Friday, October 15, 2010

Media Impact on the Future - PoolSynergy Volume 12

This month's topic is to get your taste buds flowing!  PoolSnark is this months host of PoolSynergy and he wants us to consider the future of pool from a fan/spectator perspective.

In my last PoolSynergy piece about the media/ pool/ future, I was one of the few who didn't think there was anything wrong with pool.  Johnny graciously pointed out (via comments to that article) that since I am surrounded by pool leagues, tours, and players in the great state of Texas, it's no wonder I think this way.

Therefore, I decided to ask one of my good buddies who, I think, has great suggestions for the pool industry to be my first guest columnist for PoolSynergy.  Get your popcorn ready.  May I introduce you to Michael LaLumiere:

The discussion about the WPBA losing its ESPN gig is part of the overall angst in the pool world about its bottom feeder status in the U.S. sports hierarchy. Melinda didn’t want to write about it because her position on the matter is that of pool player who has a career outside of pool.

It doesn’t matter to her that her co-workers don’t know who Mika Immonen is or can’t watch her favorite sport on TV or know anything about the Mosconi Cup or even the big national tournament she plays in at a casino in Las Vegas.

That’s a healthy attitude to take really because nothing is going to change for the pool industry anytime soon. Just enjoy playing pool.

What’s the impact from WPBA not being on TV? Zero. I can assure you ESPN knows exactly how many people watch any event. If they let the WPBA go it’s because it’s not worth it to them and from their perspective nobody’s watching.

The U.S. consumer/customer just isn’t that into pool – especially watching it.

The basis for any sports popularity is if customers will buy a ticket to watch or buy some sort of pay-per-view to see or even just take the time to view it on cable TV. It requires a customer base large enough to pay for hosting the events, paying the players, making it worth it to an owner to invest a team or player rather than making interest on a bond or in the bank. If there’s customer support then advertisers and sponsors will take note and determine whether it’s to their best business interest to create a relationship.

Make no mistake. This relationship is based on nothing else than it makes money or it doesn’t. And all money isn’t equal. Once an advertiser pays they demand return on their investment or why do it. And as an advertiser or sponsor anything that happens with that sport is now a reflection on them.

Crime. Bad behavior. Player controversy. Whatever. No sponsor wants any part of that because it could hurt its bottom line. The biggest moneymaker ever this side of Michael Jordan – Tiger Woods – got his public image destroyed. Some of the biggest corporate advertisers in the world said see you later Tiger and took a couple hundred million off the table immediately. Pool players just don’t get what the rest of the world thinks is boorish behavior and how much the world doesn’t want to be a part of it.

As someone mentioned to me the other day, men’s pool formally ended its relationship in the foreseeable future with ESPN when Earl Strickland walked out on a final match it was taping.

I had someone else say to me Earl was the reason men’s professional pool has failed in the U.S. His theory was that Earl was in perfect position to carry pool on his back when he hit the sports in 80s. He was something new and shiny. Unfortunately he was also acting up too much. End of opportunity.

As much as I’d like to blame Earl pool was already doomed long before he came along and has been even more tarnished since he’s left the spotlight.

Look, there’s been two times in the last century when pool had a surge of popularity with the masses. Both of them came after movies. Tom Cruise actually got people back in the pool halls and even more importantly got business folks to build beautiful pool palaces. I mean there was some awesome spaces built in the early 90s. I lived near San Francisco at the time and I real enjoyed the places that were built there. It was exciting.

But. People came. They saw. They left.

Pool streaming. I started watching it a year ago. At that I time I thought, hmmm, wonder if this will work. The one good thing it has done it’s kept the hard-core pool junkies in touch with whatever it is they like about pool halls and gambling. Although for the good of the game I’m not sure that’s really that big a help but….

I’ve watched the streaming numbers closely. Overall, maybe a 10 percent growth over the year mostly due to the hard core becoming more aware of all the streams. Most of the streamers are pure hobby people. Roughly 15 percent of the total watching join the chat room. And those folks are mostly the same folks every time.

The commentary is amateurish but liked by the hard core because it’s just like they’re sitting in the poolroom being rude with their buddies. The picture quality is fine by me. I don’t really care how clear it looks I care who I’m seeing play and what I’m hearing. Real sponsors and advertisers will never ever support the streams for any amount of time in their current form (Look above about what advertisers and sponsors don’t want).

Their answer is well what do you want for free? I don’t want anything. I’ll watch the occasional stream. But it’s not me the pool industry should care about. It’s the people who aren’t watching and why they’re not watching in droves.

I’ve said this before and it’s very irritating to the pool world. Look at the damn numbers. CSI put on a top-notch video production (for pool streaming) at the U.S. Open 10 Ball event. They got professional players to do most of the commentary. They had multiple cameras. They had the best players in the world in their stadium. They had it for four or five days.

They offered this production via computer to everyone in the world. FREE of charge. For the finals they had 1,000 plus viewers. FROM THE WORLD THEY GOT 1,000 PLUS VIEWERS. To any businessperson in the world (other than pool apparently) that is a sign to blow up your product and start over because obviously nobody wants it for free not to mention actually paying for it.

(By the way, 6500 league pool players were in the same building playing in the BCA National Tournament. Only a handful bothered to walk the 100 yards to watch the best players in the world play.)

