- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
To traffic in understatement, pool has always struggled to capitalize on its popularity. In the U.S. the game is played with some regularity by 50 million people, making it a bigger participatory sport than golf. Until lately, however, a top pro was lucky to make $50,000 a year in prize money. For perspective, the No. 100 player on the 2006 PGA Tour money list has already banked more than $700,000.
Some of pool's problems are inherent. The sport has never translated well to television, and broadcast-rights fees are the lifeblood of contemporary sports. Plus, pool's shadowy characters, rampant gambling and smoke-filled ambience can make it a tough sell with sponsors.
Given that history, the pool world nearly choked on its chalk last year when the International Pool Tour (IPT) started and began throwing around cash as if it were confetti. Suddenly, unfathomable amounts of money were being paid to players who heretofore struggled to stay out of debt. This week's IPT World Open 8-Ball Championship, which concludes on Sept. 10 at the Grand Sierra resort in Reno, has a purse of $3 million. The winner will take home $500,000. A first-round loser will still make $5,000. Says Greg (Spanky) Hogue of Tulsa, "For a lot of us it means we can do what we love for a living."
Getting on the IPT has become the holy grail of the pool world. Hustlers who traveled incognito for years have come out of the woodwork. Two weeks ago Gary Abood, a longtime road player, flew from his base in New Hampshire to London to play in a qualifier in hopes of getting to Reno. "It's a good investment," he says. "I didn't play near my best [at last month's IPT tournament] in Las Vegas, and I won $10,000."
Pool being pool, there are still questionable aspects to all this. The IPT was founded and is run by Kevin Trudeau, the controversial author of the best-selling Natural Cures books. In addition to having served a two-year prison term for felony larceny, Trudeau, 43, has often been in the crosshairs of the Federal Trade Commission and various consumer protection groups for allegedly making false claims. He has been banned from making infomercials. Some skeptics fear that Trudeau is simply using the pool tour as a platform to sell more of his books and products.
Trudeau says nothing could be further from the truth. Having worked at a pool hall as a kid in his hometown of Peabody, Mass., he had a longstanding passion for the sport, which, he says, was deepened when he befriended Hall of Famer Mike (the Mouth) Sigel. Trudeau saw an underfunded, undermarketed sport and started the IPT because, he says, "I saw a huge void in the marketplace."
As for his checkered past, Trudeau wavers between carefully worded defenses and mild contrition. He settled his dispute with the FTC without admitting guilt, though he paid a penalty of $2 million. "Some people will look for anything negative," he says. "It's like, as a boxer why would you go with Don King--he's a convicted murderer? The reason is that he's probably the best promoter in the business. The past is the past."
Evidence of Trudeau's expert marketing is abundant on the tour. The IPT fields of between 150 and 200 players include both men and women, ranging in age from 13-year-old prodigy Austin Murphy to sixtysomething legends. The tour is truly international-- Germany's Thorsten (Hit Man) Hohmann beat Marlon Manolo of the Philippines to win in Las Vegas--attracting deals with non-U.S. networks such as Eurosport. (In the U.S., IPT events have been broadcast, ironically enough, by the Outdoor Life Network.)
If the players have, thus far, been pleasantly surprised by Trudeau, the feeling is mutual. One key, he says, is "paying these guys like the world-class athletes they are." Put another way, big money has done a lot to remedy a struggling pro sport. A natural cure, you might call it.