Friday, 12 September 2008

Snooker: Snookered, Split, or Bust!?

Last month, snooker lost two of its major sponsors. At the time I was going to write an article, but couldn't really think of anything different to say than what had already been said in the mainstream press or what had been said on other cue sport blogs. have pulled out of the World Championships and Saga Insurance have pulled out of the Masters (I didn't bother linking to their sites for obvious reasons! :o) ). This is a pretty sorry state of events for snooker but I don't think it should be too unexpected with the current state of the world markets. Sponsors are pulling out of golf tournaments like this one here and tennis tournaments like this one here. Some high profile football clubs are even struggling get shirt sponsorship deals!! Why should snooker be any different?

I've often thought that the current format of ranking events simply doesn't work in today's day and age. Snooker could survive quite happily in the 80s and early 90s before the globalisation boom and emergence of international markets. Sponsors want to appeal to a global market these days and because there are so few snooker events worldwide, sponsors simply aren't getting the exposure they desire from the sport we love.

Over the years I've wondered how snooker could become global, and it's difficult for me to see this happening with snooker in its current state. I've consistently seen articles and blog posts blaming the WPSBA board when tournaments are lost due to lack of sponsorship, conflicts are created due to poor organisation and lawyers are getting involved due to lack of communication. The board, after the process of being elected, are, ....I suppose, at a push, responsible. But for me, the real people that are responsible for the current state of snooker are the players themselves. They all have a vote and can change their board at a moment's notice, the players have chosen who are in power. If the game was in such a terrible state, one of two things would happen.

  1. Either the players would replace the board, or
  2. The section of players that are so against the current system would simply no longer be able to stand it anymore and would break away from the current tour and form a new one.

I think, and hope, the latter will happen, ....eventually!

I know this is a bit simplistic and normally a lot would happen before one of these two events happen, ...but eventually, one of those two outcomes, ....would be THE outcome!

I think snooker has the potential to be a successful global, multiple tour, big money sport. I've often thought that snooker should be trying to use other successful sports as role models to try to make snooker successful. But the real people with the power to change the game, the players, don't seem to want to take chances or think "out of the box". It's easy to say let's change the format, but I think it would be very brave for the current generation of players to be the pioneers in trying something different.

When snooker was renegotiating the World Championship venue a few years back, I was one of those people hoping World Snooker would break away from Sheffield and possibly move to London or end up being a worldwide rotating venue. I really believe it was the wrong decision to keep world snooker in Sheffield, although I agree that the venue is excellent and I've been there on a number of occasions to see the World Championships. I never wanted to venue to die, snooker could have staged a different tournament there, but I was hoping the World Snooker Championships would go global, I think it would have been a great boost for the sport.

I'm also one of those people that believe multiple professional tours are needed all around the world. I like the golf model where there are multiple professional golf tours worldwide and then 4 major championships. It's interesting to know that golf tours came about almost accidentally by players splitting away from the original PGA tour. Now there are more than 20 professional tours around the world. The 20 tours are not on a equal level though and tend to be defined over tiers where you have:

  • 1st: PGA Tour
  • 2nd: European Tour
  • 3rd and 4th: Champions Tour; LPGA Tour
  • 5th - 7th: Asian Tour; Japan Golf Tour; LPGA of Japan Tour

source: Wikipedia (not a great source, but a source)

It's interesting to see the LPGA tour is ranked above some of the men's tours and the tiers are purely defined through financial reward.

I don't think for a second snooker can support more than 20 professional tours but maybe they can support half a dozen round the world. Something like the following might be sustainable in the long term:

  • UK & Ireland tour - tier 1
  • European tour - tier 2
  • Asian tour - tier 2
  • Oceania tour - tier 3
  • Americas tour - tier 3
  • African tour - tier 4

I've also added different tiers using the tier methodology used in golf with the tier 1 tour being the most lucrative going to tier 4 that's the least lucrative. Some of it guess work of course! :o)

From the different tours you would need members to co-sanction an official world snooker ranking system that would somehow need to be weighted depending on the tier the tour is in.

The world snooker rankings would determine who plays in the "4 majors" per year, yes, ...very like golf (and tennis as that is structured in a similar manner)! The top x players from each tour would battle it out in these 4 elite tournaments and each major would be played in different parts of the world where the tours are based. We could have our 4 snooker majors in:

  • UK
  • Mainland Europe
  • Asia
  • Oceania or America.

Then we would have a truly global sport! And how does this happen? Well I think it would be a very slow process possibly initiated by a split in the current professional ranks.

I've discussed this on Dave Hendon's snookerscene blog and on the World Series Snooker forum where John Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney themselves are contributing to the discussion!

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