Is Billiards a Dying Sport?


Chances are you’ve seen a pool hall in your town that has closed down. Or perhaps you’ve been online to one of the many billiards forums and seen threads about the death of billiards. Maybe you met an old-timer who spent several minutes lamenting the death of pool. Much of the evidence seems to suggest that billiards is falling out of favor. But is that really true? Is billiards a dying sport?

Despite outward appearances, billiards is definitely not a dying sport. It’s becoming less popular and accessible in some parts of the world, while in others it’s growing in popularity. To claim that billiards is dying is to take a limited view of the sport. Billiards is alive and well. And will be for some time.

Why Do People Claim Billiards is Dying?

It’s true that billiards seems to be falling in popularity— particularly in Western culture. But just because it’s not as popular as it once was does not mean it’s dying. And if you look at the numbers, you could even make an argument that it’s not really losing popularity at all. 

Still, people insist that billiards is dying. They have a list of grievances that include the following:

  • An increase in other forms of entertainment like video games, social media, and streaming services.
  • A stigma surrounding pool, suggesting pool halls are seedy places where crimes are organized, alcohol is consumed to excess, and normal pool enthusiasts are nowhere to be found. 
  • A lack of available billiard halls with suitable equipment and tables. 
  • The growing expense of renting a table at billiard halls. 
  • The impatience and need for instant gratification of the younger generations. 

While there may be little kernels of truth to these claims, they gloss over the fact that a lot of people still play billiards regularly. So, let’s take a look at the numbers to get to the bottom of this. 

The Popularity of Billiards Today

Here are some numbers which will give us an idea of billiards’ popularity today. 

  • The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) has an estimated 60,000 plus members. 
  • The American Poolplayers Association (APA) boasts over 250,000 members across the US, Canada, and Japan. Their yearly championship in Las Vegas regularly has $2 million in prize money.
  • The National Sporting Goods Association’s 2013 survey listed a total of 21.8 million billiards participants in the US alone. Play ranged from infrequent to frequent among participants of the survey. Most participants played occasionally or frequently.
  • According to one estimate, there are 60 million fans of Chinese pool and the number is only growing due to increasing popularity in the country with the world’s largest population.  

As you can see, millions of people around the world still play billiards. It may not be as prevalent as it once was, but it is far from extinct. 

Billiards vs Other Forms of Entertainment

The popularity of video games, social media, and streaming services have all no doubt contributed to the decreased popularity of pool. But, it’s not as bad as most people think. The fact is that billiard games are a form of social interaction. Video games and social media are also a form of social interaction, but it’s not the same as face-to-face meetings and interactions with family. I think this is one of the reasons why pool won’t be fading away any time soon. 

Is There a Stigma Around Pool Halls?

There was definitely a stigma around pool or billiard halls during the early and mid 20th century. Men would gather in these places to drink, fight, and gamble. But anyone who has ever been to more than one actual pool hall in the last 20 years (instead of a bar with pool tables) knows that this is far from the truth. 

I’m not sure why people still think there’s a stigma surrounding pool halls. If there is, it’s no more than the stigma surrounding bars. Most pool halls are legitimate places of business where people go to play pool and socialize. In all my hours in pool halls, I’ve never seen anything that would make me feel unsafe to return there. 

The world has changed, and so have people, since this stigma first arose. I don’t think this is a legitimate reason for any decline in pool’s popularity in the 21st century.

Is There a Lack of Billiard Halls?

There does seem to be a lack of billiard halls in the US. It’s getting more expensive for businesses to maintain pool halls and equipment, especially if they don’t sell alcohol or food. But, there are countless bars that have pool tables across the country. And there are thousands of new and used pool tables sold every year. 

Is It Getting More Expensive to Play Pool?

The cost to play pool in a hall seems to be rising with the increased cost of everything else. There’s no doubt that renting a table for a few hours today is more expensive than it was 20 years ago. But, then again, so is everything else.

 This could mean that people will stop going to pool halls and bars eventually, but I doubt it. The market has a way of striking a balance. Many people may be purchasing pool tables or heading to a friend’s house to play. But it will be a long time before pool halls are gone altogether. And even if they do die out, pool will live on in game rooms, mancaves, basements, and dive bars. 

Are Younger Generations Less Interested in Pool?

Since the only viable option for most pool halls is to make a profit selling alcohol, it’s no surprise that young people aren’t getting into pool easily: they’re not allowed in the bar. Most of the surviving pool halls are 21 and up. So kids are left learning it on private pool tables, often without the socialization that makes playing pool in public attractive.

This may be limiting the number of new players coming to the game naturally. But don’t forget that those kids have mothers and fathers who love the game of billiards and pass it along.

Sure, kids play billiards on their phones sometimes, but even they know it’s not the same as having a cue in their hand. And it’s increasingly easy to delve into the world of pool through YouTube, internet forums, Facebook groups, and other websites. In all, it’s not surprising that young kids aren’t playing pool. But, then again, they’re not playing golf either. And who says that golf is dying? 

Why Billiards Will Be Around for A Long Time

I’ve outlined why I think billiards is alive and well. Although it’s hard to pin down exact numbers for people who play billiards all around the world, I think it’s safe to say that billiards will be around for a while. But the main reason why is relatively simple. And so many people don’t seem to take it into account. Here it is:

Billiards is an extremely accessible sport. You don’t have to be particularly fit. You don’t have to run or jump or spend hours in the gym conditioning your body. You don’t have to have a big field and a bunch of equipment to play. And you don’t have to have a big team of people to make it work. When compared to other organized sports activities that promote socialization that humans so crave, pool has a low barrier for entry.

Plus, people that are passionate about pool tend to stay passionate about it. As long as pool has a relatively low barrier for entry and remains a good way for people of all ages to socialize, it will remain alive and well.

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