Turn on your favorite sports channel late at night. There's a good chance
you'll catch a pool tournament. It's one of the fastest-growing spectator
sports in North America.
Professional pool players are beginning to enjoy some of the benefits of
a big-time sport. These include televised tournaments, big payoffs and product
Pool players may compete for prize money. Even the amateurs can play weekend
games for prizes of $30 to $40. Some players earn additional income by endorsing
pool tables, cues and other accessories.
According to Mike Sprinkle, the president of the United States Poolplayers
Association, money is a somewhat sketchy subject in the pool playing business.
"Guys that do make the money normally don't make it in a tournament area.
They make it in the backroom -- in the gambling end of it," he explains.
However, there is more money in the industry than most people think, says
Sprinkle. Media coverage is sparse, though prizes are quite significant. "A
guy just scored $56,000 in a match....It happens quite often, you just don't
hear about it. I send electronic news things to 26 newspapers here in Florida,
21 television stations, 11 radio stations -- and nothing's ever picked up
in the news," he says.
Gone are the days of the dimly lit pool hall with smoky air, a player piano
and stains on the carpet. Modern pool halls are bright and upbeat with top-40
tunes and rows of new tables.
Bill Cooper is a director of a billiards and snooker association. "Small
pool halls are dying out and big places are taking over," he says. "There
are more and more big places opening. The new modern way is to put in 30 to
50 tables in a wide open [space] with loud music and giveaways and DJs."
For Cooper, the lack of old-style halls is a travesty. "I don't like noise
myself, and I prefer the intimate atmosphere of a smaller club. The bigger
the club, the more uncomfortable I feel."
Competitive players must be prepared to dress for success. Most major tournaments
have strict dress codes.