Jason Ferguson on Hong Kong, sponsorship, Ronnie O’Sullivan, prize money and the Crucible
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has offered the latest on various things going on in snooker at the minute, from new tournaments, to sponsorship deals to changes in prize money.
Ferguson’s work rarely stops as he promotes the game across the globe and the first piece of business is on the potential return to Hong Kong for an event this season.
A tournament in Hong Kong?
Marco Fu suggested that a tournament in his homeland is on the cards, tweeting: ‘Lots of happy moments in the last major tournament in Hong Kong. Looks like there will be one this summer! Hope it will happen!’
Ferguson told Metro.co.uk: ‘We are in talks in Hong Kong, we do have a broadcaster.
‘There’s a broadcaster in Hong Kong which takes all of the snooker coverage and we do know their viewing figures are huge.
‘We are in discussions over it, it’s not finalised as yet, but we’re very optimistic about it.
‘A lot of it is down to travel restrictions. Demand for us to put on events in Asia is huge, but it’s down to whether we can make it work from a travel perspective.
‘Of course we’d love to go back there. There’s a great following for the sport, the passion is there.’
On what kind of event it could be, he added: ‘At this stage I couldn’t really say how it’s going to pan out. It might be that we have to do a smaller field to try and comply with travel restrictions.
‘The idea is to try and put a marker down, push to get an event on in Asia, put those protocols in place and then push to expand on that.
‘We can’t be too ambitious at this stage, so I imagine it will be a fairly small field if we do it.
‘At the moment we’re looking at 21 days quarantine after travel, which means it’s impossible. At the moment we’re pushing to ease those travel restrictions or get some kind of exemption under sports travel, but it’s very tight at the moment and very difficult.’
On where else we could see new events, the chairman said: ‘We’re more likely to see things like Turkey. That’s been a fantastic addition to the calendar: new market, huge demand from fans and we’re more likely to see that kind of event pop up – around the Mediterranean, snooker is growing and those places are opening up.
‘In the new year, we have put dates aside for China events but if they don’t come off then we are working on things to fill those gaps. While those flights might not be long haul, we will have chance to put some nice events on.’
As Cazoo extend their involvement with snooker by sponsoring the World Championship, Ferguson welcomed them further on board and thanked previous sponsors Betfred for their excellent work.
‘They’re proving to be a great partner,’ said Ferguson. ‘They’ve come back for more sponsorship rights, more exposure and we’re delighted to work with them. They’re a new brand, it’s clean, a great outlook for us.
‘But lets not forget what Betfred have done for his sport and the support they’ve given is, it’s been incredible. Fred Done is an incredible individual. He loves this sport, loves to see it develop and has loved being a part of it. I thanked Fred last week, not just for the sponsorship and high level stuff, but the percentage of investment he puts in that we use at grassroots to get kids off streets and into clubs, keep clubs open. We see that side of the investment on the ground and it’s been an incredible commitment.
‘It’s a system that we’ve got that makes sure a percentage of what comes into the sport goes into projects and development and we’ll continue that work with the Cazoo support. We’re in good shape as a sport.’
The WPBSA chairman suggested there was more to the move than pre-empting a possible ban on sponsorship by bookmakers.
‘I don’t think that was necessarily the angle,’ he said. ‘All of our rights agreements come up for renewal on a regular basis and there’s always more than one runner in the race for those rights. That’s a pleasing position to be in.
‘You go back 15 years and you were wondering, post-tobacco, where the next sponsorship deal was coming from. We’re here today and we’ve actually sold out, we’ve got more bidders for events than we’ve got events, which is an amazing position to be in. It’s an ongoing position of renewing agreements and some things change. Maybe they’ll be back at the table at some point.’
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s disciplinary matters
The Rocket faced disciplinary action after making a lewd gesture during his first round match at the World Championship, with that process ongoing.
Ferguson explained: ‘There’s no outcome of it yet, but the matter was referred. It will all get wrapped up pretty quickly, there’s a process for these things.’
O’Sullivan’s clash with referee Olivier Marteel in the Crucible final, though, is not being dealt with by anyone else, with the matter wrapped up at the time.
