http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sports/201 ... 666242.htm
After a long lull in the sport's popularity, Barry Hearn is trying to bring snooker back into the mainstream - and he's gambling big on China, Sun Xiaochen reports
The self-proclaimed "grandfather" of snooker wants the sport to say goodbye to its past and embrace an extended Pro Tour with a global vision. The man who promoted snooker to mainstream popularity in the 1980s, Barry Hearn was a driving force during the sport's heydays, but felt frustrated about its "close to moribund" status over the past decade and returned to the helm as the chairman of World Snooker in 2009.
To save his beloved sport from losing money and TV audiences, Hearn believes globalization is the way to recapture the "old glory days", stressing it needs to expand on a large scale globally, especially in the fast-growing Chinese market.
"What I saw two years ago was a stagnant game, which wasn't been led by enthusiasm. It was frustrating for me to watch this great game not being made the most of," Hearn told China Daily before this month's Communication Bank Shanghai Masters.
"To my mind, this may be complacency by the organizers and the players, not to push the boundaries, just to settle for a minimum number of events," he said.
"I know clearly we have to inject enthusiasm and some danger (into snooker). A part of the danger is the globalization," said the 63-year-old, who managed a stable of stars, including the legendary Steve Davis and 11-time 147-break holder Ronnie O'Sullivan.
What convinced Hearn to stick with his global plan is the game's rapid development in China in recent years, both at the competitive level and through its commercial value.
Apart from the Shanghai Masters, another two ranking events - the China Open and Hainan World Open - have become the flavor of the month every March, while the Wuxi Classic invitational tournament draws the game's big names each July. TV stations, including CCTV, BTV and SMG, have boosted ratings by putting more live games on air.
After winning the Masters title this January, China's snooker sensation, Ding Junhui, has become one of the most recognized sports figures in the country. With that comes huge endorsement potential, alongside the likes of hoops icon Yao Ming and champion hurdler Liu Xiang.
Driven by his success, more and more young players have decided to take up the sport, while Chinese companies are keen to sign star players including O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Selby, to promote their brands abroad.
According to a Beijing Youth Daily report, 14 of the top 16 players have signed partnership deals with various Chinese companies from cue makers to milk producers.
Enterprises interested in the title sponsorship of local events have to compete fiercely to win the bids, said Zhang Zhenpeng, an organizing official of the China Open.
"The demand is very high, the TV ratings are huge and the sponsors are numerous. China is a massive market now. I am very excited snooker is extremely popular here," Hearn said.
After the Shanghai Masters, the world snooker association will announce several new tournaments in China and is in discussions with the Chinese Billiard and Snooker Association (CBSA) to set up an Asian Pro Tour, mainly based in the country, to provide a separate classification of events for young locals to compete in.
"Now we have to create Chinese stars in the global market and give them opportunities and experience - then China will move closer to becoming a dominant force in world snooker," Hearn said.
"Most importantly, don't forget the picture here has been seen all over the world. This is a major change in the sport now, thanks to China's influence. We have to open the doors," said Hearn, who describes himself as a "working-class lad" who is crazy about the game.
Since regaining the sport's leading role, Hearn has launched a series of radical reforms, including increasing prize money on the tour from 3.5 million ($5.023 million) to more than 6 million, and establishing new events in Australia, Thailand, Brazil and Germany.
There are now about 30 tournaments on the World Snooker Tour, compared to just eight two years ago.
However, some players have questioned Hearn's reforms, complaining about the taxing schedule and long trips.
Among the top 12 invited players, seven stars, including Ding, O'Sullivan and Higgins, refused to play the Brazil Masters, which is scheduled from Sept 15-18 and has no ranking points, claiming they wanted to save time and energy.
"It's just an exhibition match without ranking points. I feel it would be a waste of time to go over there and I won't get what I want," Ding told the Chinese media during the Shanghai tournament.
Hearn is disappointed some of the game's marquee players won't appear in Brazil, but urged them to realize the responsibilities of nurturing the sport in a new market.
"There will be opportunities for players all over the world. But very few will reach the top. And the work ethic is what determines their level of success," said Hearn who said he believes more games will bring more income for the players.
"It's a big journey (traveling to Brazil after the Shanghai event). But this is the price you have to pay as a professional player. This is not a hobby. This is your job to play the best and entertain the crowd, both locally and on TV, around the world,"
The veteran promotes 11 different sports, including boxing, darts and soccer, through his Matchroom company, and remains at the top of his game.
However, he says he will never be 100 percent satisfied with snooker's development.
"As the grandfather of snooker, I want to make sure my grandchildren are doing as they are told and understand the basic principles of being respectful and treating the sport with honor. So far, I am 90 percent happy. I will never be 100 percent, because I set targets that other people don't set," said Hearn.
Good news is the separate tour in China.
Other than that the same misleading information is there again. Yes, the global prize money has increased, but with so many more tournaments abroad yielding travel and accommodation expenses, the expenses of the players not covered anymore, most players will actually earn less for working more. Yes, Mr Hear, they are pros, which means they should make a living out of their sport. And it's not about "rewarding mediocrity". When the runner-up of a ranking tournament - namely Mark Williams in Australia - travels about 50 hours back and forth, plays 5 matches and gets 9500£ for it that's preposterous ( http://welcometooncue.blogspot.com/2011 ... ew-my.html
). Take the expenses out and see what's left. Then think about what those who didn't reach the final got ... or actually had to spend to play there. I'm sure Mr Hearn wouldn't accept such poor reward for his own efforts. He's not Mother Theresa of snooker, he's a businessman and he is there to make money. Never forget that.
And before GJ comes and claims I'm not accurate ... I am. Yes the prize money for the runner-up in Australia was allegedly 20000£. BUT the Australian taxes only amounted to 46%, something MJW wasn't aware of, and something Dave Hendon apparently didn't know until our discussion on twitter forced him to check. Another example of the misleading information that is spread around regarding what the real state of affair is for the players. Because at the end of the day, it does not matter what's on the paper, it's what comes to their wallet that matters.
And, while I am at a Sunday morning moan... the way amateurs are lured to believe that PTCs are the next big thing for them, while they have very little chances to get to the MT that way, and contribute to finance the tour with next to no reward isn't to my liking neither.