Since Barry Hearn has taken control of snooker, the players earning opportunities have grown very significantly. Not only has the number of tournaments gone from 11 in total in 2009/10, including the Masters qualifying event and the Championship League Snooker, to 26 in 2018/19, but the prize money available for individual events has also increased very significantly. Below you’ll find a few examples.
2009 total £625000 – Winner £100000 – L16 £12050
2019 total £1009000 – Winner £200000 – L16 £17000
2009 total £292000 – Winner £52000 – L16 £5000
2019 total £1000000 – Winner £225000 – L16 £18000
2009 total £1111000 Winner £250000 L16 £16000
2019 total £2231000 Winner £500000 L16 £30000
Of course it is necessary to take the evolution of the prices/costs for housing, food, clothes etc into account. From what I have been able to find on the Internet, those costs have increased by about 2.5 % per years over the last decade in the UK. If so, you would need nearly £1250 today to buy the same goods you could have for £1000 ten years ago.
Another factor is that the tour nowadays requires a lot more traveling than ten years ago and that comes at a cost. On the other hand, the entry fees have been scrapped for the professional players.
And finally, the numbers above are earnings before substacting taxes and the WS levy. Taxes can be extremely high. For instance, at the 2011 Australian Open, local taxes amounted to 46% of the prize money. Mark Williams, who was runner-up that year, said that what he was left with after taxes, and taking the costs of the travel into account, wasn’t worth the effort. Those 46%, I suppose, were pretty extreme and taxes aren’t THAT high usually, but they aren’t negligible either.
The numbers above though aren’t telling the whole story. With the tiered system, in most tournaments there was no prize money until the last 64. Losing seeds from last 64 on were still earning something. This means that (at mos)t 32 players – out of 96 at the time earned nothing.
Nowadays, in most tournaments, the draw is flat, and losers in first round get nothing, wich means that 64 players, out of 128, earn nothing. Which makes it worse is that the players ranked 128 to 65 face a top 64 opponent in most tournaments, and in the UK championship it’s a strict seeding, meaning that the lowest ranked players, face the very top ones … and more often than not get battered! I have touched the subject already in my post about the rankings. But it’s not just that the system doesn’t offer a development path, it’s also that lowest ranked players don’t earn much at all.
Looking at the one year list on snooker.org we have 10 professional players who have earned absolutely NOTHING since the start of the season, a good six months ago. Granted Mifsud hasn’t played, but the others have. We have 33 more professional players who have earned £12000 or less. You will tell me that £2000 a month is not so bad, but bear in mind that they are self-employed and this is before taxes. Also, they have to travel to tournaments and qualifiers – it comes at a cost. Plus, most of them will have costs associated with having access to a table to practice. So, really £2000 isn’t much at all, and 43 out of 128, one in three are there or below. A player has to be ranked 72 or better to get to £3000 a month, which is probably a bare minimum to earn a living.
So, for all Barry Hearn’s boasting about how much money there is to be earned in snooker, a lot players only just earn a pittance. In the past, with a “light” calendar, most of those players had another job. Many worked in clubs, worked on construction sites or as taxi drivers, jobs that allowed them some flexibility so that they could manage their schedule around the snooker calendar. Now this isn’t possible anymore.
My view is that players should get something – if only to cover minimal basic expenses related to being there and making themselves available to play – win or lose. By playing their match, they bring value to the tournament, to the venue and to the sponsors, it would be only fair. Barry hearn says that he doesn’t want to support mediocrity and that if you are good enough you should make it. Ok, but if they only get such a minimum, they won’t make a living ou of it, and if, should they lose, it does not count towards their ranking, they won’t be able to stay on the tour anyway. So where is the problem?
Now – and this is genuine question – would Neil Robertson have “made it” under the current system? I actually doubt it. Neil is currently one of the very top players, h’e a former world Champion, a winner of 16 ranking events, and one of the only 11 players who have won the “Triple Crown”. Yet, when he first came on the tour, at 16, he wasn’t ready. In Australia, he didn’t have the kind of opposition he found when coming to the UK, his game was very raw. He dropped off the tour twice. Neil has often praised Joe Perry for the support he offered him at the start of his career. He has told the media how hard it was, how he felt alone away from his family, how he worked in the club, doing any dirty job, cleaning the toilets… He deserves every credit for pursuing his dream through hardship. But whatever job you do, your employer has to know that you are available for the job at least most of the time, not always on the road somewhere! With the number of tournaments nowadays, would that still be possible? I’m not sure. I’m of course not saying that we should go back to the time where there were only six or seven ranking events, but having a slightly less brutal system, and giving the players a minimal wage to cover the costs directly related to their professional traveling, should be seen as an “investment in the future”, not as “supporting mediocrity”. After all the players are the sport most valuable asset.
Finally, about the sponsoring… yes, there is much more money in snooker that there was ten years ago. However, outside China / Asia, the money comes from one source of sponsoring: the betting industry. I have said this already, but I’ll say it again: it’s a very unhrealthy situation and not just in snooker.