‘It was dealt with within the match and that is the correct thing to do,’ said Ferguson. ‘The referee’s in charge, the referee deals with it and gives the warning. The referee is in charge of awarding frames and matches if he has to, if matters continue.
‘It was dealt with and I know that Ronnie was very decent about it afterwards, he spoke to Olivier and I think he apologised for how he spoke to him in the arena and that matter has gone away.’
Ambitious plans were revealed for a new ‘second Crucible’ attached to the current one by a bridge and Ferguson explains that discussions are ongoing with Sheffield City Council, although the idea remains just a concept at this point.
‘We’ve met with the City Council,’ said the chairman. ‘[Architect] James Burland is someone I’ve worked with previously and we spoke a few months back about rekindling the concept and having another look at it.
‘We talked about the idea, and it’s just a concept at this moment in time. It will need a great deal of studying over feasibility and longevity, is it viable? You don’t want a white elephant stadium, it’s no good for anybody.
‘We’ve met with the council and of course they’re very warm to development and very warm to snooker because it brings millions and millions of pounds into the city year after year. I think the last independent study by Sheffield Hallam said the city had benefited by £100m over the years, but it’s significantly more than that in today’s terms.
‘It’s very much on the drawing board and a concept but it’s a project of interest.
‘Now’s the time to start talking about what the future looks like. We’re very loyal to Sheffield but now is the time to think about longer term, especially if there’s going to be a regeneration project, because these things take time.
‘We should never underestimate the size and scale of this sport, it’s only going to get bigger. It isn’t going to go backwards anymore.’
There is set to be a restructuring of prize money distribution for the season ahead, with a bid to make the spread a bit fairer and for the rankings to more accurately reflect achievement.
‘We’re looking at prize money breakdowns, how that’s balancing the ranking system,’ said Ferguson. ‘Finer detail on that is being done now in terms of how it works.
‘We’re just trying to balance out what players win round-by-round to make a fairer ranking system. At the moment sometimes players get to the latter stages of one event that’s worth the same as one win in another event. There’s bigger and smaller events so we’ll always get some of that, but there’s a bit of work being done around all that.
‘We’re reviewing every event for this season coming. Comparing the winner’s prize to first round matches, and in conjunction with that, what’s the round structure like.
‘It’ll be available very quickly, we’re working very hard on that. I have to compliment the WPBSA players board, they’ve done a real good job in recent months identifying key areas that can be improved and getting the message across. I’m really pleased with that new structure with the player’s body, it’s really starting to work.’
I do hope that amongst the things “to be improved”, they will consider paying a fee, covering basic expenses, to the first round losers, not counting towards ranking. That’s no “rewarding mediocrity”, that’s simply making sure that doing their job, as professionals, doesn’t cost the players. I have said this countless times before, but I’ll say it again: you need two players to have a match. One will lose, but by playing they have brought value to the tournament, the venue, the sponsors and the broadcaster. That should be recognised. They shouldn’t be out of pocket for doing their job properly.
Ronnie O’Sullivan excited for snooker venture as he announces Singapore trip
Ronnie O’Sullivan is heading to Singapore for his first ever exhibition in the country and to cast an eye over the work being done at his academy there.
The Ronnie O’Sullivan Snooker Academy opened at the end of 2021, with the Rocket speaking of his excitement about the venture earlier in the year.
He told the Sun a year ago: ‘We have already got the facilities. It’s a 16,000-square feet space.
‘We are putting tables in there. We will have some professional coaches. We hope to roll it out all over Asia. Ronnie O’Sullivan snooker academies with the long-term view to try and create an amateur scene.
‘Over there they are much more supportive of their amateurs and juniors and get excited over that. It is something I think will work. While snooker gives me the platform to do projects like that, sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture.’
Now he is heading over to Singapore next month to perform exhibitions from 11-18 June, while he also confirmed that he will be working on coaching in his academy as well.
‘Looking forward to going over to Singapore in June, it should be great. The academy looks fantastic out there,’ O’Sullivan said after lifting a seventh world title.
‘I’m excited to get out there and spend some time there, see what they’re up to. I’ll work out some coaching plans and developing snooker in Asia is going to be a really fun thing to do.’
