In a shocking announcement, Matchroom founder Barry Hearn said that his company will conduct its 2023 tournaments (save for the World Pool Championship) without sanction from the World Pool-Billiard Association. Hearn made the announcement in an interview on Sky Sports during the 2022 Mosconi Cup at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in early December.

According to Hearn, Matchroom had met with WPA officials in Germany during the European Open and had requested that the world governing body formally recognize the new Matchroom Nineball Rankings as the official rankings for that discipline. The WPA, said Hearn, turned down the request.

In response, Matchroom will not sanction the UK Open, the U.S. Open or the European Open, nor will it sanction its invitational events — World Pool Masters, World Cup of Pool, Mosconi Cup and Premier Pool League.

“It was a tough decision to make,” said Hearn in an interview on the “Doggin’ It” podcast. “We all need to pull in the same direction. That means the sport, the broadcasters, the sponsors, management and sanctioning bodies. I tried to tell the WPA that Matchroom will not continue to invest millions of dollars without having some skin in the game. We said we will continue to build this sport globally, but it’s important to us that the WPA acknowledge the Matchroom Nineball rankings as the official rankings for 9-ball.”

Hearn went on to insist that the newly developed ranking system is set up to help grow the competitive side of the sport at all levels.

“Part of our plan is to bring other events into the tour to expand it,” he said. “Making the smaller tournaments relevant and important will ensure that players participate in those events as well. Those points and that ranking earn you a spot in the top events. Essentially, you must participate in all the events.”

In defending his desire for “skin in the game,” Hearn pointed to the questions he faces in trying to market his events.

“When we go to broadcasting and sponsor partners,” he insisted, “the first thing they ask is who controls the product. Darts is one of the great success stories. We own darts. Why is snooker successful? We own it. Players and governing bodies have proven that they’re not good enough at promoting the sport. They just rubber stamp events and charge a sanctioning fee.”

Sanctioning is required by the WPA for any event that includes players from other intercontinental memberships. National federation members of the WPA control the selection of players from their country for events, although promoters traditionally also receive an allotment of “wild card” entries.

Will Matchroom’s unsanctioned events create problems for players?

“The duty of federations is to the players,” Hearn pointed out. “To give them opportunities.

“The federations have to understand that this is a business and that they don’t own anything.

“We’ve shown over 40 years at Matchroom that when we make progress with a sport, we share that with the players. But behind the scenes we also create a sustainable business that is profitable and allows us to invest in other sports.”

The WPA declined comment on the topic.

“We’re making the investment on our own,” Hearn reiterated. “We have the players’ backing, which is fundamental. If you’re not a realist, you’re history. It sounds a bit brutal, but I’m 74 and I don’t have time to wait for things to happen. I want to see pool hit it big before I go to the big pool hall in the sky.

“I can do that with the team I’ve got, and I’m not going to have administrators stand in the way of the way forward. We’ve proved our commitment over 30 years. But I want ownership now. We have a vision. We’re going to outgrow the world the WPA operates in. We need to do that to create a mega sport. Matchroom will invest whatever it takes to make this game huge.”

Coming To America

In unveiling its Nineball World Ranking and Matchroom Nineball Schedule, the British promoter has taken on the challenge of creating a global tour for the discipline. What happens next?

With the announcement that mega-promoter Matchroom is setting up the structure for a world 9-ball ranking tour going forward (see Wing Shots, page 12), the pool world has responded with renewed optimism about the game’s future. While nations continue to struggle with the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, Matchroom is charging ahead with an ambitious plan to build a tournament structure that could finally provide players the opportunity to earn a living and fans a glut of events and programming to consume. On the heels of the announcement, Billiards Digest caught up with Matchroom Multi Sport Managing Director Emily Frazer to dig a little deeper into the 2022 Matchroom Nineball Schedule and the new Nineball World Rankings.

Emily Frazer

It was interesting to see Barry Hearn at the forefront of the 9-ball rankings announcement. Has he been more involved in recent planning?

Now that Barry has massively taken a step back from operations, his mind’s opened up a little more with pool. He’s more receptive to new ideas. When we meet now the discussions are about what can we do with pool and how can we improve it. It’s more brainstorming. He trusts my judgments with pool, but I also recognize that he set up the darts. He set up the snooker. He put the ranking systems and all that into place. He knows much more about how to make that work than I ever will. When I go away and work on my ideas and we meet up again, he says, “Well, have you thought out this?” and “This happened in this sport.” He has that experience. So, we worked on this together. And you can’t deny that when Barry gets on camera and makes a statement or announces something, the impact is incredible. After doing this in snooker and darts, I think he wants his legacy to be that he built this with pool, too. Working with him this way has been really cool. I’ve learned loads.

How will the new rankings affect your events? Will anything change?

Possibly. For example, we’ve always seeded the defending champion No. 1. Will that stay or change? We don’t want to make a decision without thinking it through. We’ll look at other sports. Same with the World Cup of Pool. What happens if Albin Ouschan and Mario He are defending champions, but Max Lechner is ranked higher than one of them in the rankings?

What was behind the decision to make rankings money-based instead of points-based?

When we looked at the prize money for ranking points, we looked at snooker and darts and we feel it works there. Then we looked at how the points structure really didn’t work for Team Europe and the Mosconi Cup. So, we took that information into consideration. We know the added money ranges from almost zero to more than $100,000, so we looked at total prize money. I hope that in two years we can come up with a minimum to eliminate events that shouldn’t be part of the ranking process. Now, when a promoter comes to us and says, “We’d like to do a ranking event,” we can say, “Okay, here are our basic list of requirements. Please send us your full format, added money and prize distribution structure.” If it is out of whack and all of the prize money is loaded to the top, we can deny the event unless they change it. We don’t want to approve an event, have our stamp all over it and then get calls from players saying the structure is unfair. We’ll have contracts in place to prevent that.

The current 2021 schedule includes five Euro Tour events and two U.S. events, but the U.S. events have four or five times the prize money. Would you allow a second U.S. event to run at the same time as the Euro Tour events?

