From The Times
June 3, 2010Barry Hearn’s revolution given green light
Professional snooker, plagued by internecine strife and a succession of ineffective administrations from its boom in the early Eighties through to its recent struggles, entered a brave new era yesterday. It is now a benign dictatorship with Barry Hearn at the helm.
In a move that will be welcomed by players, spectators, broadcasters and sponsors alike, Hearn’s masterplan for a sport in desperate need of regeneration was accepted at an extraordinary general meeting of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) in Sheffield.
Those WPBSA members who have been among the top 64 in the world rankings for either of the past two years, plus board directors, voted 35-29 in favour of Hearn, who was already the WPBSA chairman, taking control of a sport that was so often rudderless in the past when an experienced, savvy hand was desperately required.
The vote meant that the commercial assets of the WPBSA transferred for a nominal £1 to a new company, World Snooker Limited (WSL). Hearn, by paying £255,000, will own a 51 per cent stake of WSL and is therefore immune from dethronement by a coup of other shareholders. The players will own 25 per cent, other partners 24 per cent.
In essence, Hearn, hugely successful in sports promotion, has carte blanche to revive snooker’s flagging fortunes. The presence of such a proven entrepreneurial go-getter is long overdue.
“I’m delighted,” Hearn said. “I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but for the moment snooker is united. I owe the game a lot and I will make sure that I’ll be giving 100 per cent every day to bring it to the level at which it should be operating.”
Hearn, who has never disguised his desire to profit from snooker while creating wealth for the players, repeatedly stated that he would immediately relinquish the WPBSA chairmanship if yesterday’s vote went against him.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis and Neil Robertson, the world champion, supported Hearn but Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon and Ding Junhui publicly endorsed a counter-proposal from John Davison, a retired private equity firm partner and former Olympic shooter. Lee Doyle, chairman of the 110sport management stable and a WPBSA director until resigning shortly after Hearn’s ascent to chairman in December, also advised his clients to back the alternative offer.
Davison, who was treated appallingly by the sport’s authorities in 2002 when he led a group hoping to secure its commercial rights in return for a considerable sum, offered ten ranking events next season and prize money of £5 million, rising by £200,000 for each of the next three years.
In return Davison wished to control snooker’s commercial rights for 15 years by acquiring 63 per cent of WSL. He intended to pay £315,000 for this, to be redistributed as a dividend of about £5,000 to each of the world’s top 64.
However, Hearn, well liked in snooker and seen by many as its potential saviour, won the day by passionately stating his case at the meeting, which Davison surprisingly declined an invitation to attend, claiming his proposal had not been given a fair platform.
With sponsors thin on the ground, the vital BBC television contract up for renewal and dark clouds generated by continuing match and frame-fixing allegations, Hearn’s skills will be fully tested on the road to revitalisation but one cannot escape the conclusion that if anyone can haul the sport out of the mire, it is the 61-year-old from Essex.
After the bitter infighting that has blighted snooker, it is time to afford Hearn the opportunity to facilitate growth, as acknowledged before the meeting by Hendry. “Whoever comes out the winner at the other end, there should be a shaking of hands,” he said.
Barry’s election pledges
1, More tournaments Hearn has already announced a ranking event in Germany next season and the World Open with a £500,000 prize.
2, Innovative formats In January, Sky Sports will broadcast a one-frame shoot-out, frames lasting 12 minutes.
3, Improved communication with sponsors and television companies.
4, A one-year world-ranking system to replace the two-year system in operation since the 1970s.
5, A new anti-corruption unit headed by David Douglas, a former Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent.