WPBA prepares for historic ESPN live broadcast, featuring Fisher vs. Kim, and Corr vs. Webb


You'd be hard pressed to find a better lineup for the first live ESPN3 broadcast of the semifinals and finals of the 20-year-old Women's Pro Billiard Tour. This one, the WPBA Masters Tournament, got underway on Wednesday, February 6, and will conclude with today's (Sunday, February 10) live broadcast. At 1 p.m., Allison Fisher, seeded #1 coming into the tournament, will take on Ga Young Kim (#3). Though the second match, featuring Karen Corr (#6) and Monica Webb (#5) is scheduled for 3 p.m., the broadcast will remain live from the start. There will be a 15-20 minute break between the two semifinal matches and the finals (scheduled for 5 p.m.), but they will play consecutively. 

The WPBA Masters drew 48 qualified entrants to the Soaring Eagle Resort & Casino in Mount Pleasant, MI. Corr and Fisher advanced through the field undefeated to reach tomorrow's semifinal.  Fisher's final victory before re-seeding for the event semifinals was over Webb 9-4. Corr's was a double hill win over Kim. It was Corr's second straight double hill victory, having sent Jeannette Lee west, just prior. The final six players in the field were seeded #1 through #6,  with Webb (#5) downing Lee (#3) and Kim (#2) eliminating Jasmin Ouschan (#4), both 9-6, in the final loss-side matchups, before re-seeding.

It's a major step for the WPBA, this live broadcast of an event, and they are unabashedly excited about it. They have now permanently switched from pre-recorded broadcasts of events, usually shown about a month after the fact on ESPN2 (available on cable and satellite), to live broadcasts on ESPN3 (available on-line). Everything about the broadcast, now and at future WPBA events, says WPBA President Tamre Rogers, will remain the same.

"We want to bring the best show possible to ESPN3," she said. "The quality of the broadcast will not be compromised in any shape or form."

"We're looking to set the standard for billiards on ESPN3," she added, noting that like the pre-recorded broadcasts, the live broadcast will have a full, 17-man satellite production crew, working out of a fully-equipped broadcast truck. 
Mitch Laurance will be the play-by-play announcer, and will be joined by Jeanette Lee (which, of course, almost didn't happen, because Lee was almost a competitor). Mitch's normal broadcast partner - wife, Ewa - had a previous commitment. According to Rogers, other players, like Dawn Hopkins, may join Laurance in the booth, as well.
There are, Rogers noted, considerable advantages to the event's on-line presence. Being live is just part of it.

"ESPN made the recommendation to us (that we) move the show over to ESPN3," she said, "and we really are very excited about it. It gives us a whole new marketplace.

"We'll be gaining viewership that we may not have had before," she added.

In addition, the format of all three final matches will create the potential for a single, sudden death game. Both semifinal matches and the final will be a two-set race to 4. If either player wins both sets, the match will be over. If they tie, the opponents will square off in a single game to decide the winner, which, in the case of the final, will be for the championship.

"It's going to bring a whole new level of excitement to the excitement that already exists (with our tour events)," said Rogers, "and it's going to be exciting to that many more people, too."