Reflecting on the decade – the PTC years

When Barry Hearn took over snooker, the sport was in a terrible state. The number of ranking tournaments in 2009/10 was just six. Obviously, except at the very top, players needed another job to be able to survive and it had become a sport of “part-timers”.

One of Barry Hearn’s priorities was to get players … to play regularly again. The Players Tour Championship was the answer. It may not be widely known, but the initial plan was to have twelve events – minor ranking events – in 2010/11: 4 would be held in the UK, 4 in Western Europe and 4 in Eastern Europe. Jason Ferguson was to organise the UK leg, Brandon Parker the Western European leg (in Belgium and Germany for a start), and Pat Mooney the Eastern European leg (*). All three – Ferguson, Parker and Mooney – were members of the new board after Barry Hearn took control. Pat Mooney was John Higgins manager and together they had previously started the “World Series”, a series of exhibitions involving top players, in mainland Europe, including Eastern Europe and former USSR in particular.

It didn’t go according to plan … During the 2010 World Championship, the News of the World infamously set up John Higgins, still the reigning World Champion, and Pat Mooney his manager. They invited them to Kiev – allegedly to discuss the organisation of events in the area – and filmed them agreeing to fix future matches, as well as agreeing to encourage other players to do the same. As a result Pat Mooney was permanently banned from any activity related to snooker. More on that in a future post (**)

The PTC project went on all the same the next season – 2010/11 – with 7 events played in the UK and 5 events played in mainland Europe (3 in Germany, 1 in Belgium, 1 in the Czech Republic). Of the 7 events played in the UK, 6 were played at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield, behind closed doors or about, the 7th was played at the SWSA in Gloucester and was technically part of the European leg.

Throughout the PTCs/EPTCs, season, an “order of merit” was kept, and the 24 best performing players were invited to compete in a PTC Grand Final, an event with full ranking status and offering decent money.

PTC series evolved through the years but was effectively an important part of the tour from 2010/11 to 2015/16.

The PTCs were in fact pro-ams, with amateurs competing in pre-qualifying rounds for the right to play pros in the last 128. All matches were best of 7.

When the PTC tour started in 2010/11 the ranking system was still based on points. Those events offered less points than full ranking events, but still a significant amount, especially considering that there were 12 of them, plus the Grand Final. Money wise though they weren’t offering much. There was £50000 in total, £10000 for the winner. For the ones played in mainland Europe, it was even worse as it was 50000€ and 10000€ for the winner and those events involved increased traveling costs for the vast majority of players. With a £100 entry fee, players basically had to reach the last 16, or even the QF sometimes just to break even.

This explains why a number of top players were extremely critical towards the series at first, claiming that they felt blackmailed to play into them to keep their ranking despite losing money (most notably Ronnie, Maguire). Other like Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy embraced it.

The series however definitely did two very positive things: it got the players playing all season long, and it brought live professional snooker to many areas, mainly in Europe, where it had been a rarity for many years. Eurosport embraced it too which was great. I have been in a lot of those events taking pictures, and, in mainland Europe, the crowds were generally excellent.

Another noticeable positive effect of the series was to bring back motivation to a generation of players who had turned into dull journeymen. All of a sudden players like Mark Davis, Barry Pinches, Rod Lawler found a new lease of sporting life, a new motivation. The quality of their snooker increased spectacularly.

As the series evolved, the prize money increased, the UK leg was reduced, the European leg grew and an Asian leg was added to the tour (2012/13). Also the Grand Final became a 32 men event.

I also went to one APTC event, in Yixing, China, in 2012. This was a completely different experience from what I knew in Europe. Let me first say this: I was made to feel extremely welcome by all the Chinese persons I met over there. I’m very grateful for the friendship and the memories. Contrary to what happened in the European events though, there was very little crowd, and the army was very present around the venue, which was very bizarre (for me at least) … not that the locals looked particularly scared, but they were there. Also, the young Chinese players involved were closely looked after by their coaches and the CBSA. I remember Lyu Haotian there: he was only 14. Every of his matches was closely monitored, videotaped and debriefed. Another legacy from those APTCs is the “partitioned” setup currently used in all qualifiers. That’s where I saw it first being used. Jason Ferguson thought that the idea was great and asked me to take some pictures so that he could later show the other members of the board how it was done…

The PTC series was abandonned in 2016, probably because Barry Hearn thought that the concept had served it’s purpose. A few chosen events were kept and “upgraded” as full ranking events. Despite the initial criticisms, the PTC brought a lot of positives to snooker. But the series had some adverse effects as well. One of them is the demise of the Paul Hunter Classic. What was the most vibrant pro-am in Europe, attracting hundreds of players and fans has been destroyed. Whilst it was a PTC, it still kept its identity to a large extend although already part of the “fun” was gone. As a full ranking event, it petered out. All that remains is a 16 men sanctioned invitational that isn’t even broadcasted any more. Also, I have heard informed opinions that the PTC tour indirectly contributed to the decline of the amateur scene: amateurs obviously have to make choices when it comes to the events they want to attend. Most have a job, or are still at school or studying. They rarely have loads of money and time. The propect of mixing with pros, and possibly playing them, proved extremely attractive to many. As a result a number of existing pro-ams, some very “old”, allegedly saw their entries decline sharply, and eventually disppeared.

Finally, from what I heard from the organisers of the PTCs in Belgium and in SWSA, despite the good crowds, those events were not really profitable for them.

(*) those informations had been shared with a small group of people, including myself, during an exhibition in GErmany held shortly before the 2010 WC
(**) it definitly wasn’t “just an exhibition and nothing happened anyway”