Further explaining his plan for Asian expansion to the Sun, O’Sullivan said: ‘The idea is to get the first one right, get it successful and then once that is going well, it will be easier to roll out the rest of them.
‘China definitely is a massive part of the plan but the first one will start out in Singapore.
‘The good ones that come through the academy we would like to support them, to try and get their main Tour Card and become professional players.
‘Hopefully one day become a world champion.’
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN EXCLUSIVE: WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPION ON HOW HE BEAT SELF-DOUBT TO LIFT SEVENTH TITLE
Ronnie O’Sullivan passed snooker’s ultimate test to claim a career-defining seventh Crucible title, but the world champion tells Desmond Kane why the journey to potting paradise remains one of the most mentally demanding and draining in professional sport. “I just wasn’t sure if it was possible,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport as he reflected on securing his legacy as the snooker GOAT.
BY DESMOND KANE
Who needs the Rovers Return when you have the Rocket’s return?
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump’s very own epic kitchen-sink drama in Yorkshire last Monday evening proved more engaging for the great British public than Coronation Street or EastEnders on the other two main terrestrial TV channels.
Almost six million viewers piped themselves into O’Sullivan’s rousing 18-13 win over Trump that saw him battle to a magnificent seventh world title and equal Stephen Hendry’s historic haul from the 1990s.
Betty Turpin’s hot pots from Corrie were never as tasty as the hot pots Rocket Ronnie can serve up.
In discovering the level of snooker’s popularity from a breathless 17 days at the 46th World Championship, O’Sullivan said: “Oh really? Wow. Amazing. It is brilliant getting more viewers than Coronation Street.
IT IS REALLY GOOD THAT EVERYBODY IS EXCITED BY SNOOKER AGAIN. MAYBE IT HAS TAKEN A LITTLE TURN AND IS ON THE UP.
“It is a long time playing at the World Championship, a lot of stress and I’m just recovering. It is hard work, but it was job done, so worth it.”
With O’Sullivan installed as 7/2 favourite for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ahead of Tyson Fury – the world heavyweight boxing champion of all things and a genuine sporting goliath – it felt like a trip down memory lane to an era when snooker was the only show in town.
“In the 1980s when there were only four channels, everybody thought they knew you. It was like you were in EastEnders,” commented Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White, the six-time world finalist.
Some four decades on, O’Sullivan’s career-defining victory broadcast to millions across the BBC and Eurosport was as much of a cliff-hanger as Dirty Den divorcing Angie in the Queen Vic as the sport’s two brightest talents illuminated the final with their unique attacking colour.
O’Sullivan is the undisputed king of his domain after an awe-inspiring few weeks saw him reach seventh heaven with his inimitable élan, technical supremacy and swagger with cue in hand.
He stands alongside Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and White as genuine crowd-pleasers who have changed the face of snooker since the Crucible first housed the World Championship in 1977, bringing a greater popularity to the green baize beyond working-class blokes potting balls in darkened halls set against the sweat of heavy industry.
When Higgins lifted his second world title in 1982, the Northern Irishman memorably cradled baby daughter Lauren, wife Lynn and the trophy as the tears flowed.
In a timely little slice of history repeating itself 40 years later, O’Sullivan – the natural successor to Higgins and White as ‘The People’s Champion’ – sobbed as the enormity of the achievement sunk in with dad Ronnie Sr and kids Lily and Ronnie Jr joining him to celebrate. Memories are made of his.
“I didn’t wake up last Tuesday feeling any different. I just thought that it was more about everybody else enjoying themselves,” he said.
“My dad was there for the whole three weeks of the tournament enjoying it, hanging out with a lot of snooker people that follow the game.
“Then I thought it would be great if the kids could be there if they wanted to. It was a good experience for everyone as it might never happen again.
THAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO ME. IT WAS NICE TO WIN IT, BUT IT WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAT EVERYONE ELSE ENJOYED IT. IT WAS REALLY NICE.
“It was a relief to get the job done. It was a professional job. It’s a test. That is how I look at it every time I enter a tournament like that.
“You go there and prepare as well as you can. To win it is great. You don’t always win it, but it is nice to win it again at my stage in the game.”