TAR is the celebrated stream team that brings the big name pool gambling matches. TAR is revered in the pool world. Thousands of people a day can see what’s coming with TAR on AZBilliards, the top pool website in the world. Remember I said thousands a day. When the day finally comes to hold the ballyhooed match TAR can only get 200-250 of the hard-core pool people to pay the $25 or so. Again from the entire world pool market they get 200-250 buys for delivering big-name players.

Blow it up, it isn’t working. Nothing is working on the pro side of pool.

The only glimmer of hope in the pool world today is that tens of thousands of people still play in pool leagues. To me, if I’m leading the pool industry today, I say bye-bye to any investments I’m making in pro pool. I’m going to put every ounce of my energy into the league pool player and regional amateur tournaments they like to play in. This is the strength of pool.

Let’s say 100,000 people play in pool leagues in the U.S. As an industry I want to know who these people are. The demographics. I want to be in touch with them to learn about what they like and don’t like. I want to invest in them in the hopes they’ll be pool’s biggest recruiters. I want to know who doesn’t play in leagues and why. I want to find out what the most likely demographic is to recruit.

I want to be in touch with the room owners who host the leagues. I want to know what they need to survive. I want to invest in them. I’d want to work with them to build big regional amateur tournaments. In return I want them to do things for pool leagues and the players.

This and much more like it is how you build on your customer base. It’s basic business operations. I much rather invest in a league and a room owner than spend money rolling out Earl Strickland to be rude to 12 or 15 people.

If pool were a sport that was full of great personalities and excitement at the top of the pyramid then sure you’d want that to be part of rebuilding pool. But there is currently no such thing. If streaming were going to change the pool world for the better well, yeah, I’d invest in it. But it isn’t changing anything. It’s more of the same.

I’m personally sponsoring a one-pocket tournament. I’m putting in the majority of the money. I was approached about having a stream. I said absolutely not. If you stream I’m pulling out. I have not seen a stream that I would want my product attached to. Way too risky.

The room owner didn’t really want it either. Which is smart. It’s like giving money away. Some room owners do it because they’re told they’re suppose to. It’s good for pool. Nonsense. It will not help their bottom line. I promise.

The pool industry needs to start at the bottom. Celebrate the people who really like a pool as a game and stop celebrating gambling. Invest in the league player. Invest in the pool halls. Find out what they want not what you think pool should be.

That's my industry analysis for what it’s worth.


jbideas said...

Interesting observations. One small correction, ESPN did not end it's relationship with pool when Earl walked out of the finals with Corey Duell. ESPN has been a part of many productions since then. Pool has no consistent product to offer ESPN.

p00lriah. said...

very interesting piece mr. L. the only i disagree w would be the bad behaviors from pool players. for example, mike matusow (the poker player) sure isn't doing anyone favors, with his drinking, drug use, and what not. yet people seem to watch him play as much as the other pros.

i think u nailed it on the head about investment & return. pool simply isn't a good product in this juncture, nice players or not. that issue is very worthy of research, since analyses are needed to figure out what we can do to attract sponsors, change the product, etc.

Melinda said...

Hi JB. Mike said the players ended the relationship as an obvious overstatement to the situation; not that ESPN ended the relationship.

Hi p00lriah. I also think some bad behavior is okay, like John McEnroe, but why hasn't it helped us? lol.

Thanks to you both for the comments! said...

Interesting. I agree with much of this. I really believe that growing regional tournaments is key to the growth of the game. Not only directed at league players, but also those who would never join leagues.

Around here, leagues are almost exclusively on 7 foot tables. There are many great competitors and fans of the game that love 9 foot play.

I really believe that a mixture of tournaments with cash prizes will give casual players and outsiders a real reason to try to get better at this difficult game. Get enough players to the upper skill levels and maybe a real pro tour will break out.

Mike Fieldhammer

Jarno said...

You make very good points in your article.

Unknown said...

Nice post. An interesting point of view. It's one I had not heard before.

I like the sound of it. Which probably means that it's not a good idea. ;)

Fast Lenny said...

I have to say I agree with some of your points but not about the value of the advertising with streaming. Mike your welcome to see the numbers from streams I have done for small tournaments and you might be shocked that tens of thousands tune in for streams, small ones get a couple thousand in a day. I think advertising dollars are spent wisely on streams as opposed to magazines that never are delivered and have a smaller following than the streams.

As for room owners seeing benefits, they get to have there tournaments announced live and business promoted usually for nothing so there is great value in it for them. Personally I have had people come up to me from out of town while I was streaming saying how they came to the room because of seeing the stream and also employees of the room have said the same thing too about the out of town draw due to online exposure.

Unknown said...

Michael, thanks for participating in PoolSynergy, especially with such a well thought out piece. Not much in there I could disagree with. If pool in the media is to have any future, I think it needs to be live because of the excitement factor (I believe all WPBA events were televised well after they were over), as well as regularly scheduled so people can find them easily. Based on Fast Lenny's comment it seems like audience size is large enough to be tempting, though I think streaming needs to be improved significantly, and along the lines you pointed out, before it can go pro.

The Sun City Country Club Management Team said...

You're right Lenny I don't believe it. I like your spirit though. The pool tinted glasses/numbers don't work in the real world. We've had this discussion several times. I don't think your analyzing Internet traffic correctly. But you can give me 10-7 and the breaks so I can't say too much. Mike