Not in year one because the calendar is free enough to add events. At the moment, we’re not taking on additional European events until we get more U.S. events on the schedule. Ideally, you want promoters to look at the U.S. events on the calendar and schedule in right ahead or behind those events. The same with European events. So, for players who come to Europe, or for European players who travel to the U.S., there are two or three events in a row to compete in. The Euro Tour is concerned about clashing dates with U.S tournaments, of course. But what I told them is that in three to five years, we hope the calendar is full enough where there are some clashes, and the players will pick and choose. But, by then, the prize money will have minimums and the tournaments that don’t stack up will be winnowed out.

Can the calendar ever be truly set a year in advance? Your events are dictated in large part by TV and venues.

We’ve already had an issue with the Premier Pool League because the venue took on an event that they couldn’t turn down, forcing us to change the start date, and that day won’t work. So now we have to find another venue and I can’t clash with existing events.

How long did it take before you realized you’ve become the defacto tournament schedule coordinator for the world?

The minute one of the promoters came back and said, “This won’t work because of this or that.” But I told Barry before all this that we’re going to have to be prepared to put in a load of work on this. I’m trying to set up our team structure so that pool is properly looked after. At the same time, we’ve got to maintain the level of what we’re doing with other sports in the Multi Sport portfolio.

People have commented about a “season,” but this is really a 12-month commitment for players. Do you see a point at which there is a season, with part if the season in the U.S., and part in Europe?

It would be silly for us not to look at what’s worked well in darts and snooker. The snooker calendar now is stacked. It should be a season. And does that lead up to the Mosconi Cup? Or to the World Championship, like darts and snooker? One of the initial thoughts is to have a month after Mosconi or the World Championship be the “off season.” At the moment, it’s so unstructured. I think we need to run with it and let it work itself out. I’m already starting my Matchroom calendar for 2023, and I would see Euro Tour and U.S. promoters looking at the calendar and finding those open slots before or after the Matchroom events; Euro Tour events tied to the Matchroom events in Europe and U.S. events tied to the Matchroom events in the U.S. That’s how it should happen going forward.

The 2022 calendar has already grown since its initial release.

How long will it take to establish uniformity in formats and rules throughout the 9-ball ranking events?

I made a list of things that we want to see standardized, because the rules and formats are all over the place right now. After speaking to various promoters, I made another list of things that I think actually could change. I’ve learned a lot. For instance, us eliminating the three-point rule isn’t an easy thing for some promoters, given their current structure. We have rackers and players aren’t allowed to inspect the rack. Not all promoters can do that, so players rack. And if players rack, you have to allow the other player to inspect the rack. And to prevent further problems, you have to institute a three-point rule. So, I understand that not all event promoters can adopt this in 2022. We’ll be flexible. As for 1 or 9 on the spot, I don’t really care which it is. I just want it to be competitive, and then consistent in all events. We’ll determine after this year what the rule will be. We want to get to a point where there is agreement, “These are the most competitive racking and breaking rules,” and adopt that going forward. I think a racker at each table is something that will be required going forward. I mean, even as a casual sports fan, if I tuned into an event and saw the players setting up the field of play, I’d think, “This is a bit dodgy.”

Barry was always insistent on calling the events “Pool Championships” instead of “9-Ball Championships.” Now you’ve made a complete shift in branding. How did that decision come about?

That was a fight that I lost, but I’ve come around. As we acquired the World Championship and U.S. Open, we’ve tried to establish our name or identity as a brand. But when I’d sit with broadcasters and potential sponsors and we’d say, “This is a world championship pool event,” they don’t always know what that means. Does it mean swimming, or what? So, a year or so ago I decided we need to get into everyone’s head that “pool” is 9-ball. That’s why we changed the names to World Pool Championship and U.S. Open Pool Championship. At the beginning of the ranking discussion, we set it up as the Pool Tour. But people look at pool and they don’t know straight away that there is more than one form of the game. So, Barry took the side of, “Well, if we push 9-ball, everyone knows it’s 9-ball, when it’s universally recognized we can switch to “pool.” I said, “Fair enough.” So, that’s how we established this “nineball” branding. The full word lettering is better suited to the Matchroom branding than using the number 9. There’s consistency there. I think we both wanted the same thing in the end.

So, will the World Championship and U.S. Open now switch back to 9-ball as a title?

I don’t know. I think we’ll keep it as is for a little while. These are our Matchroom events, and we want consistency there, too. I don’t think that changing the others to the World Cup of 9-Ball or the World 9-Ball Masters works very well. So, our events will all be titled “Pool” for the time being.

Matchroom has added a pair of $200,000 events in Europe for 2022 — the European Open and UK Open.

What does the future of the WPA look like relative to the future of the Matchroom 9-ball tour?

We certainly don’t want to be involved with federations and player standings, etc. Also, in creating transparency for things like the invitational events and Mosconi Cup, there needs to be that independent structure overseeing things. We hope that as this grows, and in three years’ time we’ve doubled the calendar and doubled the prize money, the WPA will grow stronger as well through sanctioning. We want to make sure going forward that there are press releases on their web site and more social media activity. To do all that we have to work together. I’ve set up the right communications between my team and the WPA’s team to ensure that things like that are actually going to happen moving forward.

Do you see Matchroom playing a role in the restructuring of the WPA to the point that it has the capabilities and funding and staff to do all those things, like you did with World Snooker and the WPBSA?

The sport needs the WPA. I don’t know if we want to be part of a restructuring. But anything that would help the game evolve, we would want to be involved within that change. We don’t want to be the governing body, but we want to help ensure that there is a good governing body in place. The good thing about our events now, like the World Pool Masters and the World Cup of Pool, is that they are set up with entry requirements, so we’ve now given the WPA allocations for the spots. They share those with the member federations. Now, all of a sudden, that gives more structure for everyone instead of us just handing out invitations and having players worry about how people are selected. I don’t really know where it’s all going to go. Right now, we’re just staying in communication and seeing what can be done. We’re just starting to implement this structure in our events and rankings now, so to get involved in some kind of restructuring of the WPA would be getting ahead of ourselves. The movement of the sport will naturally help or force the WPA to restructure to be more effective and keep up with the sport.

Will promoters that want to hitch their events onto the ranking bandwagon be required to be WPA sanctioned?