O’Sullivan usurped the Welshman Ray Reardon – the tactical coach behind his 2004 triumph – to become the oldest world champion since the inception of the modern era.
O’Sullivan had 46 years and 148 days behind him when he held aloft the little silver lady on a priceless Bank Holiday Monday.
Reardon was 45 years and 203 days when he completed a 25-18 win over South Africa’s Perrie Mans in the 1978 final to carry off his sixth and final world title.
O’Sullivan concedes the level of play he reached suggests his career at the elite level can run for several more years after rolling in 15 century breaks and 46 knocks over 50.
It is perhaps fitting that O’Sullivan is planning to release a Netflix-style fly-on-the-wall documentary surrounding his rise to a seventh crown.
A camera crew apparently tailed his every move in a style similar to Michael Jordan’s last NBA season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998 titled The Last Dance.
For O’Sullivan, this was never going to be the last chance, but better to tie up legacy loose ends now.
A remorseless single-mindedness in such a cut-throat environment is a quality O’Sullivan shares with Jordan, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi and Tiger Woods in other fields of play.
He knows how and when to get the job done on the grandest stage of all. Like all the great champions, he also senses the right time to express his superior class.
With a record 39 ranking titles carried off and 1,169 centuries compiled, he is the sport’s undisputed GOAT, a seventh wonder of the sporting world since turning professional in 1992. To argue otherwise does not make sense.
There is only one Ronnie O’Sullivan, a figure who will remarkably start the 2022/23 campaign as the world No. 1 – 20 years after he first scaled the summit at the age of 26.
This is astonishing longevity in a solitary, mentally undulating game that can play tricks on the mind when you are stuck in a chair and the other guy is potting balls.
The World Championship is no place for weak or wilting spirit with Peter Ebdon, hardly resembling ‘Big’ Bill Werbeniuk, infamously shedding stones due to the nervous energy of winning the trophy in 2002 with a fraught 18-17 win over Hendry.
Not that O’Sullivan spends too much time isolated in his seat. When he is at the table, he plays like he owns it. He is enshrined by a youthfulness, vibrancy and expressiveness that bewitches millions across the globe.
“I’m 46 banging on 47 so to know I can still win it lets me know I could have another five decent years,” said O’Sullivan.
I DON’T THINK YOU CAN GO FROM WINNING THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TO FALLING OFF THE RADAR OVERNIGHT. IT IS JUST A NICE LITTLE CONFIDENCE BOOSTER REALLY.
“It is such a long tournament. It is a bit like the Grand Slams in tennis when they play five sets rather than just the three.
“It is more about lasting the event more than anything. A lot of players reach the quarter-finals and by then they think they’ve run their course.
“Whereas the top players are better conditioned, have been over the course and know how to pace themselves.
“The World Championship is similar to that. You make the semi-finals and once you get to that point you are still only halfway through so you want to leave a bit in the tank.
“That just comes with experience and knowing what it takes to get over the line.”
O’Sullivan felt his form was on an upward trajectory at the Gibraltar Open in March despite losing 4-3 to Ben Woollaston in the first round.
His optimism was further enhanced at the Tour Championship when he edged out Mark Williams – a marvellous competitor who only lost 17-16 by Trump in the Crucible last four – 10-9 in the quarter-finals in Llandudno before losing 10-9 to Neil Robertson in the semi-finals last month.
He weighed in with 10 tons and eight half centuries to hint at greater riches.
“The minute it switched on for me was when I went to Gibraltar,” he admitted.
“Even though I lost, I felt like I was playing well despite missing the odd few balls. A week before I went to Llandudno, I put some good practice in. I was scoring well.
“There were a couple of things that needed sharpening up in my game, but I played great in Llandudno and went away for two weeks before the worlds.
“I put in a lot of hard work before the tournament, sharpened up and by the time I got to Sheffield I thought: ‘My game is in good shape’.
“If it comes together great, but if it doesn’t what can you do. But I felt my game was alright.
