Incoming President Brings New Attitude to WPBA

Linda Chen

Last month at the Cuetec Cues WPBA National 9-Ball Championship in Lincoln, Oregon a historical moment quietly took place in US women's professional billiards. While the pool & billiard community and press focused on the controversy that is the IPT, the WPBA elected its first non-player Board President. While not entirely new to the WPBA, Linda Chen served this past year as Vice President, her role and influence will now expand. Chen is now positioned to wield her expertise in a manner to lead the WPBA to a new level. She brings with her a new skill set and attitude.

Being the first non-player in this position, Chen has little if any name recognition in the pool & billiard community. She is an outsider to pro-billiards but one with a broader level of professional sports marketing experience on the international stage than has ever been seen before on the board.

Talking with Chen, it becomes apparent her entire professional life has been built on being a female athlete and promoting women's sports. She attended the University of Texas in Austin on a golf scholarship where she earned her BS in Kinesiology then played the Asian Tour and Futures Tour, both developmental tours to the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association). She was so adept at securing sponsorship for herself that it was noticed by other players, who asked for her assistance on their own behalf. It was at that turning point when Chen moved from player to businesswoman. She was recruited to work for the Walt Disney Company in a division called Disney Sports Attraction, which oversees its 240 acre sports complex and over 180 events from PGA Tour to WDW Marathon. It was during her 5-year tenure at Disney that Chen honed her sports marketing skills and relationships.

In 2005, Chen was pursued to act as the Tournament Director of the Inaugural Ginn Open; the third largest purse for 2006 on the LPGA Tour. With a total $2.5 Million payout, the event held at the Reunion Resort & Club in Reunion, Florida showcased 49 of the top 50 women on the LPGA 2005 Money Winner List. The event also boasted over 51,000 in attendance, national television on both the CBS and The Golf Channel, and donated over $168,000 to charity.

What attracted Chen to the WPBA? She responded that in the last ten years she has focused on her own career and wanted an opportunity to give back in a whole new way. “Over the last ten years, I have been fortunate with opportunities and building meaningful relationships. I now have an additional desire to share my knowledge and relationships to help associations grow.” When she attended her first WPBA event she observed the tremendous talent and personality that existed with the players. “The Players are the best assets of the tour”, Chen said. Yet she also felt the entertainment value was not being showcased adequately.

Once Chen officially became involved with the WPBA as Vice President, she quickly saw the need to reorganize management as well as prioritize and define a “clear path”. She said the board spent most of 2006 deciphering what worked and what didn't within the organization and adding a stronger sense of accountability. Chen and the board worked towards streamlining processes and reviewed contractor and vendor contracts – keeping those that worked and ending those that did not. Chen says that the current board, “are all like-minded” and “not concerned about what was done before”, but is working solely for the best interest of the sport and organization. Going forward, the WPBA will be structurally divided into two divisions; Sales & Marketing and Operations. One primary change taking place will be in the area of production and marketing. Moving into 2007, the WPBA is concluding arrangements with Winnercomm, Inc. to handle all television production, media and marketing. Winnercomm, Inc. is a 24 year privately owned company with over 1000 annual hours of television programming and an extensive client list.

In regard to the current qualifying system, Chen feels consistent guidelines are needed and eventually implemented; however these projects take time. The WPBA currently has 11 regional qualifying tours (RT's) in the US and Canada who operates independently with little direct guidance or input from the WPBA. Each RT can vary widely. Some RT's are very large with thousands of dollars in added money, and others have less player participation with less added money. Yet the reward is the same, a coveted spot at a WPBA Classic Tour Stop and the possibility of becoming a Touring Professional. Chen feels once the WPBA Tour improves and more sponsorship and commercial money is available, the qualifying system may need to be addressed and revamped.

Chen is a long range planner - that was the underlying current of our conversation. When asked how she envisioned the WPBA 5-6 years down the road, Chen said she saw larger venues with 500-1000 seating capacity all sold-out, double the current television ratings share up to a 1.0, and a goal of $250,000 prize fund per event. It is this vision she is working towards. However, she knows that the board has many smaller peaks to scale, which will lead to the ultimate summit.

Currently, each Classic event seats 300 people on average and often half of those seats are empty before the final matches. Chen expressed her dismay in the spectator turnout. While she and fellow Disney alum and At-Large WPBA Board member Robert Machado have a long list of deep-pocketed corporate contacts, ?Chen feels she and the board needs to work to elevate the WPBA as a ?product to the level where these contacts will consider co-marketing with women's professional pool. That is Chen's goal and the challenge she and the board face now that the WPBA has moved into a new phase - to bring the WPBA to that level and beyond.

Make sure to join us on January 2nd at 8PM ET for our online chat with Linda Chen.