Yes, as of 2023. It’s too last-minute to enforce that in 2022. There are still so many unknowns, so we didn’t want to set up too many hurdles for the promoters. And Ian [Anderson] and the WPA understood that.

It already seems like the fight to be a part of this is going to get crazy sooner than later. It’s almost been a blessing that part of the world is out of consideration right now because it allows you to take baby steps establishing the tour with just the U.S. and Europe. But at what point does Asia become part of the calendar and the discussion in terms of ranking events?

It has made things a little easier at the start. As for Asia, it’s really just knowing when we can even go over there. As soon as I know when we can go over there, we’ll start scheduling time for them. They’re on our radar, but there is still far too much uncertainty. Even Australia and New Zealand have reached out about doing back-to-back events, but we can’t even start discussions until they are able to have an event and players are allowed to travel there.

How do you protect the top Asian players who are in jeopardy of falling too far behind in your rankings because they can’t get to events?

It’s something we’re working on. Already Ko Pin Chung has said he can’t attend our first event because he’s only had one dose of vaccination. In World Snooker, there is a one-year list to take into account rankings for players who can’t participate. It might be something we use to protect top Asian players from getting totally phased out because of the 2022 rankings.

Ambitious Frazer hopes her five-year plan is realized in three.

What spurred you to take on this daunting challenge?

It was apparent that it needed to happen and no one else was going to do it. In order for this to work, it has to be on TV. We can’t produce the entire year. So, for this to move forward, we have to bring in other promoters and we have to start working together. A lot of the discussions about working together have come from promoters like Chad Sharlow, who we’ve worked with to develop a big amateur event with our pro events. Why should we just sit in our own lane and do things to help ourselves when we can work with everyone else and get this all to grow much bigger and faster.

As all of these disparate events join the ranking tour, how does Matchroom handle the broadcast issues?

One of the points that we listed when determining the benefits to promoters was production. And this may be three years down the road, but we could say, “Look, we’ll pay for the production, but we take the rest of the world rights, and you take the host rights,” or “You set up production to these specs and we take certain broadcast rights and pay a fee.” Either way, the promoter is getting some type of income from the broadcast, but we help distribute. But that’s down the pipeline. Some promoters are simply going to have to step up their production. I was really impressed with what Pat Fleming did with scoring at last year’s International Open. That’s going to force other promoters to step up. At some point, I would like to set up our own production office in the U.S. What’s currently stopping us from taking some of our events there is the cost. That would make it much more affordable for us to bring, say, Premier League Pool, to the U.S.

Given the scope of what you’re launching, is the pool portion of Multi Sport going to become a full-time job?

This has been on my mind since we started putting this in place. I have to make sure all of our events deliver to Mosconi Cup standards. I’ve been working more on possibly having a dedicated pool department within Multi Sport. I can’t expect everyone to work the hours I do. I will have to see how things progress this year. I can’t neglect the other sports and events. But we want to keep growing the pool calendar, so it’s going to demand more and more time.

A Cup Like No Other

The only thing certain about the 2020 Mosconi Cup is that nothing is certain. By Mike Panozzo

No matter how things shake out, 2020 promises to be a Mosconi Cup like no others.

Madness, partisanship and flag-waving figure to be replaced by bubbles, emoji cheers, elbow bumps and nose swabs, as the annual Europe vs USA slugfest reshapes itself in the wake of COVID-19’s seemingly endless assault on “normal.”

Just four weeks from the proposed start of the four-day team 9-ball event, only the lineups are set in stone, and even that could change at a moment’s notice.

Still to be determined are minor details, like, oh, the venue, live audience participation and which squad will be awarded a coveted second practice table.

The stubbornness of the global pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for pool in general and the Mosconi Cup in particular. Riding an unprecedented wave of popularity and success, the 26-year-old Matchroom Sport-promoted event was on pace to welcome 3,000 fans to each of the four sessions in 2020 and figured to continue its growth in television viewership.

Instead, Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer and her crew are holed up in a virtual war room, planning for anything and everything that could alter the course of the event between now and its Dec. 1 start.

With sponsorship dollars trimmed and possibly no ticket revenue, Frazer recently acknowledged that the first order of business is finding a venue that could handle both a bubbled event and some live audience. The 2020 event is scheduled for London’s cavernous old Alexandre Palace, but the likelihood of it actually being staged there seems remote.

“Plan A is to move the venue,” Frazer said recently. “We have to be prepared for both behind-closed-doors and spectators. Massive tiered seating places like Ally Pally won’t work. We have to be really creative with the arena.

“Plan B is to create a bubble but find creative ways to get crowd engagement.

“And Plan C is to run away!”

If Frazer and her crew have proven anything in recent years, however, it’s that challenges are embraced more than feared.

“People have come to expect the best from us,” Frazer said. “So, we won’t deliver anything less than the best, regardless of the challenge.”

What appears to be the most manageable part of the equation to date is player logistics. Matchroom has been able to have players and coaches from both teams issued exemptions from the mandatory 14-day quarantine to enter the United Kingdom under an elite sportsmen rule unveiled by the British government earlier this year. According to rules, the players will have to be tested prior to leaving their country of origin and again after arriving in the U.K. Once cleared, all athletes will be limited in their exposure to non-athletes, living and performing in veritable bubbles.

According to Team USA Captain Jeremy Jones, his squad is scheduled to fly to London on Nov. 22, 10 days prior to the Cup.

“Once we get there, we’ll be okay,” he said. “Our travel will be limited.”

Of course, the possibility exists that a player and/or captain could test positive prior to the event.

“We have contingency plans in place, which the captains are comfortable with,” said Frazer.

According to Matchroom, once the event begins, players will not be required to wear masks during play, even during team and doubles matches.

In addition to protecting the players, Frazer said Matchroom staff will be quarantined and operate in a bubble as well. In addition to creating logistical hurdles, the precautionary measures also add costs to the already pricey event.

“We have to test early because we have to be able to replace people that test positive,” Frazer pointed out. “And then we have to quarantine everyone. During the snooker event in June, we had to cut the staff in half. You need to know who the key people are.”

Frazer said that Matchroom’s handling of professional snooker in June, where a small live crowd was allowed on the final day, was an invaluable exercise.

