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Champion of Champions To Hit Coventry, India Deal Close

On a busy day at the Crucible Theatre, World Snooker’s Barry Hearn has announced a new event known as the Champion of Champions tournament, to be staged at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry later this year.

Confirming that a ranking event in India is also close, Barry also discussed the issue of supposed burn out, making clear the professionalism that he expects from snooker’s main tour players going forward if the sport is to continue to grow.

Click below for a summary of the key points from Barry’s press conference, as well as the full transcript of what he had to say…

The key points from Barry’s press conference were as follows:

  • A new event will be held from 19-24 November 2013, known as the Champion of Champions event, which will be staged at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
  • The Champion of Champions event will see four groups of four players involved (a total of 16), made up of event winners from the 2012/13 season.
  • Each group will be played during the course of a full day, with effectively heat semi-finals and a final, providing a winner to go through to the main event semi-finals on Saturday.
  • There will be a £100,000 top prize, with the runner-up taking £40,000, losing semi-finalists £20,000.
  • The event will be broadcast in the UK on a free-to-air channel, to be confirmed next week.
  • The event will be played over a longer format, with the final being over the best of potentially 23 frames.
  • There will be no mid-session intervals and potentially a limit of two toilet breaks per match, with no mid-frame breaks as we have seen on occasion this week at the Crucible.
  • World Snooker are also close to announcing a new event in India, still to be confirmed.

The full transcript is as follows:

“Good morning everyone, just a brief chat today because obviously we are coming up to the halfway stage through our blue riband event and it’s always an opportune time to meet you guys and explain a few things about what is happening, remarks over what has gone on and looking forward to the future which will be a good place to be in at the moment in the world of snooker.”

“So I’m coming to the end of three years, it feels like a lot longer, it has been an interesting ride and I think we have ticked a few boxes, with a lot more boxes to tick. If we look back three years ago, a handful of events, £3.5m in prize money, today 30-odd events, £8m of prize money from sanctioned events, that’s a good step forward.”

“There is a lot further that we can go. We have only just scratched the surface,0 but for me I think that the people behind the scenes at World Snooker have really come up to the plate in terms of the workload that I expect to see from the teams that we employ in sport generally. They have shown me a passion and an understanding right down from the boardroom level, to the office workers that everyone feels like we are on the same team going forward.”

“One of the issues that we get every now and again is the question of burn out. Now I’m not a fan of burn out. Nor am I a fan of using it as an excuse for underperforming. So the message is very clear. I don’t expect burn out from my staff, my employees, the officials, I expect them to be grateful to be involved in a sport which is going somewhere and I compare everything to the ordinary man on the street who would be very grateful to suffer from burn out.”

“It’s a bit like at Leyton Orient when we have a cup run, I never complain about fixture congestion, I love congestion because it means that we are winning. Now professional sportsmen will always say that there are things that will affect the standard of play and how they can perform, but they have to understand that this is an evolution process within sport and professional snooker players must now start to be professional snooker players.”

“This is not an amateur game, this is not a job for the boys, this is not a jolly up, this is a professional sport. When I look at other sports and how they have expanded their opportunities over the past two or three decades, I always look at golf and tennis, when I compare them with snooker and when you can see where that sport has gone from 1980.”

“In golf, in 1980 the prize money was probably less than on the world snooker circuit. Today, where are we? £100m behind? When you look at tennis and you read that Wimbledon has just announced a 40% increase in prize money, with the winner getting £1.6m or thereabouts, where are we? And the reason for this is the perception of the sport, the activity of the sport and of the professionalism of the players themselves.”

“Professional sportsmen have to understand this is life in 2013 and is not life in 1980. These sportsmen are going to have to be prepared to pay a price for their sport. They are going to have to be prepared to dedicate their lives to the sport and that is not just words, but actions. I am looking for snooker players in particular to rise to the challenge because if they think that they are busy now, then they best have another look at their diary for next year and the year after!”

“So today we are proud to tell you that there will be another new event in the calendar next year called the Champion of Champions, open obviously to all of the champions. It will take place on 19th-24th November 2013, it will be at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, it will be televised on a free to air station, details to be announced later. It will have a £100,000 first prize and be televised globally.”

