As there is no action for now, Worldsnooker is taking time to tell us what happens behind the scene and today published a feature on what it takes to stage a ranking tournament.
Staging a ranking tournament involves many intricacies, which may not be immediately apparent. The task of showcasing the finest 128 snooker stars on the planet is one which requires rigorous attention to detail and precise execution.
Whether it be for those tableside in the arena, or those sitting in front of the television preparing for a session of world-class sport, the giants of the green baize provide entertainment to many millions of people every year.
Beaming television coverage to more than 50 countries around the world, accommodating thousands of fans in the arena and looking after 128 players, competing on eight tables, requires extensive planning.
The process of organising a ranking event typically begins years before the players take to the baize. World Snooker’s Operations Director Nigel Oldfield plays a key role in putting together the calendar and finding venues. Much like the players out in the arena, he needs to be thinking several steps ahead.
Oldfield said: “The first part of the process is finding the dates and that comes by looking at where we can fit the event within the overall calendar and undertaking discussions with broadcasters. At the moment, I have not only got a draft calendar for the 2019/20 season, but also the 2020/21 season. You need to be thinking that far ahead of yourself to be able to manage things.
“Once that has been done we need to find a suitable and available venue. The sort of venue which is required really does need to fulfil some very specific criteria, which narrows down the number of places we can go. Ideally it needs to have its own box office. But most significantly it needs to be able to hold eight tables at the same time as ensuring a good experience for the fans front of house and hosting 128 players backstage.”
The next part of the process is ensuring a packed-out crowd. Established tournaments like the World Championship sell out a year in advance. Fans queued through the night outside the Crucible to get their hands on tickets for the 2019 Championship. However, most other events require extensive promotion. World Snooker’s event management and marketing team, based in Bristol, spend months before each tournament working on branding, ticket promotions, artwork and advertising in order to raise awareness.
For events to be successful, they must be at the forefront of public consciousness. The emergence of social media as arguably the world’s most powerful news and marketing tool has changed the way we consume content. While we still obtain much of our information from traditional means like newspapers, televisions and radios, we are now equally invested in using phones, tablets and laptops for our news.
It is the job of Ivan Hirschowitz, who heads up World Snooker’s media team, to work with the global and local press to give them the access to events, while directing the in-house coverage of tournaments on digital platforms.
Hirschowitz said: “The media build up to a tournament will begin several months before it starts, usually around the opening of the box office and the announcement of the venue. We always have a partnership with the biggest regional newspaper and we’ll work with local media to build up the event and raise awareness. Social media is such an important way of communicating with fans so we have invested a lot in building up the quality of our digital content. We can convey messages about tournaments and tickets to half a million fans with the click of a button, which just wasn’t possible a decade ago.
“At our biggest tournaments we have more than 100 journalists applying for accreditation, from countries including China, Thailand, India, USA and around Europe. It has been fantastic to see snooker grow as a global sport over the past decade. During events it’s not unusual for our media staff to work 16-hour days. But you can’t beat the excitement of following a match to its conclusion well after midnight!”
Live television also requires plenty of man-hours and complex preparations from the on-site production team and host broadcaster. Eurosport televise the Home Nations series and their innovative coverage has attracted much praise from the snooker community and beyond.
Andy Goldstein and Colin Murray present Eurosport’s programmes, with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds providing cutting-edge analysis and expert tips from the practice room. The man in charge of making sure it all comes together is producer Paul Whipps.
“It is amazing how smoothly everything runs in terms of setting up,” said Whipps. “This is our third year of the Home Nations, so once the guys are in the venue, they know exactly how to lay the cables and put things together. They are incredible.
“Once the action gets under way we are live for both the afternoon and evening sessions and I will do a running order for the whole day. We always have a 15-minute introduction before play gets started and although the agenda for the afternoon is set, you can’t really plan too much for the evening show. A lot of what is discussed will come as reaction to the afternoon. I’m relying on lots of help from the team. I’ll speak to Andy, Jimmy and Ronnie about the key points and our head commentator David Hendon often makes suggestions as well. We want to be able to react to whatever is happening on and off the table.”