“Being able to successfully conduct professional snooker events really helps us,” she said. We’ve learned a lot and it’s given us confidence that we can handle every situation. It also showed the government that we can conduct events safely and responsibly.

“And the silver lining is that we’ve had to think of new ways to deliver the event,” she added. “We’re thinking beyond simply live audiences. We’ve worked on improving viewer engagement. We’ve had to be creative. We’ve got another opportunity with a tenpin bowling event we’re doing, and we will experiment with some new things, see what works and what doesn’t, and step it up in December.”

With coronavirus cases spiking slightly in the U.K., a live audience appears a remote possibility. According to Frazer, Matchroom presold approximately 1,500 tickets per session, and contacting those ticketholders will be her first priority.

“We’ve got to get messages to ticketholders, updating them as to what’s going on,” she said. “We need to give them options. Some have contacted us with information about their tickets and travel arrangements. We may need to refund their event tickets and make sure they are able to get refunds for their travel and hotels.”

Still, Frazer has not completely ruled out the possibility of some live audience, and her search for a new venue will take seating into account.

“Fortunately, no one is using venues right now,” she added. “So, we’ve got the pick of potential sites.”

In 2018 and ’19, Frazer went all in on the live experience at the Cup, creating a party atmosphere with sing-along pop songs, daily “fancy dress” contests and other fan-engagement promotions.

In 2020, she will need to devise a strategy that will have that atmosphere transferred to television viewership. Because of Matchroom’s exclusive programming agreement with sports streaming service DAZN, viewers in the U.S. will have to sign on to the subscription platform. In the U.K., as has been the case for all 26 years, the event will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

“We’ll have to be more creative with the arena,” Frazer commented. “We may make use of more digital screens and find ways to get the viewers to interact.

“Digital and social media are so important right now.”

In fact, Frazer opined that the weeks leading up to the Dec. 1 kickoff will be as important as the event itself.

“We’ve got to be sure to get the word out,” she said. “It will be barrage marketing. We want to make sure that every fan knows the dates, times, what they can do to participate, etc. We need to be smart in how we engage the spectator.”

As has been the case in the past two years, the week leading up to the start of the event will help set the table.

“We still have ‘Fight Week’,” she pointed out. “A lot of it, including press conferences, etc., will be virtual, but there will be a lot going on.”

Frazer, of course, isn’t the only person having to negotiate tricky logistics and mindsets ahead of the event. The team captains and their players are also treading into uncharted waters.

“It’s been a challenge to prepare for this year’s event,” understated Jones. “For a lot of us that usually travel all year long, it’s been strange. I traveled recently for the first time since March and I had some anxiety because it seemed so foreign.”

Jones and vice-captain Joey Gray have had one-on-one training with each of their players (Shane Van Boening, Skyler Woodward, Billy Thorpe, Justin Bergman and Chris Robinson), but the lack of real competition through the year figures to make player performance hard to handicap.

“I was at a small event recently,” Jones added. “And you can see it in the guys that have managed to keep playing a lot. Some players have been in action matches and you can see they’re sharper.”

Jones said that several of the players were set to convene in Oklahoma City, where Van Boening is set to play a three-day money match against Filipino Dennis Orcollo. Jones has also arranged for a Team USA match against players from the area. The entire team is scheduled to meet in Dallas for training before heading to Austin, Texas, for a 9-ball tournament.

“We’ll get to hang out together and work out,” Jones said. “And then we’ll go to Austin. Some good, stiff competition will be good.”

According to Jones, his charges are both excited and anxious.

“They’re ready to play,” he insisted. “There really hasn’t been anything else for them to focus on because there have been no other events. But you don’t know how that first ball will feel.”

With his players (Jayson Shaw, Joshua Filler, Fedor Gorst, Klenti Kaci and Albin Ouschan) hamstrung by travel restrictions in Europe, Team Europe Captain Alex Lely and vice-captain Karl Boyes have conducted most of their training and meetings over the video communications platform Zoom.

“We’ve had pretty intense practice sessions for the past six weeks,” Lely said. “Sometimes two players at a time and things like that. Over the three weeks before we meet in London, I’m planning on working more one on one with the players. As for the final week, that program is not set in stone yet. A lot is still up in the air.”

In the meantime, Lely said he’s been learning more about his players, including hosting a “Quiz Night” on Zoom. The quiz included pool trivia and personal information about the players.

“What I learned is that Josh [Filler] really knows a lot about pool history,” Lely shared. “He must have been reading pool magazines since he was a kid. He won the contest.”

As “losers,” Lely said that Kaci and Gorst will be required to wear bow ties and serve the rest of the team at a dinner prior to the event.

Not to be outdone, Frazer said she’s presented both teams with a social media challenge, with the squad generating the most social media buzz ahead of the event being gifted a second practice table during the week of the Cup.


How it happened. What it means.

There were several “tells” in World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) President Ian Anderson’s early January letter to member federations that the WPA Board of Directors had voted to terminate the Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation’s contract for the men’s World 9-Ball Championships. According to Anderson, the QBSF’s decade-long run as promoter and producer of the world championship event was terminated because the association was unresponsive when pressed to make improvements to the event, which suffered from lack of promotion and organization.

The letter also stated, “We do have another organizer who will take over our prestigious Championship as of this year and will do the event very proud.” In other words, the WPA had clearly been in discussions with another promoter while the QBSF still had a year to go on its contract and seemed determined to get them to breach that contract. To astute followers of the sport, that could mean only one thing: Matchroom Sport, pool’s knight-on-white-horse, was once again riding in to save the day, as it had with the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship.

“Obviously, it didn’t just happen last week,” Anderson said, referring to Matchroom’s Jan. 22 announcement that it had “acquired the rights in perpetuity” to the World 9-Ball Championship. “We had been discussing this for some time.”

Not surprisingly, the idea to regain control of the world championship, which the U.K.-based promoter staged from 1999 through 2008, was hatched by creative and tireless Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer.

“It stemmed from a brainstorming meeting in our offices,” said Frazer. “We’re always talking about building the pool lineup to grow the sport and also have more to offer our sponsors and broadcast partners.

