Pro Challenge Series – Hit or Miss?

With the conclusion of the latest event of the 2009/10 Pro Challenge Series today, now is as good a time as any to take stock and look at whether the competition has been a success or whether or not it could – and should – have been more…

When it was first announced back in June 2009 (yes it really was that long ago), the stated intention of the governing body was to provide further opportunities for the professional players to ply their trade and gain important match practice. With there being just six ranking events staged this season it was more important than ever for World Snooker to act and do something to try and appease the increasingly discontented professional players.

So how successful has the series been so far? On the plus side the four events staged so far have seen around 40-50 players participate at Pontin’s, Leeds, Leicester and Liverpool, gaining that match practice and in the case of the winners giving them an opportunity to earn some extra cash which in the current climate is always useful.

As a fan who attended the first event of the series at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds (see my report here), it was also good to be able to see the professionals in such a relaxed environment. Having often been amongst the scrum of fans clamouring for a photo at Stage Door at the Crucible, it was a refreshing change to be able to chat to the players and get to know them a little at a smaller venue.

However, that is not to say that the Pro Challenge Series has been without its faults. While the events were clearly envisaged to be an opportunity for the lower ranked players to gain some match practice, the lack of involvement of the top 16 players has nevertheless been slightly disappointing I feel. The two obvious reasons for this are the relatively low prize funds and the lack of ranking points on offer, the latter in particular being something that Dave Hendon at Snooker Scene Blog picked up on immediately. Perhaps if even a low amount of points could have been made available then more players might have been tempted to participate in the events.

From reading the thoughts of other snooker fans around the world it is also clear that the lack of a live TV stream is something that makes the events hard to follow, indeed even a livescoring service would be better than nothing. The events might be low budget but surely it would not be too costly to stream the matches from one ‘main’ table over the internet. Rightly or wrongly it is a reality that in 2010 sports fans expect to be able to watch their chosen sport live and that if this were possible it could only help the profile of the Pro Challenge Series.

So will the series be back next season?

I do not have any inside information on this ahead of the upcoming announcement of the 2010/11 calendar but I have my doubts following the arrival of Barry Hearn who will presumably not want to promote events that he does not see as profitable. Given that spectators were allowed to watch free of charge this week it is difficult to see where such a profit would come from…