Before a tournament starts, most venues are empty spaces which need lighting, snooker tables and crowd seating to be put in place with expert precision. TranSport are contracted by World Snooker to direct the rigging process and put up the event infrastructure. Will Cope oversees the process.
He said: “Two or three months beforehand we have a drawing nailed down which shows where everything is going to go. We create a set of rigging notes which tells everyone who is going into the arena, in what order and at what time. There are a range of contractors including ourselves, the carpet fitters, the table fitters, the lighting guys and the cameramen. There are a lot of elements to bring together at the right time, including the structures to support the lighting and all of the cabling. We are the first piece of the jigsaw and we have to get our work done before the table fitters can come in.”
World Snooker Services are tasked with the critical role of getting the tables in position for the action. Both fitting and servicing the tables throughout the tournament is a specialist skill which requires each element to be executed perfectly to create top class playing conditions for the world’s finest snooker stars. Pete Godwin is one of the directors of the company and has more than 35 years of experience in the trade.
“Usually you only have three days to rig the tables as you need to come in after other people have done their job,” said Godwin. “The arena tables have to be put in, up to the slates, and then left to settle overnight. You need to have enough staff there to get the job done on time, but it is a very long process and a skilled job. Before any player gets to the table they all need to be signed off. We need to do level checks, speed checks, cushion reaction check and pocket template checks. Then during the intervals or between matches we brush and iron the tables to make sure they are in top condition. As the event goes on we are also taking tables out. We go from eight tables to six, to four, to two and then down to one for the semi-finals, when we strip the table down to recover and start again.”
Tournament Director Mike Ganley and his team oversee the events and ultimately take responsibility and make key decisions for everything which goes on in the match arena.
“I don’t think people necessarily understand how much work goes on in the background,” said Ganley. “We have the referees, the security and officials, media and event managers, so to start with there is the handling of staff. We are constantly in touch with the players, the officials and the broadcaster to make sure that the tournament runs to plan.
“I work with a group of tournament director staff and we share the events out. Whoever is in charge for a certain event has to be the contact and make tough decisions and answer questions. The buck does stop at the tournament director’s desk. That is where it has to stop as somebody needs to have the final say.”
During a season of tournaments in the UK, we use:
2.5 kilometres of snooker cloth
2,662 hotel nights for staff
7,828 litres of water
4,650 accreditation lanyards
It’s indeed a lot of work, and I can confirm that Ivan and his team, the fitters, the TV guys, the referees, the cameramen (and women!) and tournament director staff work extremely long hours to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
However some of the things written in this article surprise me a bit. From April 2010 to January 2016 I have been in a lot of tournaments. The “Triple Crown” tournaments are usually well advertised, and them being run for years in a row in the same city and venue does help. But for the other tournaments, I must say that my own experience is that, more often than not, the locals are largely unaware that a snooker tournament is happening close to their home, even the taxi drivers, who naturally tend to meet and speak to many people, often know nothing about it. In those events, especially the smaller ones, I was often the only photographer on site particularly in the early stages. Then the local press usually sent someone for the semi finals and final, or if a local player was in action, or… if Ronnie was playing. At the big events, the UK Championship, the Masters and of course the World Championship there were more people in the media room. The BBC guys, both from television and radio, the written press and photographers. But it was mostly always the same guys event after event and their number was closer to 40 than 100. Things might be different in Asia, but when I attended the Shanghai Masters in 2012, it was roughly the same.
By the way, Hector Nunns who is a (nearly) permanent presence in the media room wrote a feature in a recent issue of Snooker Scene, lamenting about the lack of interest in snooker shown by the newspapers in the UK nowadays. This of course is not WSA fault, it’s largely linked to the rise of social media and the fact that nowadays most people don’t read papers as much as they once did. Actually to “sell” the written press tends to rely a lot on sensationalist stories and catching titles. Unfortunately for snooker, that means that, more often than not, it’s either about Ronnie or about some match fixing “scandal”. So, snooker really owes a lot to mark Williams for his naked press conference. THat put snooker on the radars…