ could qualify for “world ranking” points like the ITF Futures events (Futures events are operated by the International Tennis Federation rather than the ATP but still offer progression onto the ATP circuit) and be a development area for future talent as well as offering more established players competitive pool when larger events are not available.
At the national level, ranking points would be minimal as they would still be essentially player funded. The more that a tournament provides in terms of guaranteed prize money the higher the ranking tariff awarded.
In Tennis it works pretty much the same way but they also include tariff for hospitality/accommodation/food for the players.
A new structure for Professional Pool?
I would see the development structure as something as simple as this:
- National/State level – small player funded prize funds, low ranking tariff
- Continental/Inter-state – medium sized prize funds with added prize money, higher ranking tariff
- World level – guaranteed high-value prize funds, excellent playing conditions, TV/Streaming coverage, high ranking tariff (could also include World Championships in relevant disciplines).
In terms of sanctioning I would see this working in the following way.
The national governing bodies pay a yearly subscription, this could in itself come from memberships from players but each player would only be expected to pay a small amount and only ever at the national level.
This in turn would give them a playing licence for all sanctioned events be they local or world.
To be awarded a World Tour ranking event the organisers must guarantee prize money in advance with the maximum field always being 128. The World Tour event promoter (if not the WPA) would they themselves also have to pay a sanctioning fee, this would be a flat fee regardless of the amount of prize money on offer. I think currently the WPA charge 5% of prize money as a sanctioning fee and in some cases in the past has been taken out of player prize money.
The players should be protected at all costs, if an event fails to live up to its promises then the WPA would step in to guarantee the financial welfare of the players. Player licence fees would collect quite a hefty sum if extrapolated across the World. Some of this money could always be kept aside as a guarantee. Ultimately the WPA is a non-profit organisation of course.
The WPA Organisational Structure Does Not Include Players
I go back to the ATP numerous times in this article but it is because I think they have got it right. The ATP was an organisation set up in 1972 to protect the interests of male professional tennis players (the WTA run the women's game).
It is structured with an executive board of 7 members and then a further 12-member ATP Players Council made up of a selection of players a 1 coach.
What is interesting is that the WPA board consists of just 6 members, none of which are current professional pool players. This instantly suggests that the needs of professional players are not being met as there is no voice on the board, or as far as can be seen open dialogue between the players and the board (this is my reading of it and of course there could well be dialogue behind-the-scenes).
I also went through the WPA constitution and notice that there is nothing written within it about protecting the interests of players.
Going back to Tennis again, the ATP is actually very separate to the International Tennis Federation. The professional game is not run by the governing body – the same is also true in snooker.
Maybe in order to drive this sport forward there needs to be a new organisation solely for the purpose of promoting professional pool? An organisation that is part of, but runs separately to the WPA. An organisation made up of players and trusted industry personnel that will put the interests of players first.
In some respects what the WPA have achieves over the last few years should be applauded. There are now more major events on the Calendar.
They have tapped into the Chinese market which offers both a huge player base and also financial opportunity with some big sponsors.
However, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.
What I have written I am sure a good few of you probably don't agree with, or even have other suggestions. I would like to hear them. Everything written herein is pretty much my own opinion as essentially an outsider.
Pool, and in that 9-ball, was my passion for many years, it is an exciting game that deserves a shot at being a fully professional sport.