As has become tradition at the World Championship, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has today given a press conference within which there were a number of big announcements, in particular from the 2016/17 season onwards.
Click below for a summary of all the big stories, as well as a transcript from what I found to be the most interests parts of his talk…
For those of you just wanting to know the key points from the press conference, the main points are as follows:
- All other events, other than the World Championship, will be played under a flat 128 draw format when existing contracts expire. There is one year remaining on the contract for the Australian Goldfields Open and two years for the Shanghai Masters.
- The World Championship will be unchanged with regards to format, seedings and qualifying competition.
- Prize money for the World Championship will be increased to £2,000,000, with £500,000 to the winner from the 2017/18 season onwards at the latest
- Pro tour prize money will increase to £8,500,000 for the 2015/16 season and £10,000,000 for the 2016/17 season.
- The “Home Series” will be launched during the 2016/17 season to include:
- The Welsh Open from Cardiff
- The Scottish Open from Glasgow
- The Irish Open from Belfast
- The English Open from Manchester
- In addition a new major ranking, the European Open will be staged during the 2016/17 season.
- The World Grand Prix will become a ranking event from the 2015/16 season, with the top 32 players from a prize money list starting from the start of the 2015/16 season.
- Over the next five years, Q Schools for membership for the tour will be launched in Asia, Americas, Africa, Australasia and Europe
- Negotiations will begin shortly with Sheffield City Council and the BBC with a view to extending current arrangements
“We look back on five years of ownership and judge our success or failure and then obviously begin to plan the next five years because complacency is a killer and we’re not going to fall into that trap.
“The last five years for me personally have been five of the most motivating years I have had involved in any sport. It was really exciting five years ago by the narrowest of margins to get the gig, the job of control of World Snooker and its commercial rights forever and ever, providing I hit certain targets.
“In June 2010 the prize money was £3.5m, this year we hit just over £8m and I’m pleased to say to all of the players and look them in the face and say that the prize money paid out during my first five years is a little over £12m more than we guaranteed the players at the time of takeover. We tick boxes, we deliver what it says on the tin.
“So that’s the last five years and we haven’t got everything right of course, we have made some mistakes…we have made a lot of decisions. A lot of changes. Movements to the 128 flat draw in most events, the creation of opportunity for kids, the idea that it doesn’t matter who you are, what your reputation is, it counts for nothing, it is all about the field of play. We have created a brutal environment and it is brutal and it has to be brutal to be taken seriously by broadcasters, sponsors and fans around the world. This is not a boys club, this is a proper, global sport.
The next five years
“So now we look at the next five years and today we are going to announce a few things that are quite significant. And we are looking at not just next season, but the season after and the season after that initially. We are not setting any silly targets because we may surpass even silly targets and I am not going to be limited by anything other than my own imagination.
“All events, other than the World Championships will be a flat 128 draw when existing contracts expire. As you know we have two events, the Shanghai Masters and the Australian event which are still subject to contract.
“The World Championships will be completely unchanged with regards to format, seedings and qualifying competitions. One of the best things I have seen in snooker is the qualifying competition for this year’s event. What we have done is created effectively another television event because the drama that came out. Congratulations to the players, it was absolutely brilliant.
“The prize money for the World Championship for the 2017/18 season at the latest will rise to £2m, with £500,000 going to the winner. The pro tour prize money will increase to £8.5m and for 2016/17 will hit the magical £10m.
“During 2016/17, obviously it takes a bit of organising, we will launch a new series called the Home Series. We won’t forget our fans in the UK. And we will be launching to run alongside the Welsh Open, the Scottish Open from Glasgow, the Irish Open from Belfast and the English Open from Manchester. These will all be major ranking events available on the 128 flat format. We will also put up a little special prize for someone that has got ambition, any players who wins those four events, will be a £1,000,000 bonus.
“In addition to these new ranking events we will also in 2016 create the European Open, we will be doing less of the smaller European Tour events and concentrating on bigger ranking events. The European Open will be an event which will move throughout Europe, as the name suggests.
“The World Grand Prix, which we started this year with our friends at ITV, will be a ranking event from the 2015/16 season, with the top 32 players from a prize money list beginning at the commencement of the season, so any kid that gets his pro tour card is in with no catch-up time, straight out, level playing field.
“The Players Championship will have the same format for 2015/16 because it comes from the European Tour which will stay as previous for this year. But in 2016/17, to follow the FedEx style event from golf, the Players Championship will follow the World Grand Prix with the top 16 players invited from total prize money won, obviously including the World Grand Prix. And that is on a one-year list.
“Over the next five years, working alongside Jason Ferguson of the WPBSA, we will be expanding Q Schools to take into account Q School in Asia, the Americas, Africas, Australasia and Europe. We don’t want there to be any barriers to taking up this wonderful sport and therefore we will be taking the Q School format, with alternating numbers of spots depending upon entries to those five continents.
“And finally, negotiations will begin very shortly with both the Sheffield City Council and the BBC with a view to extending current arrangements.
“There will always be players who criticise dependant upon how it affects them as individuals and there is nothing wrong with that at all. That is human nature. My job however is to look at the growth and the development of the sport and sometimes there will be some casualties. So for example a player seeded number 17 is so unlucky that he is not in the top 16 for the World Championship cut-off, he has got three rounds of qualifying.
“It’s brutal but you know what, when your football team gets beat on goal difference, that’s brutal as well. When a golfer misses a six-foot putt on the 18th and therefore doesn’t make the cut, it’s brutal. but rules are rules. We have to have a level playing field and the World Championship will be the only tournament where the top 16 receive a reward of entry into the latter stages because they have earned it. The caveat being of course that if they lose in the first round, their prize money will not count towards their ranking and that will have a dramatic effect.
“You are going to see a lot more movement in the world rankings on the prize money list, especially with the addition of additional prize money on offer.
“My main concern here is not for the established stars, they are old enough, ugly enough to look after themselves. My concern is the new kid that comes into Q School and wins a tour card. The excitement of someone with ability having the opportunity to change their lives is paramount to what we are trying to achieve, wherever they come from, whether they are male or female, black or white, left handed or right handed, it doesn’t matter.
“This sport is about ability. I don’t want any barriers, artificial barriers to be up to defeat the object of giving that kid the benefit of his ‘Willy Wonka” golden ticket. That tour card is so hard to earn. Record numbers are going in Q School this year, nearly 180 players going for eight spots. It’s brutal. But today’s world of commercial exploitation means that if sport is not brutal, it’s not taken seriously. We are now being taken seriously by sponsors and broadcasters across the world.
“And this statement today is a quantum leap or where we are and it is only just the beginning. We are miles away from peaking. if we have come from base camp, we are not even halfway up the mountain so thanks to the press and the media that have done such a great job selling our sport, to your readers around the world. And thanks to our television partners who have done such a great job, but most of all thanks to the players, because the standard we are seeing, the number of century breaks we are seeing, the drama we are creating is what is going to propel this sport further and further towards what one day I hope will challenge golf on the global circuit.”
PSB: Barry, you have got events such as the China Open where you take 64 players out to the venues, do you think that is the right balance or there should be more or less?
BH: “I think from a practical and logistics point of view that 64 is probably the maximum. We are changing it next year to say that the world champion, the world number one and the top two, highest local players from that country, their matches will be held over as we try to ensure that we are delivering the best possible product. That is a halfway house.
“Realistically, a lot of people criticise wildcards in these events without understanding that those wildcards have generally come from local qualifiers that have stimulated growth in that country and we brought in sensible rules that the bottom seeded players that have to play a wildcard, will only have to play one wildcard a year.
“So it’s a price to pay but the bigger picture and I had a few bits with John Parrott who is always good to talk to. We disagree on a lot of things and I always say to him that he is talking as a snooker player, but there is a much bigger picture in the world today, the world of new media, digital television, the opportunities that exist that we haven’t even begun to scratch.
“But we have ownership, we are not working for anyone else and that is the fun of it, this is the game I play. I am not very good at snooker, but I’m not bad at this.”
PSB: There are a lot of tournaments these days played over the best of seven frames, with the introduction of these new tournaments is there any scope for a return to some longer formats.
BH: “Again we are governed by our commercial partners, turnaround times and the logistics of taking so many more people to the venue than we used to. If there were eight people then you could have everything best of 25 but we don’t, we take 128 so logistically there is a problem.
“Also I think it’s really key that different events have their own personality and each event should somehow be slightly different from everything else. You have got your best of sevens, nines, eleven and you have got your big ones at the World Championship. You start building a structure, so Home Series events will follow the Welsh Open and be the same format right the way through that, ranking events will follow a certain format, the World Championship will do the same.
“I can understand the purist wanting it but it’s a little bit yesterday. The mood of today’s consumers, the general sports consumer is looking for a little bit faster action. What you have got here is the most wonderfully British, eccentric tournament the world has ever seen. When you try to explain to Americans that we have a semi-final that takes two and a bit days, they look at you as if you are mad, but then curiosity kicks in because it’s a slow boil, snooker is a slow crescendo and that is the attractiveness. It is like reading a decent long book where every chapter tells another story. Some are paperbacks, some are one framers like the Shoot Out, it is important to have different things.
“And again, it comes with the caveat that you will never get anything right. You will lose some good players because the standard is obviously going up, not just amongst the top 16, but amongst all the players. The players coming into the game as we have seen will give those players a tough game and obviously there will be shocks which is good for you to right about and for me to get decent ratings on.”
PSB: “So to confirm, the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish tournaments will form the Home Series and they will follow a similar format to the Welsh?
Mark Rawlinson: Just in terms of the European Tour, is the suggestion that you are going to be scaling it back.
BH: “Yeah, basically what we are going to say to our European Tour partners is this is what we are doing, we have done four or five years with a lot of these people, it has done the job for us, it has kept the players busy but realistically from a young player’s perspective it is expensive to go and if you don’t make the cut, you are out of pocket.
“It has come to a stage now where we are going to centralise over bigger events, but if you do make the cut, you make some proper wedge. It probably costs you £20,000 at least to play this tour, so if you don’t make the cut it’s quite a lot of money so how much have you got to earn? Really if you don’t earn £40,000-£50,000, you are better off getting a job. Sometimes players have to look in the mirror and say I’m not good enough, I thought I was, I played the tour and I’m not winning. What does that mean? I need to get another job.”
Monika Sulkowska: Are you thinking about any country in particular to host the European Open?
BH: “I think we are just going to go out to our partners and say this is what we are going to do. Whether we still carry on doing some smaller events and the players make a choice if they want to play or not, or whether some of our partners rise to the challenge and say that we are going to stage the European Open. If Poland comes, or Latvia, or does Lisbon say they want to make a bid.
“Last week I was with the government in Gibraltar and they were talking about making a bid for some events because they are making a push on getting to know Gibraltar. That’s what we do. It’s not just about the money but in that particular case the money does help.”
PSB: Do you see a time where like tennis, we have more than one event at one time and players have to pick and choose?
BH: “I think it’s coming to that now, it has happened on the darts circuit now so a lot of players now don’t play pro tour events because it clashes with other events and it’s a sign of success. I view it firstly as a sign of success and secondly as a great opportunity for the lesser players to get their name in the prize money list. If I were a young player and I’m going in for an event with big prize money and I see seven or eight of the top 16 not playing, I’d think well, that’s handy! They would have been quite difficult and now I have got half a chance of making something.
“I think that’s why this year you will see a big difference. We don’t know what Anthony McGill is going to do today. I think he has got about £30,000 [PSB: He goes up to 24th], it’s a big jump. On the two year ranking list, he only needs a few more and he is knocking on the door of the top 16 and it’s the same with Michael White. These are the players that I need, personality-wise. I need players to come through and who the public can warm to them and I think those two kids are great ambassadors of the new breed.”