Barry Hearn Announces Asian Order of Merit, Asian PTCs and More

Having earlier formally announced the Wuxi Classic tournament for 2012, Barry Hearn has today carried out a further press conference, detailing three new Asian PTC Events as well as the creation of a new Asian Order of Merit. Barry also confirmed new contracts for the UK Championship and Masters tournaments to remain at the Barbican Centre in York and Alexandra Palace in London respectively.

I also asked Barry a few questions regarding how he sees the sport expanding in Europe, whether he sees scope for different formats in the Chinese events and also how he sees the introduction of a money list given the current structure of certain events…

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

  • The Tournament calendar for 2012/13 now complete, there will be 50 weeks of snooker out of 52 weeks, with a Christmas week off and one other week off ‘probably mid-summer.’
  • A new two-year deal has been agreed for the UK Championship to remain at the Barbican Centre, York. Tickets for the event have gone on sale today.
  • A new three-year deal has been agreed for the Masters to remain at the Alexandra Palace, London. Tickets for the event have gone on sale today.
  • Tickets for the 2013 World Championship will go on sale on 14th July 2012.
  • A new sponsor for the UK Championship is to be announced next week.
  • There is to be a new Asian Order of Merit launched. The top four players from this Order of Merit will be given a place in the PTC Finals for 2013 and will be awarded a main tour place for the following season.
  • There will be three Pro Tour events in China (anywhere in Asia but initially in China), three to start with. Each event will carry exactly the same ranking points as the Pro Tour events in Europe, £50,000 in prize money and any player has the ability to play in those events. They will be open tournament.
  • The winner of each Asian Pro Tour Event will earn a place in the PTC Grand Finals. There will be 32 players in all in the Grand Finals, 25 from the European/English PTC Order of Merit, the top four from the Asian Order of Merit and the three event winners from the Asian Events.
  • The three Asian Pro Tour events will be scheduled around the other major Chinese events. One will be the week before the Wuxi Classic, one the week after the Shanghai Masters and one the week before the International Championship

Following Barry’s announcement, various questions were put to him, Barry revealing that he would love to have one more ranking event in the UK, with 128 players coming in at the first round and that this is the one event that really gives him a buzz. He also explained that it would not be practical to have an ‘Asian swing’ as in other sports, as it does not work for the broadcasters if the events are concentrated.

I also asked Barry three questions myself as follows:

PSB: “You have often spoken about the importance of each tournament having it’s own identity, you’ve now got five tournaments in China, all with similar formats, do you see room for other formats there?”

BH: “I see that changing, definitely. I think initially because it is a new market, one tends to copy the other, we see that has worked on CCTV, we want the same as them. That’s natural, which is why they want the top 16 seeded through but as the market evolves and as their understanding of the art of competition evolves and the art of looking different.”

“CCTV have begun it with the International Championship became they have come in and said they want the prize money to be 50% higher. Although the format may still be the same, that concept has shown that they are looking at making it different.”

“And there will eventually be longer, shorter formats and quite rightly too, they should have their own personality. China is a big place as well, it’s not like in England. What has got its own personality in Shanghai doesn’t necessarily reflect the personality or format of an event in Beijing because it’s like another world almost with the difference.”

PSB: “Turning to Europe, I was in the arena the other day and saw people from Iceland, Finland, Belgium in there, how do you see the expansion going in Europe?”

BH: “I think that China is an established market now. What we are seeing in Europe is in many ways almost more exciting in terms of the fact that it has come from a very small base, with a very young, quite affluent audience, market research is telling us that. When you look at what has happened in Germany in particular, both on snooker and I have to say with darts, when they embrace it, they come in at a much higher level, in terms of ticket prices and participation.”

“They don’t necessarily even have to be a player to appreciate the game and that is another shift. We become more of an entertainment vehicle rather than just blokes who play that used to play with each other in a snooker hall. The game has moved on. I watch tennis and I haven’t held a tennis racquet for 20 years but it doesn’t stop me watching tennis.”

“Europe is really exciting for me, Eastern Europe, I had an invitation this morning from Romania that they want a snooker event out there, we are talking to Turkey, we are talking to Scandinavia, Denmark in particular. The PTC’s are doing their job but it is early days. I think it is going to take us another five years before Europe really gets the momentum up of majors.”

“But when we see Wuxi go from an invitation event in four years to a ranking, that is probably the time it takes. I wonder how long for example it will take before there is a ranking event in Belgium? On the back of young Luca probably quite quickly. I don’t think it will be this year, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t a ranking event next year in a place like Belgium.”

PSB: “You’ve spoken about introducing a money list, at present it would be difficult with events such as Australia where players have got to win two or three matches to make venues, but obviously you have also spoken about flattening draws, how do you see that overlapping?”

BH: “It’s going to take a period. There is still an advantage, both on ranking points and on prize money if you are seeded through to the latter stages. The World Championships are a great example, first round loser gets whatever here, someone has gone through four or five matches to get to that amount of money and it’s not fair. At the same time you have to acknowledge that those people who are getting the advantage are there on merit, because they deserve that.”

“I want kids to come in and earn it, I don’t just give it to them, I can give them the opportunity but they have still got to earn it and someone who has been up there for years and performed consistently deserves a little bit of protection(ish). But the aim is to phase that out over a period of time. We start off this year with the German Masters and the Welsh Open. Next year I am very close with the BBC to making the next change to the UK Championship.”

“Next year we will have 128 players on and we have got a chance to manoeuvre around. If we do one more ranking event in the UK, we will definitely have 128 in on day one. It takes time, but there is always going to be that element, as there is with seedings. If you seed 1-64 then 1 will play 128. That’s an element of protectionism as well. But some of it is unavoidable.”