“We don’t necessarily say, ‘What’s out there? Let’s go take it,’” Frazer added. “The U.S. Open more or less came to us and [Matchroom founder] Barry [Hearn] liked the idea. The Word 9-Ball never really came to us. We did a little research on the event, where it is and where it’s been. I approached the WPA in Russia in September, then we put together a proposal for Barry. He loves the idea of building Matchroom Pool. We’ve got five major unique events under our belt and the World 9-Ball was the perfect piece to add to that.”

Not surprisingly, the news of pool’s biggest and most respected promoter taking over the World 9-Ball Championship, which had devolved to an almost secondary event that a number of top players avoided, was met with great joy.

“Wow, what a day for our sport!” gushed International 9-Ball Open champ Jayson Shaw.

“Unbelievable news for the pool world!” echoed Russia’s Fedor Gorst, who only three weeks earlier won the world title in Qatar.

And just what can players expect from the Matchroom-run event?

For starters, Hearn announced a $200,000 prize fund for 2020, which will be held Oct. 14-18 at a yet-to-be-determined site. Hearn also stated that “the 128-player event will be open to men and women.”

The latter statement makes fairly clear that Matchroom will now make the decisions that affect qualification for the world championship. Previously, it was the WPA that dictated the player allotment and parceled them out to member federations. While Frazer insisted that the system won’t be dramatically changed, some changes will be instituted to assure a field that Matchroom would deem most representative and, of course, marketable. “For one,” said Frazer, “we’re in an age where women should be competing with the men. The WPA is in agreement with that, and I think that all federations should be open this and should actually be encouraging it.

Women at the top of the WPA ranking list can qualify as such. I think that if 10 players come through the EPBF, one of them should certainly be a female. “As for allotments and qualifications,” she continued, “we’re not looking at coming in and completely changing the qualifying criteria. It should include all of the different federations and we want to keep that consistent, but there are changes that we think should be made. For instance, Matchroom champions will have a spot.”

“It’s far too early for us to comment on this from a federation standpoint,” said Rob Johnson, CEO of the Billiard Congress of America, the North American federation member to the WPA. “We are expecting follow-up with the WPA and Matchroom to learn more details. But we are thrilled Matchroom has commited to this event and look forward to seeing them work with the WPA to take it to the next level.”

While players in the U.S. unanimously applauded the change-of-hands, in universal agreement that the event will return to its glory days of the early 2000s, they’d better have their passports in order.

“We are looking at a lot of venues,” Frazer said. “But it isn’t likely that the event will be held in the U.S. For starters, events in the U.S. are so costly. Also, the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has found its place in the U.S., and we’d like to keep the U.S. Open and the World 9-Ball Championship separate. Also, we’ve got other plans for the U.S.

“The U.K. is a consideration,” she added. “But it won’t be in Cardiff (site of Matchroom-produced World Pool Championship from ’99-’2004). I don’t like repeating history. This is a new event for us and we have no desire to turn back time. We are also interested in Asia — Macau, the Philippines, etc.” According to Frazer, the October dates were a coveted timeframe.

“Often times, our dates are driven by venue availability and/or our broadcast partners,” she said. “But with the World 9-Ball, the dates we chose were based on the pool calendar. We had always had our eyes on putting something in those dates. The World 9-Ball will fit nicely as the end of the ranking year for U.S. and Europe as it relates to the Mosconi Cup and the marketing and promotion of Matchroom events. Previously, the World 9-Ball was not in a great time of year, right before the holidays and right after Mosconi Cup. It was tough on the 10 players that had just finished playing for their lives.”

While few people in the pool world would question the WPA’s wisdom in handing off the event to Matchroom, whose record in pool promotion is spotless, a few admitted to raised eyebrows Hearn’s use of the term, “in perpetuity.” Anderson quickly dismissed any concern.

“While ‘in perpetuity’ does mean forever,” Anderson rationalize, “it’s not really forever if Matchroom, for example, cease to do the event or players stop playing it. Matchroom simply wanted assurance and security that they won’t build the event up, only to have someone else hijack the event from them because their contract expired.”

What is not open to any question, however, is Matchroom’s reputation for promoting and producing the best events in the sport.

“Our first goal,” said Frazer, “is to increase the prestige of the World 9-Ball Championship. And as long as we can see that there is a future to the event, we’ll stick with it.

“I think this says a lot about the vision we’ve shown,” she added. “We want to see pool grow.”

Taking A Mulligan

Matchroom’s acquisition of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships was met with great joy by the pool community. Bold plans and grandiose promises heralded a bright future for America’s oldest and most significant major pool tournament. A guaranteed purse of $300,000 for the 2019 event was announced when entries opened to 128 players. The response from players around the globe was so swift, despite the $1,000 entry fee, that the field was opened and quickly grew to 175, then 200 and finally to 256. More than 100 players asked that their names be placed on a waiting list.

Not unreasonably, most players assumed that since the number of entries doubled, the prize fund would also jump. Simple math shows that a $300,000 guaranteed purse with $128,000 in entry fees equals $172,000 in added money. With 256 players, that $172,000 would bring the total prize fund to $428,000. Makes sense. Even if Matchroom only added $100,000, some rationalized, the purse would still be $356,000.

So, imagine the players’ surprise when Matchroom quietly posted the prize list on its website yesterday, indicating that the total prize fund would remain at its originally announced $300,000. Just $44,000 added to the U.S. Open? Heck, Barry Behrman’s U.S. Opens routinely featured $50,000 added. Some players expressed disbelief. A few others were flat out angry. What happened to all of those big promises? This is a Matchroom production, right?

Of course, everything is not quite as simple and clear cut as it seems. “The cost of this event is staggering,” Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer said, when asked about the prize fund surprise.

It seems money that might have been added to the prize fund was gobbled up in staging and production costs.

Honestly, I understand both sides of this. The players have every right to be disappointed in the prize fund. And Matchroom has every right to spend its money where it sees fit in the production of an event.

