Pool Under Isolation

As we sit around at a hypothetical AZBilliards Central and ponder how, in the absence of industry activity, especially tournaments, we should proceed, it’s easy to be reminded of Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Rick famously talked about the significance of his specific problems at the time by saying to one of them, Ilsa, “that I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”
It’s obvious in what follows - interviews with a small handful of individuals, a fraction of the number of people associated with the sport of pool who are being affected – that we’re speaking to the pool world equivalent of Rick’s “three little people.” These select few may not “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy (corona virus) world,” but they reflect thoughts and actions that are likely common to the relatively small world of people who love and participate in the sport of pool.
“Vegas was a ghost town,” said Janene Phillips, tour director of Florida’s Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, who, along with co-director Bobby Garza, had travelled to Las Vegas to participate in the BCAPL World Championships and the Cue Sports International Expo, only to find themselves returning home early, when CSI cancelled the events’ final four days, ending it on Tuesday (March 17). She was speaking just outside her boarding gate at McCarran International Airport.
“They shut down the casinos and restaurants,” Phillips went on to say. “It was unreal. It only took us 20 minutes to get to our gate here at the airport and most of that time was walking to the gate.”
Phillips was sympathetic with the powers-that-be that opted to continue with plans to hold the event at all. 
“You couldn’t have predicted something like this,” she said, “and it would have meant that everybody would have been out thousands of dollars in plane flights.”
“The (venues) did the best with what they had to work with,” she added. “The hotels were sanitizing everything and there were hand-sanitizer stations everywhere.”
As she prepared to board her flight, headed home, she was also reflecting on what lay ahead for her. Tour directing the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour is her job, and there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what lies ahead, and not only just for her.
“This is impacting the whole world,” she said. “It’s going to mean a changed schedule for the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour. We’re still scheduled for a stop in April (25th), and as long as they’re (Brewlands in Tampa) back up and running, we’re still having it.”
The likelihood of that shifted dramatically in a matter of days and while we haven’t communicated with Brewlands directly, it’s probably a safe bet that the April 25 event will be cancelled.
[photo id=51646|align=right]“We’ve cancelled all Tri-State Tour stops through the end of March,” said tour representative Todd Fleitman, “and we’ll be letting people know as we hear of further developments. I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t go much further than that.”
“And there are lot of things that will probably have to be delayed,” he added, “like our June (end of 2019-2020 season) Invitational.”
Fleitman also noted that going forward, this crisis is likely to affect the industry overall, to include tour sponsors and companies that offer merchandise and prizes. It is also likely to impact Fleitman’s ability to earn money as an instructor.
“All lessons have ceased,” he noted. “People are just not playing.”
As a tournament director, he’s hearing from players from all sides of the political spectrum, regarding the virus and its impact on the community, including conspiracy theorists, and those, like Fleitman himself, who believe that it would be difficult for anyone in a position of authority to do well under these circumstances.
“I’ve spoken to some pool players who are stockpiling food for two months,” he said.
“We’re hanging in there,” said Monica Savedra, one of a group of people who tour-direct the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) 9-Ball Tour. “We had a tour stop scheduled in late March (28-29) in Frisco, TX that they closed on us and we found out by a Facebook post.
“We’re just going to have to regroup and rethink,” she added. “We had a ladies-only event, scheduled for April 11, that we’re probably going to have to cancel, as well. We’re just going to have to rethink the schedule. Dallas has announced shutdowns and the Dallas City Council has been meeting to extend the closure plan. 
Savedra has been fielding phone calls, text and Facebook messages – about two dozen a day – requesting information and in some cases, refunds of money already submitted for tour stop payments. Those calls and texts are likely to continue.
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Stephanie Mitchell’s Corner Pocket room in Largo, FL was still open last week, although she fully expected that a total shutdown was going to be mandated soon. A lot of her regular business emanates from pool league activity and a lot of that has already been shut down; cancelled, as of March 16. She’s making an effort to keep her employees working and is considering room renovations to do that.
“Just trying to keep us all afloat,” she said, “and figure that the place will be better when I do re-open.”
Mitchell is, of course, not alone in deriving a majority of her business from pool league activity and the American Poolplayers Association (APA) leagues are the largest. According to Jason Bowman, APA’s Marketing Manager, decisions about cancelling league activities are made at the local level. 
“Leagues are shut down across the board,” he said, “but the leagues themselves are franchise operations, so while we can advise, we can’t make the decision. They’re following the directives of local, state and federal officials.”
The APA issued a press release on Monday, March 16 (published on our site that day), announcing the postponement of its annual Poolplayer Championships, which were scheduled for April 29-May 3 at the Westgate Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. President Greg Fletcher indicated that he’s in communication with the Westgate and that information about a future date would be passed on to members as soon as that information is available.
In the meantime, said Bowman, the organization is reaching out to its franchises and alerting them to the plight of the venues in which the league’s teams operate. There is a financial and personal side to the equation. The bars and pool rooms will be in search of ways to keep their business operating, including, as an example, developing means of offering pick-up and delivery of food at establishments where such a thing is possible.
“We’re encouraging league operators to help rooms by curating that information,” said Bowman.
In addition, he noted, there is a social component to the weekly league nights and there is some concern about the members who will lose that interaction; for some, a more serious loss than others.
“A lot of people play in the APA,” Bowman noted, “and social distancing can mean social isolation. We’re encouraging people to reach out to each other, maybe not in the pool hall, but to stay in touch, while we try to provide some of that through social media.
“We’re trying to encourage league operators to be leaders in their community,” he added. 
[photo id=51648|align=right]Among others in the industry being keenly affected by this global issue are the professional players, like Thorsten Hohmann, who, when we reached him, was staying with friends in the Houston area, “until they throw me out on the street,” he said. The friend has a table in his home, so Thorsten will be able to practice, but the interruption of events has a long-range impact on his day-to-day livelihood. Like others at his level of professionalism in the field, making their money entails scheduling for world-wide events, well ahead of time to assure flights and accommodations.
“So many cancellations,” he said. “Flights, entry fees, hotels.”
“Some flights are easy to cancel and you can get an immediate refund,” he added, “but it’s really on a case by case basis. It’s just the way it is.”
Hohmann will spend part of his time, working on his new pool App, called CueLab (more on this in Mike Howerton’s interview with Hohmann, which can be found here.). The future, however, is a little cloudy.
“Everything has been cancelled,” he said, “so it doesn’t make sense to talk about the future events.”
“But other people are more affected,” he added. “It’s going to cost me actual money and moving forward, the ability to make more, but I just hope everybody stays safe. I have a Mom in Germany and I just hope everybody follows the rules and stays home.” 
They were personal and professional calls that we made to these people, prompted by a desire for comment, but more importantly, by relationships that had been established with these industry professionals, over many years. We wanted to know what was going on in their lives in regards to the corona virus, but we also just wanted to check in with these friends of long standing. Obviously, there are a lot of people we were unable to or just did not reach, all functioning under the same set of circumstances and likely experiencing the same set of concerns, differentiated by their particular industry perspective. 
Of the many things all of those interviewed and the multitude of US citizens not interviewed here have in common is an inability to predict the immediate future. Asked what the future holds for their individual personal and professional lives, they (we), at this stage, are forced to answer, “I don’t know.” It highlights something that all of us can agree upon, regardless of recently-apparent differences when it comes to the politics of the situation.
We are all in this together.
Stay safe and in touch.