Gambling needs tobacco-like regulation in sports advertising and sponsorship
Not that long ago UK sports fans could indulge their passions by watching the rugby league Silk Cut Challenge Cup, one day cricket’s Benson and Hedges Cup, or the Embassy World Snooker Championship. Not to mention the excitement and glamour of cars branded to look like Marlboro packets on wheels being driven on Formula 1 racetracks around the world.
Cigarette branding was once integral to sport and a crucial marketing strategy for the industry. But research into the powerful impact of advertising these products – particularly on young people’s awareness, attitudes and intentions to use them – led to legislative changes that ended the relationship between tobacco and sport.
The gap in the market left by the cigarette industry has now been filled by the gambling industry. The Challenge Cup is now the Coral Challenge Cup, and football fans can watch teams take part in competitions such as the Sky Bet Championship. Football, in particular, has seen a rise in commercial arrangements with gambling companies, not just competition sponsorship but stadium and shirt sponsorship, too. In fact, in the 2019-20 Premier League, half the clubs have betting companies as shirt sponsors.
In the UK, gambling-related TV and radio advertising was banned until the 2005 Gambling Act came into force, which relaxed the rules. Since then, spending on gambling-related advertising has increased significantly, with UK betting firms spending £328m on direct advertising, such as adverts in commercial breaks in sports programmes, in 2018 alone. This figure is almost certainly an underestimate of the total amount spent on marketing as it doesn’t include online advertising or indirect advertising, such as sponsorship logos on shirts and stadium hoardings.
New evidence is beginning to reveal the negative effect of gambling adverts. Research from Australia suggests that advertising exposure through “push marketing”, such as promotional text messages, uses techniques to reduce the perception of risk – for instance, by showing gamblers winning – and can result in them betting for longer and losing more money, while believing that these bets are less risky.
Gambling and young people
Perhaps more worrying is the potential impact of this advertising on people (under-18s) not old enough to gamble legally. Evidence suggests that gambling adverts on TV and social media capture their attention.
An Australian study found that not only could young people recall the names of sports betting brands, they were also able to describe distinctive features of brands (such as colour) and accurately match brands with promotions. Similar results have been found in the UK, with children and teenagers, age eight to 16, identified as “super-fans” – who watch a lot of football on TV – being more likely to be able to match sponsor brands to club logos.
The potential effect of this on subsequent behaviour is worrying. A fifth of the young people (age 11-16) in the Australian study indicated that they wanted to try gambling. In Britain, it was reported that 14% of children aged 11-16 had gambled in the past week, with 1.7% of those aged 11 -16 classified as “problem” gamblers and 2.2% as “at risk” of problem gambling.
Our latest research shows that for young adults the strongest motive to gamble is increased excitement. In televised sporting events, gambling adverts ramp up the feeling of excitement and give the perception that gambling is a fundamental part of watching sports.
Concerns about the exposure of young people to gambling adverts have already and led to voluntary industry commitments, such as the new “whistle-to-whistle” ban on gambling advertising during televised sports (except horse racing) before 9pm. But embedded promotions, such as stadium sponsorship, league sponsorship, promotional logos on team uniforms and pitch signage, are not covered by this measure and so remain visible to viewers.
Critics of embedded promotion are most concerned with its subtle and deceptive assimilation into live screen time. From this perspective, the promotional intent is concealed, as the gambling-endorsing advertisements are carefully integrated into the spectator’s emotional experience.
This was perhaps no more aptly demonstrated than by high-profile former England captain Wayne Rooney signing for Derby County – an English second-tier club sponsored by the betting brand “32Red” – and being assigned the number 32 shirt. A move the sports minister, Nigel Adams, called “very crafty”.
We are currently researching the social impact of gambling and looking at developing screening measures to identify people at risk of gambling harm. Existing screening measures, used by addiction and recovery services, are ineffective and open to misinterpretation. A consequence of this is the possibility of the under-representation of gambling harm in the population and the perception that “problem gamblers” are a tiny minority. Gambling has become increasingly advanced and accessible and this potentially puts many more people at risk than previously indicated.
As global research has established the problems that gambling can cause, the UK government now need to impose strict tobacco-like restrictions on gambling adverts, and break the perception that gambling and sport are integral to each other.
The situation is exactly the same in snooker. When the tobacco ban came, it hit snooker very hard because not enough had been done to find alternative sources of sponsoring. Snooker now relies very heavily on the betting industry and there is no visible sign of the issue being adressed. Over the last two or three years the signs are there – clear for all to see – that regulation of this market is coming, a ban – total or partial – is a matter of when not if. What then? Snooker moving to China? Or another big slump? Does Barry Hearn, who is 71, care?
And is this the right way to go? Why would a country like Saudi Arabia do this? They have no big tradition in snooker. The answer clearly must be elsewhere.
Maybe, if you have a moral compass, it’s worth reading those two articles: