Is Darren Appleton’s World Pool Series going to be the future of pool?
– Photo by J.P. Parmentier
The Mosconi Cup is the showpiece of pool at the moment. A 4-day battle between Europe’s and USA’s five best players to win the $100.000 first prize, found its way to international television networks. Last year’s event was the biggest in Mosconi Cup history. The world famous Ally Pally in London was packed with 2500 pool fans, screaming their team to victory. Many people think that this is going to be the tournament to cause a worldwide resurrection of pool. But, it’s not the only tournament that’s getting a lot of attention. There’s also the World Pool Masters, which was broadcasted by Skysports last February. The Challenge of Champions, a $25.000 winner-takes-all showdown, was televised on ESPN last December. Now, the World Pool Series (WPS) has established a partnership with social media giant Unilad. Is this going to be the boost the sport so desperately needs?
The World Pool Series is a new professional 8-ball tour founded by Darren Appleton, one of the most successful players of the past 10 years, and his partner, Manny Stamatakis. The tour consists of four main events played in Steinway Billiards in New York City, home to one of the greatest pool players of all time, Earl Strickland. Players can obtain a spot by getting an invitation based on the BCA and WPA rankings, or by winning one of the qualifiers that are held all over the world. The WPS also keeps a ranking. Ranking points from earlier events carry over to later events and determine the entrants, seedings, and who qualifies for the following year’s tour.
At first, the choice to play 8-ball was a little surprising. It’s not the most popular game among professionals, but it is among amateurs, which is exactly the reason why they decided to organize an 8-ball tour. Darren Appleton explains they chose to play 8-ball, because
“8-ball is the most recognizable game, the most global game. It’s bigger than snooker. It’s what the amateurs play. Everyone all over the world plays 8-ball. But they don’t have a tour to look up to, to follow. We want to tap into that and be that brand. They are going to be able to learn more, watch the best players. Maybe some of them can even qualify for the tour.”
The second WPS event last weekend was a great success. It made me wonder if this tour is going to give pool the boost it needs. The entire tour can be followed for free through live streaming on internet. The second event made a kickstart because of it and the recent partnership with Unilad has played a big role. Ted Lerner, the WPS media officer, released an article on day one stating that 750.000 people had tuned in for the match between Damianos Giallourakis and Ruslan Chinakhov through the stream broadcasted by Unilad on their Facebook page. It might have been a smart move to establish a partnership with such a social media giant. Videos from Unilad often spread like wildfire.
The number of WPS views are incredible. There’s no doubt about that. The reach on Facebook through this partnership is huge, but what does it mean? Many people have seen it, but are they enthusiastic about it? The controversial media maven Kevin Trudeau, who organized the International Pool Tour (IPT) back in 2006, had a similar vision to make pool popular through international media coverage, but we all know how that ended. It’s not only about reaching more people to make pool more popular. People need to be provided with something exciting, something of which they can feel the pressure while watching and that’s just what the WPS has done. That’s the part where they stand out and distinguish themselves from other events.
The tour has some promising elements. The organization has created a format that results in more excitement for fans and more pressure for the players. The main event’s full field consists of 96 players who will play a race to 9, double elimination through the round of 32. When it goes to a hill-hill situation, a shootout similar to the one in football will be deciding the match. The shootout consists of 5 spot shots from 5 different positions. When this goes to a hill-hill situation as well, there will be a sudden death final spot shot. As if that’s not enough pressure, all shootouts take place in the TV arena. Imagine a shoot out during the Mosconi Cup when 2500 people are watching and screaming! Good luck with pocketing those spot shots.
Once the tournament reaches the final 16, all matches become single elimination, which is a common element in pool tournaments. The format from there on however, is exciting. The last 16 players will be playing a best of 3 sets, similar to tennis matches. Each set is a race to 6 and you have to win the set by 2 games. If a set is tied at 6-6, a sudden death rack will be played where the players have to lag for the break. If set 3 is tied at 6-6, the famous and thrilling shootout in the TV arena will decide the match.
Next to that, the WPS says they’re a player-centric tour based on organic growth. If the WPS continually devotes its profits to improving its quality and offers an increasing value to its players, exciting things might happen.
Might this be the formula pool needs? A slice of WPS with a tennis paste and a football topping? It’s a format with which people are already familiar and that might be an advantage in spreading the pool virus. The WPS probably cannot revive the sport on its own, but it might be part of the ones who create a new era for pool. To the 18-year-old Klenti Kaci the tour has meant an international breakthrough. He won the second main event and thereby amazed the whole world of pool.