“We are very close to announcing the next ranking event, which will be added to the calendar next year, which will be India and there are other ranking events looking for a few other spare days in the diary.”

One of the younger professionals tweeted, and as you know I am a big fan of Twitter after three weeks on that wonderful network. I am enjoying myself enormously, coming out with rubbish. I have been fined once by the Chairman of the WPBSA for using one obscene word for which I apologise, cost me £250 but it was worth it at the time! But one of the young pros Allan Taylor tweeted the other day:

‘I have just put the calendar events into my diary and it looks as if it has got acne.’

“These guys have got to understand this is a professional sport, there are no excuses in professional sport. To be a professional I expect every snooker player to be fit to lead a good life, to watch his diet, to watch his health, to watch his mental health. We are there to help if we can in any way for advice but there will not be any slacking off in terms of events, if anything it is going to go the other way, there will be more events and that gives these players the opportunity to pick and choose which event they want to play in. They have the freedom of choice, because the rankings are worked out on prize money won and if they decide not to play in any event for any reason, providing they understand that the repercussions could be that they don’t get into other events because of their ranking, then that is up to them. My job is to give them the opportunity. Whether they take that opportunity or not is entirely up to them.”

“The average man in the street I think would be on my side because they have to go to work. I am approaching 65 years of age and I still take great pleasure in 16 hour days because I love my job and I expect professional sportsmen to love their job as well. They are chosen and blessed people so no excuses about being tired or overworked or being burned out.”

“These players must be professional, and by being professional, then we have the opportunity to create the structure of golf and tennis which has been proven to be such a successful format over the years and also we send out a message to our sponsors and our broadcasters if you really want to guarantee every top player, the easiest way is to guarantee top prize money.”

“Now we have reached a stage where our diary is full, or nearly full, I am trying to find days for different things. Obviously demand exceeds supply and when demand exceeds supply, financial considerations go up. In the past demand and supply have been non-existent. We are now on the fast-track to establishing snooker as a truly global sport with a better opportunity for the sport than I have seen in my 40 years of promoting snooker.”

“I will not allow unprofessional activities to interfere with the way we run the game. So for the older pros I sympathise, I know what it is like to get old, but if you can’t compete with the youngsters, the young talent, then move aside, slip down the rankings and disappear and we’ll wish you godspeed in your retirement!”

“This is the land of opportunity for youngsters across the world to pick up the challenge and I think we have seen it at the World Championship so far and I think we will continue to see it. So the message is clear, there will be more events than we have already announced, the diary will be totally full and you have the opportunity to pick and choose when you want to play and to live with the consequences.”

“I don’t have a problem because I really feel as though we are at the threshold of a new dawn, of a new era for snooker. I think that the opportunities have never been better and we look at the names coming through, we see our global sport. Much is made of China but think also about India, let’s think about South America, let’s think about Australasia, let’s think about Europe, where we are seeing some talented people come through inspired by what they see on television and destined to make a considerable fortune for themselves by winning.”

“The open draw format begins at the Wuxi Classic, 128 players from round one, well overdue, no more easy touches, no more sitting at home and waiting for the postman to deliver you a cheque for not doing anything. Opportunity is equal to every player on the tour now, 8 out of the 11 ranking events, soon to be 9 out of 12, will be on the open draw format and we’ll find out who is good enough. We’ll find out who is ready to play, we’ll find out who is ready to pay that extra price to be successful because ability is something God gives you, application is something that you can justify on your own efforts.”

“So, really exciting tournament, fantastic press coverage, for which I am in awe of all of you guys and ladies, for supplying the written words around the world. Great social media access, which is the future of our business in terms of promotion and I think a very happy broadcaster in terms of the BBC and Eurosport and great messages coming through us.”

“Obviously Ding is involved in a match at the moment so the whole of China is waiting to see how he gets on, but also some great performances for you guys to write about, I mean Poom, the Thai guy, what can you say? Breath of fresh air! Personality! Character! Someone who looks as if he is bloody well pleased to be there, which I thought was remarkable, I thought he was wonderful.”

“The young players coming through like Michael White as well, another new age player coming on the scene. So the messages to the older stars, the more established names, you have been a great credit to the sport, but the challenge is still yours to pick up. Nothing in life is a gimme, even a six-feet putt can be missed. I expect all of them to make that extra effort and it will involve being more professional, not less professional.”

“Get ready for the gym boys, you are going to need to be very, very fit to survive on this tour because the competition is going to be intense. If it is too warm in the kitchen, go and sit in front of the television.”

“So that’s the message from me, record prize money, record events, more coming, over 300 million worldwide viewers for this current television spectacular, record ticket sales, 15% up on last year, unbelievable in a recession economy, everything going the right way, terrifically motivated staff and board of directors, who are constantly thinking of new ideas to expand this great game further and a wonderful bunch of players, 128 on the tour, who will be in first round matches so we really find out who is the best. No hiding place. Any questions?”

PSB: Can you tell us a bit more about the new event Barry?

“Certainly, it is going to be the Champion of Champions, we will release the names of the people, but you will know the names as they are the winners over the current season, you will have four groups of four, so every day the public when they buy a ticket will see a winner who will go through to the semi-finals. So it will be two semi-finals in the afternoon, a group final in the evening, winner goes through to the Saturday.”

“It’s going to start on the Tuesday, finish on the Sunday and it will shock a lot of purists that I am going back to a slightly longer format rather than a shorter format. So you see the one thing about Barry Hearn, totally unpredictable! It’s not going to be a one frame shoot out, the final I think is going to be over 23 frames, going to go back to the old school because the Champion of Champions is the crème de la crème.”

“The broadcaster is done, it will be announced next week when we have signed the contracts, won’t take too many guesses to know who it is, it’s not the BBC. But the BBC have done a spectacular job for us and we hope very much to convince them to take one additional event next year, they have the option in their contract.”

“The Champion of Champions will be, first round loser gets £5,000, you win your area final you get £10,000, then you go £20,000, £40,000 and £100,000 to the winner. Easy day’s work, but you know there will be a few other different rules, no interval, maximum of two toilet breaks per match, absolute ban on any breaks whatsoever during any game mid-game. I cannot believe the number of times that we have had that and it won’t be happening again. So if you have a prostate problem like some of us get when we get older and you got a visit to the doctor, we will review the rules. If you are fit, healthy and well, then I think two visits to the toilet in four hours is quite enough for anybody. If there is a problem, consult your surgeon!”

“There will be no shot clock, this will be a standard game, a game where we are talking to the referees about making sure that we look at more of a golf scenario with rulings for slow play, common sense rulings. We have the shot clock on some events as you know, but this event, the prestige means that it will be played on standard rules.”

Barry was then asked as to whether this suggestion in respect of toilet breaks will be a pilot for other events:

“I’m discussing this with Jason Ferguson at the moment, over the next week. Certainly on the Champion of champions which effectively replaces the Premier League, comes under a Matchroom event which is part of the original deal and we can at least determine on those the rules that we want. I think that Jason and I are discussing about how we can tighten up interruptions into live broadcast and also potential issues about potentially gamesmanship on certain times when you tend to go to the toilet more times than a normal human being would go to the toilet.”

“We used to make exceptions for Bill Werbenuik but he has 16 pints of lager in him at the time and I think it was quite rational that he should go to the toilet more than once every four hours. I can’t see the reason, I think it’s something that the players have got to address and it’s something that I will be discussing with the player’s chairman.”

“I’m looking forward to it, it is going to be a great week out in a new area, sponsorship looks as if it is done, television looks as if it going to be done and it looks like a successful event. It’s another event in the diary that they have got to be prepared for.”

I then asked Barry for more information with regards to India:

“India is close to being signed now, Miles Pearce and Jason Ferguson have been very instrumental in putting that together and we’re very close, We’re very excited about India, we think that is another big potential market for us and some of the players they are producing are world class players and of course it is one of the big booming economies of the eastern world as well, so there is future there for us.”