Posted by Sport.co.uk on: 23 July 2010 - 13:11
Author: Sam Elder
Sport.co.uk took time out from a busy news week to run the rule over an exciting new brand of Snooker, launched by sports guru Barry Hearn and endorsed by Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan. The new event, cannily entitled Power Snooker, will be a fast placed atmospheric version of the game, aimed at bringing young people into a sport that has been in the doldrums since its heyday back in the 1980s.
Hmm where have we heard this before? The launch bared more than a small resemblance to that of Twenty20 cricket, with the similar pessimistic murmurs from traditionalists fearing for the future of their beloved snooker. In the initial press conference, The Rocket remarkably announced that he finds world championship snooker, which he has won three times, “boring.” After a quick rebuff from Hearn, the remark was hastily laughed off. Clearly the former Leyton Orient chairman is keen to keep all sides of the snooker family happy.
Following the launch, Sport.co.uk caught up with Barry Hearn, and the world’s most famous snooker player to get the dirt on this new “showbiz” version of snooker.
After O’Sullivan’s controversial comment, we are asked Hearn: Why is snooker too boring at the moment? Obviously keen not to anger traditionalists who may fear that framed snooker is dying a death, Hearn defended The Rocket, and attempted to calm the storm that will surely arise from the older generation;
“It’s not, it’s really not. Snooker’s actually showing some amazingly good signs of life which is really inspiring me on the wide front.”
Okay, perhaps Hearn is prone to the odd exaggeration, but he sounds genuinely enthused at the prospects of his new invention. However, he insists on emphasising that the ratings from the world championships were up in 2009 from 2008. In actual fact they are still well below that of the 1980s.
Never short of a word or two, Hearn continued: “It’s really quite motivating to take something like this on. In a way you can’t lose because nothing was being done on it before, so i can look really good on this. We’ve got 15 new events this year on the snooker. We’re working everyone to death. The players’ are getting worked every weekend.”
Sounds like exciting stuff, and Hearn certainly seems inspired by the whole affair. After all, why shouldn’t he be? This is the man who has made his fortune by promoting successful sporting events such as Premier League Darts. Everything he touches in this market seems to turn to gold.
It’s not often you hear the words ‘sexy’ and ‘snooker’ in the same sentence. Although I’m not sure it’ll catch on, snooker’s chief believes his new game will turn the sport on its head. Hearn continued to outline the plan to attract younger viewers and players to the game. His new brainchild is designed to do just that:
“The way i see it is; my job is to spread the gospel of snooker to make sure the players can earn more money and get more opportunities. I’m looking at doing this sexy thing called Power Snooker. These are all part of the overall mix of bringing the game to a bigger audience. If i bring in new people (to the sport), some of them will stay and like the traditional game, others will say it’s for old people and it’s boring. But the history (of snooker) is unique and that will stay.”
As the head of World Snooker, Hearn obviously has an interest in keeping all sides of the game afloat, so it is safe to assume that he intends to keep investing in the world championships and other similar events, as well as Power Snooker.
Hearn was again questioned though - your top star just said normal snooker is boring? Again eager to defend his interest in the current game, Hearn laughs off O’Sullivan’s brash declaration:
“What Ronnie means is that he doesn’t like to spend 17 days anywhere” (referring to the amount of time The Rocket says he has had to spend in Sheffield, obviously not his favourite place in the world.) Emphasising O’Sullivan’s volatility, the entrepreneur continues by noting that “Ronnie loves premier league snooker one day, and Power Snooker the next.” Judging by his comments, I’m not sure the world number three would agree.
After things have calmed down, Sport.co.uk ask Hearn what he really believes the future holds for the tradition game:
“I think it’s going to be very positive. I think what we’re seeing is this huge explosion in Europe and obviously Asia; we’ve never seen anything like it before. The traditional game has its fans over here. But i just think those fans are not being replaced by newcomers, so we need something else to bring the newcomers in and then filter them through (to the traditional form). So it’s all part and parcel of the game. There is no ‘old game vs. new game.’ It’s all the same game, and some people will like some parts of it more than others.”
The charismatic Londoner seems eager to put forward the continued success of Twenty20 cricket, a game he sees as a kin to his new snooker model. This is also appropriate for Hearn as both sports have an older, more traditional version of the game. He is clearly trying to emphasise that both forms of a game can coexist.
Should this take off like twenty20 in cricket, do you think this could be the end of slower players?
“No i think slower players will have to adjust their game to this format of power snooker. Some players can’t adjust their game to twenty20 cricket, so they don’t play it. Some players may say they’re not playing it because they know they’re not good at it. So they’ll continue to play the traditional game. The difference is, it’s not one or the other, 95 percent of players will say “I’ll play both, i can adjust my game.”
Hearn also emphasised the effectiveness of the ‘one night event,’ he said: "I want players to play the gig and get out. That’s more in keeping with really successful events like Premier League Darts, where it goes to one town in one night, and if you miss it, you’re f**ked. That’s why you sell so many tickets, because it’s not on in that place for the rest of the year.”
