Snooker’s commercial arm has relaunched as the World Snooker Tour (WST) to reflect its global growth over the past decade.
Previously known as World Snooker, WST runs the professional circuit around the planet, with a tour of 25 events and total prize money of £14.6 million.
WST has grown rapidly over the past decade; during the 2009/10 season there were just six world ranking events and total prize money of £3.6 million.
In 2010, World Snooker was taken over by Matchroom Sport, chaired by Barry Hearn. Today, snooker has vastly improved opportunities for the players to compete in lucrative events across the world, and for the fans, with 500 million people watching the sport’s linear and digital broadcast.
“Over the past ten years we have exploited the massive popularity of our sport across the planet. We have created new events with lasting legacies and worked with broadcasters to bring snooker to an ever growing audience. We have modernised our sport, particularly through social media, to appeal to a young generation of fans, and our new branding reflects that.
“We have tripled prize money over the past decade, and looking ahead to the next ten years I believe we can double it again, towards £30 million. Rather than resting on our success, we have plans in place to continue our development with relentless ambition.
“Recently we announced a new event in Saudi Arabia which will set a new record for prize money for one event, and it is a ten year deal with the intention to grow snooker at grass roots level in the region.
“As well as expansion into the Middle East we are pushing hard into India where we think there is enormous potential. North America, South America and Africa are also potential markets with a bright future. Soon we will announce plans for an exciting new online platform which will bring snooker to even more fans in every corner of the globe.
“Perhaps our greatest asset is our inclusivity. Anyone can play snooker regardless of age, gender or nationality, the only criteria is ability. There are great incentives for any young player across the world to rise through the ranks, while they are inspired by their heroes who have reached the top level.
“This is an exhilarating time to be a WST player or a fan of the sport, and as we look ahead we are limited by nothing other than our own imagination.”
WST: The Statistics
Global TV audience
500 million people
1.6 billion households
64,400 linear broadcast hours
13 digital platforms
168 million live video views
There are players from 21 different countries among the 128 on the World Snooker Tour.
There are 104 national snooker federations worldwide. An estimated 120 million people across the globe play snooker.
World Snooker Tour total prize money, season by season
2009/10 £3.6 million
2010/11 £5.3 million
2011/12 £6.2 million
2012/13 £7.0 million
2013/14 £8.3 million
2014/15 £8.1 million
2015/16 £8.0 million
2016/17 £10.3 million
2017/18 £13.6 million
2018/19 £13.2 million
2019/20 £14.6 million
Number of ranking events, season by season 2009-2019
Impressive? Yes it is but…. I’m an European and I can’t help to think that there are some fundamental changes needed before it’s a WORLD tour. Currently it’s still essentially a UK centric tour. Why? Well consider this:
- All three majors are held in the UK
- All flat draw events that are played at the main venue are held in the UK
- All qualifiers are held in the UK
- The Q-school is held in the UK
This basically means that young aspiring players, who aren’t millionaires, have to live in the UK, something BTW that could become more difficult for EU citizens with Brexit coming.
China injects a lot of money in the sport, yet their young players have to come to the UK to qualify for their home events. Is that right?
Just imagine for a minute that it would be the other way around. Just imagine that UK players would have to qualify for the Home nations, the UK Championship and the World Championship in some obscure remote town in China. How many would succeed? How many would go and live in China, learn the language, accept a totally different culture, different food, be separated from their families, deal with the time difference? How many would cope? Be honest, not many. Especially when you hear people like Mark Allen and Ken Doherty telling you how hard it was to expat themselves from … Ireland, a country sharing the same language, culturally close, with no time difference and one hour away by plane. If it was the other way around, the circuit would be dominated by Chinese and Asian players, make no mistake, because they have much better stuctures to support and develop their young talents. The current structure of the tour is massively biased in favour of UK players. Yes, they are a majority, but the whole system is designed to keep it that way. That has to change if there is a real ambition to be a WORLD tour.
- all flat draw events should be played at the final venue from round 1
- if there are “tiered” events, the qualifiers should be played in a location geographically close to the main venue, and right before the main event , as is the case for the World Championship
- the main tour qualification process needs to change. For the near future, “de-localised” Q-schools would be the easiest option. It would be a long term project, and would need a change in mentality, but, possibly, an “ELO” type of rating system – replacing the current rankings – could eliminate the need for the Q-school entirely. And before you tell me it’s impossible to use in snooker, it IS used in table tennis.
Snooker’s elite players are under no pressure to play in the lucrative but controversial new tournament in Saudi Arabia, World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has said.
The ranking event with the biggest prize money will take place in Riyadh in October, with the champion earning £500,000 from a total fund of £2.5m.
Hearn said the decision to go was made for the “betterment of our sport” and “we go, invest and create”.
“Every player can go or pass,” he said.
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will see the country host a ranking event for the first time in 2020 as part of a money-spinning 10-year deal.
However, human rights organisation Amnesty International has highlighted the country’s “abysmal” human rights record. Heavy restrictions on freedom of expression and women’s rights have been raised, as has the use of the death penalty for offences not recognised as crimes under international law.
The Kingdom has sought to stage sporting and entertainment events in a bid to attract visitors and move away from its oil-dependent economy.
Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title victory over Andy Ruiz Jr took place there in December, and boxing is far from alone in staging events in Saudi Arabia, with football, motor racing, tennis, golf and WWE wrestling all recently being held in the Gulf state.
But despite accusations that the event is a cash-chasing exercise and also part of a calculated attempt by Saudi Arabia to cleanse its image through ‘sportswashing’, Hearn is adamant the long-term vision has honourable motives.
Use of female referees ‘a step forward’
Hearn says it is a chance to bring about change and offers, as a sign of progress, the fact that female referees will be used.
“We are all aware of the situation, but sport knows no boundaries in our view and we are there to spread the gospel of sport, and in this case the gospel of snooker,” the 71-year-old said.
“There are probably half a dozen countries in the world that have human rights issues. Whether you consider that to be a transitional stage of a country’s development or whether you say ‘I am not having anything to do with them’ – I would rather communicate, have conversations and try to move forward.
“Sport can be a conduit for achieving that, given time. But it does take time.
“The fact we are using women referees is a major step forward.
“I am impressed with the attitude of the Saudi government and their investment in sport because they are making a push to make their younger people more active and that can only be beneficial. Sport is an issue that moulds countries together. It forms character in young people. It gives expression and an opportunity to those that may not have it. There is a bigger picture.
“It’s important to realise that every country has their own culture. There will be countries where we don’t agree with their culture and there will be countries that don’t agree with ours.
“So rather than get it over-complicated, I find it is easier for me to concentrate on what I am good at, which is the development of sporting opportunities. And perhaps, part of the by-product of the success of that venture will be a general change that makes everyone feel more comfortable.”
Hearn, who has just passed the 10-year anniversary as chairman of snooker’s commercial arm, wants to double snooker’s current prize pot of £17m in the next 10 years and continue its “globalisation”.
A rebranding from World Snooker to World Snooker Tour is designed to give a new look, “probably following on the lines of the tennis ATP Tour and golf’s PGA Tour” and give “a significant standing within the sporting world”.
Hearn added: “We have had a fascinating and fabulous 10 years. We have woken up this sleeping princess and have done well.
“We have gone from prize money of £3.5m to £17m. There are more tournaments than ever before; we have ticked a lot of boxes.
“The relaunch is a statement that the journey has only just begun. We have achieved all our ambitions in 10 years and now we set ambitions for the next 10. We believe we are a significant player and the future is bright.”
A Saudi spark
Hearn hopes the move into Saudi Arabia will increase competition and bring about “a natural progression” of even bigger and better tournaments.
“We are there to create an infrastructure of snooker via coaching, via academies, through player visits and universities and schools,” said Hearn. “We are trying to motivate a country and the brief of the Saudi government is we want to be more involved in sport generally.”
World number eight Kyren Wilson, 28, told BBC Sport that the huge prize money on offer and snooker’s global development was “great for the players”.
“Going to new places and growing the sport is wonderful,” said the former Masters runner-up.
“The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.
“The good thing is that the tournament has a long-term plan, with coaching structures and plans in place to get youngsters involved, which is brilliant. Using women referees in Saudi Arabia is also a big step in the right direction.”
Hearn added: “The bigger picture for us is establishing a global footprint. Saudi Arabia is an escalating contract for 10 years so we have a chance to really make a mark in that territory and we hope other territories will follow.
“People have egos and demands and desires and want to show their country to the best possible audience around the world.
“Anthony Joshua went to Saudi Arabia and it had massive ramifications around the world, with other countries coming on and saying ‘what about us?'”
The British heartlands
Hearn insists the traditional snooker strongholds in the UK and Ireland will not be overlooked. The Chinese market is still a key target and India remains a major focus, but the WST will not be “turning eyes away from any opportunity anywhere in the world”.
“We respect the traditional heartlands,” he explained. “We have a lot of support there and they have history. The new markets don’t have history yet, but given time they will do.
“We are looking at the world, not just our parochial attitude with where we have been and come from. Every major sport has followed the same pattern. There is a big market out there and in today’s world it can be quite easily monetised which takes it to the next level in terms of prize money.
“Our job is to maintain our Triple Crown events [the World Championship, the UK Championship and the Masters]. They have so much history that we still have an obligation to make sure they are still of relevance.
“But professional sport is governed by prize money and opportunity, and if we are trying to be an aspirational sport for young people around the world, we have to set our bar high. You are only limited by your own imagination.”
Barry Hearn: “Every player can go or pass”, in theory, yes, practically, if they are under strain ranking wise, no, they can’t and Hearn knows that very well. He’s not a liar, he’s still an hypocrite.
Kyren Wilson: “The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.” You have children don’t you Kyren? What kind of world do you want for them? You think you are safe? Let me tell you this: your attitude is the same one that allowed the Shoah to happen (*), and other atrocities and disasters as well. Basically, “It’s not my business, it’s not impacting MY life anyway”…. for now.
That said Saudi Arabia opening itself to sport may actually force them into some changes, create a “de facto” mentality opening that they will not be able to control and “close” again. If so, great.