In an effort to get each side to understand the other’s concerns, I offer the following comments:

To Matchroom — A $300,000 event doesn’t impress players if the entry fees account for 85 percent of the purse. Players are travelling from all over the globe, at great expense, because you have a pristine reputation and you’ve gone to great lengths to tout your takeover of the U.S. Open as game-changing. They are coming because it says “Matchroom.” These players are paying a $1,000 entry fee, at least that much to get to Las Vegas, $200 a night for lodging, $6 for a bottle of water and will be prisoners in the arena at Mandalay Bay because the field needs to be trimmed from 256 to 16 in three days. And obviously, going from 128 to 256 players with no increase in prize fund has an adverse effect on the prize distribution. So, don’t blame the players if they feel somewhat disrespected. Staging and production costs are astronomical? I get it. But the players did not demand that the event be at the price-gouging Mandalay Bay, yet they have been punished.

Beyond that, the World Cup of Pool ($250,000) and World Pool Masters ($100,000) are 100 percent added money (invitationals with no entry fee). The U.S. Open’s $44,000 in added money makes it the fourth largest added-money pro tournament of 2019 — the World 10-Ball Championship ($100k), the WPA Player Championships ($50k) and the International 9-Ball Open ($50K). This U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships qualifies as the lowest tier WPA points event. That’s not Matchroom. Matchroom sets the bar, it doesn’t limbo under it.

To the Players and Fans — If anyone in this industry deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the gift of a mulligan, it’s Matchroom. If they can be faulted at all in this matter it is in focusing so hard on taking the event itself to the next level. “We’re going to take this event and make it mainstream,” was Matchroom founder Barry Hearn’s message when he announced the company’s acquisition of the U.S. Open.

That doesn’t mean simply posting a huge prize fund. That means creating a must-see event that has people buzzing. I get that too and creating that perception costs money. Look no further than the Mosconi Cup, pool’s only true must-see event. Matchroom took an event that was already successful and ramped it up another level in 2018. That gamble didn’t come cheap, but it paid off. The result? The players will benefit next year with double the prize money. From the sound of it, staging and production plans for the U.S. Open are every bit as bold.

And that is what players and fans should understand and accept this year. Give Matchroom a prize fund pass in April and let them focus on making the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships the Mosconi Cup of open tournaments. The impact will be long-lasting and the reward to the players is certain to follow.

Matchroom Acquires U.S. Open

After several months of questions and speculation, the mystery surrounding the future of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has been unveiled. British event producer Matchroom Sport, promoters of the Mosconi Cup, World Pool Masters and World Cup of Pool, has taken over ownership of the world’s longest-running major pool tournament.

According to both Matchroom Sport president Barry Hearn and Brady Behrman, son of the late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, a deal was signed that gives Matchroom “complete ownership” of the 42-year-old 9-ball championship.

“There are probably only four or five major pool events out there,” said Hearn in a phone interview with BD. “They may not all even necessarily be profitable events, but they have history and profile. One of them is the U.S. Open. I think Matchroom has most, if not all, of the others. We like to have control of a brand, and our brand is 9-ball.

“We are going to take a historic event and make it mainstream,” Hearn added. “That is our charge.”

Hearn confirmed that the Matchroom-produced 43rd U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship would not take place until 2019, and that the event will shift to Las Vegas and boast an increased prize fund.

“We’re going to smash it up right from the start!” Hearn said.

“This relationship is not about ownership or money,” said Brady Behrman, who assumed control of the U.S. Open with sister Shannon Paschall following Barry Behrman’s death in 2015. “It’s about the event itself and growing pool. Knowing that our father went down this path, and knowing how he cared for the event, the fans, the players, the industry and that he wanted the event bigger and better, there is no doubt that Matchroom will carry on our father’s legacy.

“My dad once said before a finals match, ‘These players should be playing for $100,000, but I can’t do it alone.’ With Matchroom, we’ll see increased prize funds and international expansion of content syndication for the Open, which ultimately grows the event, the purse and the nostalgia of the U.S. Open.” Behrman said he contacted Matchroom in January to gauge their interest in taking over the event.

“Shannon and I are both very busy in our own businesses,” he said. “And we wanted to ensure that we take the steps necessary to elevate the event our father produced for 40 years in an effort to give the players, fans and sponsors something special, something monumental. We can’t make that happen. Matchroom’s vision aligns perfectly with our ideals.”

In fact, Barry Behrman had contacted Hearn nearly four years ago with a similar offer.

“Barry contacted me a few years ago about the Open,” Hearn recalled. “He was enthusiastic and loved being the front man for the event. He wanted someone else to assume the risk, but at the same time he wanted to maintain control. I considered it briefly because I’m a pool fan. But it would have been financial suicide.

“This time it was the right time and the right place,” he added. “The Barry Behrman legacy will live on. We’re going to rename the trophy the Barry Behrman Trophy.”

Questions about the future of the U.S. Open surfaced in February when Behrman informed the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, site of the U.S. Open for the past three years, that the 2018 event would not be held there. The Sheraton had been holding the week of Oct. 21-27 for the annual tournament. Accu-Stat’s founder Pat Fleming, who had taken over as the event producer for the past two years, said in February that talks with Behrman had gone nowhere and that his future as part of the event — as event and/or live stream producer — was unclear.

Based on that uncertainty, and with the Sheraton about to release the October dates, Fleming announced plans to produce his own international 9-ball event at the Sheraton in the U.S. Open’s stead. [See side story below.] Meanwhile, Hearn pointed to the U.S. Open’s potential as one of the factors in procuring the historically rich tournament.

“The value of the U.S. Open is its history,” the promoter said. “Our goal is to make the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship a global event.

“The sports business is all about perception” Hearn continued. “Perception to the broadcasters and audience and to the public about how big an event is. How big an event is and how it is perceived is all in your hands. When we do big boxing events, the perception is that if you don’t get a ticket on the first day, they’re gone. That snowball works. In darts, we sell 11,000 tickets in 10 minutes. We’ve built the perception that these are must-see events.

“In pool, you can show up whenever, or if, you feel like it. That’s a killer. The Mosconi Cup now shows what you can do in pool. You can create that demand and that perception. In pool in the U.S., there has never been that fear factor that you might miss out.” While increased prize funds and first class production are important, what Matchroom brings to the U.S. Open’s future is broadcast reach that the event has not yet enjoyed. Accu-Stats-produced broadcasting of the U.S. Open over the years has satisfied fans willing to pay to view the event, and rights deals did deliver packaged content to parts of Asia, but the addition of the U.S. Open to Matchroom’s vast portfolio of sporting events ensures a wider audience.