Is this just a fad or will we be talking about last night’s Power Snooker in 50 years time?
“I’m looking at a two to three year plan. I think it’s a quick fix by throwing money at it initially which I’m doing to create more events. Is this game a replacement of Snooker? No, it’s a new development for the overall good of the game. The bigger picture is that, every time you pick up a cue, you’re playing some form of snooker.
"And if the younger people want it fast like Twenty20, and they play Power Snooker, then I’m over the moon. And i hope to convince them to play both later on. Some of the players will still like the traditional game more than power snooker; we’re having this momentous change in ideology, and in terms of the work standard and events. Power Snooker is part of that evolution. It has a chance to be successful. For me it is part of the bigger picture. My aim now is to make sure the ratings go sky high for next year following their recent improvement.
"When Twenty20 started, what did you think of it? I was gutted i didn’t own it. I was sitting there watching Scotland vs. Holland. I’ve played cricket all life and i was thinking; i ain’t watching Scotland vs. Holland. But then i realised it is so entertaining, i love it. It’s just another good idea that escaped me. It’s like Ryder Cup golf; it’s the best event in the world. I do the Marconi cup, and the Webber cup. And Twentry20 cricket is Prize-fighter boxing, and Premier League Darts. This Power Snooker is another version of it. And I’m happy to be part of it. It will bring money into the game. It’ll get you guys writing about snooker, then I’ve got much more chance to talk about other snooker."
Hearn and his World Snooker ensemble care deeply to protect the interests of the older generation, and as long as the vocal support is still there in abundance, and more importantly, it stays financially viable, Hearn could have created another money making machine.
Following our chat with the boss Hearn, Sport.co.uk caught up with snooker legend Ronny “The Rocket” O’Sullivan, the man Hearn has appropriately appointed as the figurehead of his new, fast-paced snooker. Wasting no time at all, O’Sullivan lays out his two cents for the surrounding reporters.
“We’re in a different era. I don’t even watch Twenty20, i just don’t like cricket. But I’d be more inclined to watch twenty20 cricket than a test match. I think it’s a different audience. I do think they will have to run along parallel because snooker has been the way it is for so long, and just too totally disregard the way it has been played in the past is not the way to go about it. But i definitely think by introducing these new events and new formats, we will bring a new audience and a new buzz because it’s live with a crowd, Power Snooker is certainly going to become something along those lines. It’s a one fun day event, its quick, fast and furious. As long as players perform and balls are going in the holes and big breaks are being made, and if the rules don’t make it so difficult for us to be able to do that, then i think it will be a great product.”
This game appears to have been invented for Ronnie. A new, fast paced, atmospheric version of his not-so-beloved sport is right up his street. There is even a hint of rare excitement in his eyes. I don’t think he can wait to get out there.
The Rocket continued: “It’s about introducing who probably wouldn’t go and watch snooker, but will go for a night out with their friends where they don’t have to be quiet; they can move around and drink. And then, if the snookers not very good, then at least they will have a good night out! It’s definitely about introducing the game of snooker to a new crowd.”
When asked over his preferences, O’Sullivan replied: “If i had the choice between playing Premier League Snooker or the World Championships, i would pick Premier League even though it’s less money, because i enjoy it. I’m at the stage in my career where i just want to enjoy playing. I don’t want to be sitting around feeling bored. Being in Sheffield (for 17 days) makes it quite an enduring event, and it’s hard to stay fresh.” You can almost sense the relief in his voice. No more 3 day endurance matches, no more everlasting competitions. Power Snooker is just pot, pot, and pot. Just how Ronnie likes it.
Do you think this could damage the world championships if other players think like you? “No, like i said, there will always be a place for it. This is early days. We could be sitting here in two years talking about something else. I think it’s something that’s worth giving a go. I definitely think Power Snooker is going to be something that will be good for television.”
While this is true, and similar projects have failed to take off, you get the sense that with Hearn’s backing, Power Snooker could be the next Premier League darts. It’s not so much about the Snooker, it’s about all-out entertainment.
As Ronnie continues to wax lyrical over his disinterest in the sport, fans will be pleased to hear that he believes this could reinvigorate his career: “I can’t see myself playing world championships and being away from home. I’m just not at that stage in my career, I’ve got to young children and i want to spend time with them. But i still want to play snooker. If i didn’t play competitively, I’d still have my own table and id still play my friends because i enjoy it. So if there are events that i enjoy then i will play. This gives everyone a choice."
Do you think all the players will embrace it? “I think they’ll embrace it anyway. You can see with premier league on sky, i think they’ve embraced that. It’s similar to that. With the idea of taking it into different countries there will be razzmatazz and showbiz aspects, and its key that the players look like they’re enjoying it then everyone will get behind it.”
The former world number one ended by stating that he believes snooker still needs its history, and he still greatly respects those who influenced him as a youngster, and continues to enjoy watching footage of legends like Joe Davis. I for one hope he’s right, snooker must stay in touch with its roots if it is to progress. But Hearn and O’Sullivan appear to be giving the game the form kick up the backside that is long overdue.