Thursday, 9 October 2014

Is Pocket Billiards Dead in Canada?

By: Markus Noé

Over the past week and half as the Canadian Championships have been playing out, the conversation that pool is dead in Canada has been happening in local pool rooms and forums around the country. As  negative as this mindset might seem it is understandable when one notices that 20 players played the Mens 8 ball, then 21 and 19 in the Mens 9 and 10 ball. Unfortunately the Women's  division was an even sadder affair with 6 players in the 9 ball and 7 in the 10 ball.

Take nothing Away from Brittany Bryant, John Morra, Jason Klatt  or Erik Hjorleifson who are our Canadian Champions. These are all well known names in Canada and would be in the thick of any championships regardless how many show up. Also having to beat out players like former World Champion Alex Pagulayan then Paul Potier, Mario Morra, Andy Aupin to win these titles you cant say their titles were not earned. However the issue is not quality it is quantity. How is it possible that these tournaments had such a low turn out?

In my opinion it all starts with the Canadian Billiard and Snooker Association (CBSA) webpage. For fans and players outside of Toronto it is our sole way of being informed about the Canadian Championships. Within seconds of being on their site I found myself frustrated, as it is about as user friendly as a website from the mid 90's. However in the 90's people understood the purpose of a website was to get information out to the masses, something the CBSA site does not do well. It boggled my mind that I could not find out player registration fee's on this site for any division including the Amateurs, which I just inquired about for myself. All that is available is the venue and the dates of each event. Not to have the entry fee's and registration fee's readily available on their website creates  an unnecessary barrier. Furthermore the only reason I was able to get in contact with someone from the CBSA was through my friend Tino Barbieri who had the contact info I should have been able to get from their website. However when I went to click on the Email option on their website nothing happened.

After getting the information I needed I went back to spend more time on the site, admittedly just to critique it. Then I came across a section I didn't notice the first time, dubbed "Friends of the CBSA." After clicking on this option I quickly realized why there was so little information on their actual website. That is because they would like you to pay an annual fee of $20 to have all this information emailed directly to you via newsletters. Asking people to pay for this information is completely counter-intuitive as the whole purpose of an organization such as is this one is to get the word out too as many as possible. I am sure many people left that site with the same bad taste that I had in my mouth as this looks like nothing more than a cheap money grab.

We live in the age of social media, so it is not unfair to say it is unacceptable that the CBSA has no Facebook or Twitter presence. These are two of the most valuable tools today in any kind of marketing. It is free or relatively cheap to participate in and nearly everyone on this planet, pool players included, are associated to one or both of these social media platforms. But when the CBSA wants us to pay for their information updates it essentially nullifies those two valuable resources.

The next issue is that these championships took over a week to play. This means players who wanted to participate from outside the GTA needed to take a significant amount of time off work, then cough up the travel and food expenses for 10 days on top of the $600 plus  in entry fees, if one wanted to play all three events. As everyone knows paydays of $10,000 at the Canadians is a thing of the past. However the organizers expect players from the west and east coasts to absorb thousands of dollars in expenses to come to Toronto to barely break even if they win. Also I never heard of the CBSA holding any qualifiers to help players with the cost and to gain exposure. The best way to promote the Canadians is have the best shooters from each region in the field. Not only to boost participation and money in the actual event but to get people watching and interested in the Canadians again. Everybody loves a feel good story and what better than a local shooter taking on some of the best in the nation.

Then there was the issue with the live stream. Which was free but it seemed like every time we were about to be treated with a Klatt/Morra match-up the stream would go offline. Then throughout the few minutes that it would be on at a time it was choppy and basically not watchable. Now with people like Guy Simard from Billard Quebec or Daniel Robichaud from Pool Stream TV who have the experience and capability to put on great streams just hours down the road, why were they not approached to be there to ensure a quality stream?

There is a reality in pool, and that is that it is not at the height it once was. It's not "cool" like it was when The Hustler and the Color of Money was popular. So the big time sponsorship and added money is hard to come by, but by no means impossible. Perhaps the people at the CBSA need to take a lesson from the promoters in Quebec who are not only finding the money but actually growing the game. For instance, the upcoming Richler Cup hosted by Snooker Canada boast a stellar field and $20,000 added. Then there is Le Classique de Billiard Appalaches that takes place in Tetford Mines each year which has $62,000 prize pool throughout all their divisions.

 In conclusion it is my opinion that pocket billiards is not dead in Canada despite recent perception, it is just not being promoted and managed adequately. Die hard pool players and fans like myself, which there are many of, will show up and support events when they are worth supporting, and for the time being for players outside of the GTA it isn't. The issues I have brought forth are not new as these Championships have been on the decline for years now. After last year when Jared Amyot brought these concerns to the World Pool Association, this year was supposed to be different. Thus perhaps it is time for the people at CBSA either to gracefully step aside and let others take over, or reach out to their Canadian colleagues and put on a Championship we can all be proud of.

Erik Hjorleifson receiving his 10 ball trophy and cash

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