“The U.S. Open will be part of our Sky package,” said Hearn, whose Matchroom Multi Sport portfolio (of which pool is part) recently inked a new seven-year broadcast deal with the European sports cable network. “So, Day One, I know the U.S. Open will be broadcast live in 35 countries.”

And in the U.S.?

“I’m hopeful for the U.S. broadcast market,” he said, adding that the U.S. Open will be aired live in the U.S. in some form or fashion. “We’re almost there. What is changing the dynamic is the packaging of Matchroom as a company. We come in with 12 different sports and 2,000 hours of live coverage. There’s a movement in the digital marketplace. Whether it is ESPN Plus or Turner Broadcasting, there is a need for programming and heightened interest in niche sports.”

Neither side would discuss details of the U.S. Open’s sale, other than to say that the Behrmans were paid a nominal license fee, with potential to share in future profits.

“It’s important that people understand that we didn’t sell out,” Behrman reiterated. “We want to see the U.S. Open grow and go on forever. Reaching out to Matchroom was the best way to make that happen. They will do incredible justice for the event, and for pool in the U.S. and internationally.”

According to Hearn, as part of the deal, Behrman and Paschall will have input, but Matchroom will have the final say on event decisions.

“We will keep the family as part of the event,” Hearn said, “But we have the freedom of ownership to say, ‘This is the way forward.’”

Hearn added that particulars about the U.S. Open under his stewardship are still being worked out, but international qualifiers will be part of the equation.

“We will make the U.S. Open truly global,” he insisted. “I want players from around the world. More importantly, I want people around the world talking about the U.S. Open.

“We have an ego as well,” Hearn said. “We like to grow events. Can we ever get to a $1 million prize fund? One thing players know is that with Matchroom you get paid and you get top money.” As big as the U.S. Open is in America’s pool history, Hearn insists there is much work ahead.

“This is a big job to be done,” he said. The U.S. Open is 42 years old and it hasn’t grown. How do you fill an arena for the U.S. Open like we do for Mosconi? We need the event to be inspirational. We need to inspire. We have to have kids saving their money for their entry fee or to make the trip to Vegas to watch the U.S. Open.

“Do I expect the U.S. Open to be profitable from Day One?” Hearn wondered. “No. But I will spend the money to make sure the U.S. Open is produced properly on Day One. And I’m confident that over a three or four year period we will end up with a major event.”

Fleming Announces New Event in U.S. Open Time Slot

The Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va., will, indeed, host a major pool tournament in late October for the fourth consecutive year. But it will not be the 43rd Annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship. Accu-Stats founder and promoter Pat Fleming said he has signed a contact with the Sheraton to run his own international tournament on the dates previously held for the U.S. Open.

Fleming announced his intention to run an event called the U.S. International Open, Oct. 21-17, 2018, at the Sheraton. He did so without knowledge that U.S. Open owners Brady Behrman and Shannon Paschall, the son and daughter of late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, were in the midst of selling the U.S. Open to Matchroom Sport.

“The dates were saved with the Sheraton for Oct 21-27, 2018,” said Fleming. “The [World Pool-Billiard Association] blocked those dates on their calendar. We also made some commitments with hotel for risers and such.

“I had to make a decision on the hotel,” Fleming continued. “They loved our event.”

Fleming said he send the Behrmans an email stating his intention to move ahead with his own event.

“I have the support of Diamond Billiard Products and WPA sanctioning,” Fleming said.

Fleming said he plans to restrict the field to 128 players. The prize fund will pay 32 places, and the payout will be the same as the 2017 U.S. Open: $40,000 for first place and $2,250 for 24-32. As with the U.S. Open, the entry fee will be $1,000.

“We will still be paying a quarter of the field,” Fleming said. “And, we will grant free entry to the most recent 10 U.S. Open winners. Players who won prior to that will pay a $500 entry fee. We still want the past champions in the field.”

Partypoker set to sponsor Mosconi Cup XXIV

Matchroom Multi Sport is delighted to announce Partypoker as the title sponsors for the 24th annual Mosconi Cup at Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas from 4th to 7th December.

Partypoker.com is one of the oldest, most recognized and trusted online poker brands. Launched in August 2001, partypoker.com is one of the pioneers of the online poker industry.

The partypoker Mosconi Cup returns to Las Vegas this winter as Team USA look to finally wrestle the famous Cup back from the hands of the Europeans. Renowned coach Johan Ruijsink has taken over the reigns as captain for the hosts, who hope he can have them same impact on America as he did with Europe while Marcus Chamat’s men are out to continue to reign supreme on pool’s greatest stage.

Managing Director of partypoker Tom Waters said: “I am very pleased to announce this partnership with Matchroom Sport that sees partypoker sponsor the Mosconi Cup this December. Partypoker players will have the opportunity to win a trip of a lifetime to Las Vegas. More details will be available soon on partypoker.com!”

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn said: “We are delighted partypoker will once again be title sponsors of the Mosconi Cup. They have a long-standing relationship with both Matchroom Sport and the tournament, which is undoubtedly the greatest show in pool.

“This is one of the most eagerly anticipated partypoker Mosconi Cups for years. There is a strong feeling USA can turn the tide in Las Vegas and reclaim the famous trophy from European hands. The stage is set for a thrilling week and we are delighted partypoker are on board once again.”

Partypoker Mosconi Cup XXIV takes place from Monday, December 4th until Thursday, December 7th and will be broadcast live throughout on Sky Sports in the UK. The tournament will have a wide international TV reach, with details of global broadcast partners to be announced in due course.

Tickets for partypoker Mosconi Cup XXIV are available now at www.mosconicup.com. Tickets start from $48 per session with season tickets comprising all four sessions from £161. Premium and VIP packages are also available.

Ruijsink to Coach U.S.

Ruijsink will switch jerseys for the Mosconi Cup.

In a move that was met with mixed reviews, Mosconi Cup promoter Matchroom Sport announced Holland’s Johan Ruijsink as 2017 captain for Team USA. The 50-year-old Ruijsink is well known in Mosconi Cup annals as the undefeated captain for Team Europe, having led the squad seven times between 2006 and 2014. Ruijsink voluntarily stepped down as Team Europe after the 2014 event, in part citing the lack of a challenge in leading the European team.

Ruijsink replaces Mark Wilson, who helmed the U.S. squad for three years, coming closest to victory in 2015, when the U.S. lost, 11-7.

With Team USA posting just one win in the last 11 Mosconi Cups, Matchroom said it was seeking a game-changer to “revive America’s flagging fortunes,” even if it meant appointing a European coach.

The announcement caught many American players and fans by surprise. Numerous posts on social media decried the decision as “an insult to the Americans,” while others applauded the selection as America’s “best chance” to become competitive again.

“The reason to take on this job is quite obvious,” Ruijsink commented in the Matchroom release. “I am an authentic lover of the game and especially of the Mosconi Cup. In 25 years of coaching, the Mosconi Cup has proven to be by far the most exciting event in the world of pool.

“As a coach in pool, there is no higher goal then working in the ‘home of pool,’ the U.S.A. My entire coaching career has been founded on seeing the American players compete at the World Championships in Bergheim, Germany, in 1990. There I saw Earl, Varner, Davenport, Mizerak, Mataya, Lebron and a young Johnny Archer, and they made me love the game even more.”

Ruijsink is credited with coaching Holland into a pool powerhouse, mentoring stars like Alex Lely, Niels Feijen and Rico Diks in the ’90s and early 2000s. In recent years, he has been coaching in Russia, developing a talented crop of players, including recent World Pool Series champion Ruslan Chinahov.

“I was shocked at first,” said American Justin Bergman, who has played on the last three U.S. squads. “But I don’t think it’s a horrible idea from a player’s view, since he probably has good ideas and he’s a knowledgeable coach. I think we should all support him.”

“I think it’s good, since he was so huge for Europe’s team,” echoed Skyler Woodward, Team USA’s best player over the past two Mosconi Cups.

According to Matchroom, Ruijsink will get to hand pick his five-player team, so long as each player is ranked in the top 10 in Mosconi Cup points in 2017. Additionally, Ruijsink plans to travel to the U.S. several times during the year to meet with and observe potential team members.

Ruijsink’s first decision was selecting Archer as his vice-captian.


After making “some of the roughest telephone calls I’ve ever had to make,” Team USA captain Mark Wilson announced his five-man team for the 21st Mosconi Cup, scheduled for Dec. 1-4, in Blackpool, England. The squad features a mixture of veteran players and youth.

Not surprisingly, newly minted U.S. Open 9-Ball champion Shane Van Boening will lead the U.S. squad, which has dropped four Mosconi Cups in a row (and six of seven) to Team Europe. The 31-year-old Van Boening will play in his eighth Cup, and will be joined by Cup veterans Corey Deuel, also making his eighth appearance, and John Schmidt, who played in 2006 in Rotterdam. Making their Mosconi Cup debuts will be 27-year-old Justin Bergman of Fairview Heights, Ill., and 26-year-old Justin Hall of Palm Harbor, Fla.

The “tough calls” Wilson made were to Brandon Shuff, Oscar Dominguez and Jeremy Sossei, who have been offered coaching positions in Blackpool. Dominguez and Shuff have each participated in one Mosconi Cup, with Dominguez being a member of the last U.S. team to win the title, in 2009.

“This represents a new era for Team USA,” said Wilson, who was named captain by Matchroom Sport in January, just a month after Team USA was humiliated by Team Europe, 12-2, in Las Vegas. “And I’m counting on these players to be leaders. “The final decisions were difficult,” Wilson added. “Every player put a lot of time and effort into their game over the past nine months. And they all represented the sport and the U.S. well during that time. There were a few close calls, but I’m confident in these picks. It was a pretty thorough process.”

According to Wilson, the three players left off the final squad were asked to travel with the team to England, expense-paid, to assist during the event. “This won’t be a holiday,” Wilson added. “Each player will be assigned special duties, setting up little refresher drills for the team before each round.” Wilson said the duties include an Offensive Coordinator, a Defensive Coordinator (to work on safeties and kick shots) and Specialty Shots Coordinator (for breaking and elevated cue shots).
“I will have drills for the players to work on,” said Wilson, “and the coaches will help the players run through the drills.”

According to Wilson, the team will meet in St. Louis, Nov. 20-21, for intensive practice sessions at Lindenwood University, where Wilson coaches the billiards program. The team will participate in Mosconi Cup-style match play at Starship Billiards in Decatur, Ill., the following two days. After several more days of practice in St. Louis, the team will share a Thanksgiving dinner, before leaving for Blackpool on Friday, Nov. 28. “I feel great about Team USA,” Wilson said. “I’m ready to go to war with these guys.”

BCA Hall of Fame Banquet Ticket Deadline

Chicago — The ticket deadline for the 2013 Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame Banquet, which will honor women’s champion Jeanette Lee and Matchroom Sport president Barry Hearn, is rapidly approaching! The United States Billiard Media Association, which produces the annual banquet with the BCA, announced that the deadline to purchase tickets is Tuesday, Nov. 26. Tickets WILL NOT be sold at the door.

This year’s Hall of Fame Banquet, staged during the 2013 Mosconi Cup, will be held at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Monday, Dec. 2 at 6:30. Action on the first day of the Mosconi Cup will be completed by 4:00 pm, ensuring that all the players from Team USA and Team Europe will be in attendance as Hearn, creator of the wildly popular USA v Europe team 9-ball tournament, is inducted into pool’s most exclusive club.

The evening will begin with the Bass Pro Shops Cocktail Reception at 6:30 pm. Bass Pro Shops is a major sponsor of Ms. Lee.

Tickets for the 2013 BCA Hall of Fame Banquet are $95 per person, and can be purchased at www.USBMA.com, or by calling 312-341-1110 ext 229.

The 2013 Hall of Fame Banquet is sponsored by: Bass Pro Shops; American Poolplayers Association; Aramith, Billiard Congress of America, Championship, CueSports International; Diamond Billiard Products; Imperial Int’l; PartyPoker.com; Predator Products; Simonis; Tour Edition Cloth; and Tweeten Fibre.