I JUST WASN’T SURE IF IT WAS POSSIBLE TO DO IT. SOMETIMES YOU CAN DO EVERYTHING RIGHT, BUT MAYBE YOU DON’T HAVE THE STAMINA OR THE CONSISTENCY OF A FEW YEARS AGO OR WHATEVER.
“Who knows? But yeah, I surprised myself there.”
Achieving immortality in the toughest of all cue sports does not come easy even for the green baize’s main protagonist. The tale of the table does not always reward the best man.
He trailed 3-0 to David Gilbert in his tournament opener, but was a figure of unrelenting focus in adversity, ending the first session 6-3 clear in a match from which he would run out a 10-5 winner. His unflustered play was a pivotal theme of the event. Almost like he knew the end destination was more likely than not if he refused to panic.
He overpowered Mark Allen 13-4 in the last 16 before shredding Stephen Maguire 13-5 in the quarter-finals.
A match with his fierce foe John Higgins – the player he defeated 18-14 to claim his first world title in 2001 – was always likely to prove the ultimate test of O’Sullivan’s technique in the three-day semi-final torture chamber. The talent has never been in doubt.
Two key moments of that contest summed up O’Sullivan’s commitment to the cause after he had trailed 3-0: his opportunism to force a re-spotted black in the 16th and final frame of the second session that gave him a 10-6 lead before the final day.
And the miraculous clearance of 82 he made leading 10-7 on the Saturday morning after a taut period of tough safety play with the Scotsman attempting to turn the match back in his favour.
That break was arguably the most memorable of the tournament, ranking alongside the 92 he produced in the seventh frame of the 2012 final against Ali Carter in an 18-11 win.
It provided O’Sullivan with the impetus to complete a comfortable 17-11 victory over Higgins, who was left proclaiming him as the greatest in history.
“It is a mammoth tournament,” O’Sullivan commented.
I DON’T THINK I’M THE BEST POTTER OR THE BEST IN ANY DEPARTMENT. I’M ABOUT EIGHT OR NINE OUT OF 10 IN EVERY DEPARTMENT AND IT WAS THAT CONSISTENCY OVER THE 17 DAYS THAT GOT ME THROUGH.
“I was just competing in every area and doing all things pretty well.
“I remember nicking a frame when I needed two blacks and won it on the re-spotted black against John. I also remember we had a long drawn out safety battle with me and Higgins then potting a long red before clearing up.
“Just lots of frames were big turning points. When you win the close ones against John, you know you’ve got a chance.
“It is alright winning frames with big breaks. That is nice, but at some point in these events you are going to face someone who is scoring as well as you and then it comes down to who can pinch the close ones.
“As I got into the match with John, I started to eke out a few of those close ones. That dented his confidence, gave me more confidence and probably changed the momentum of the match.
“John is more suited to winning the tactical frames and I’m probably more suited to the open scoring frames, but it was good to compete with him in the ones where he was probably favourite.”
O’Sullivan’s impeccable rise to the title in the final was far from a coronation. He galloped 12-5 clear on the first day of the final only for Trump, the 2019 champion, to claw his way back to 14-11 behind before the conclusion loomed large with the destination of the title unclear.
Rather than look over his shoulder, O’Sullivan quickly disposed of the permutations with a composed air emanating from his cue, compiling unerring breaks of 82, 88, 75 and 85 to complete a stylish gallop to the game’s biggest prize.
One recalls speaking to Jimmy White during the 2012 Masters when the elite tournament was first staged at the Alexandra Palace.
O’Sullivan had lost 6-2 to Trump in the quarter-finals of the event, an encounter that was being described back then as a “changing of the guard”.
When asked if O’Sullivan could add to his three world titles, White responded:
“I know O’Sullivan and he will be out to put this all right by the World Championship.
“Ronnie has got five or six world titles left in him. He is too good. He is far too good.”
The Whirlwind has turned out to be a snooker soothsayer. O’Sullivan has lifted another four titles since that point. Who would bet against him reaching 10 before he pots his final ball? Certainly not Jimmy.
The work carried out with celebrated sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters to maintain a positive mindset and maintain mental equilibrium was a key element in his latest triumph.
AT TIMES I FELT LIKE THE CUE BALL WAS ON A PIECE OF STRING. I WAS PUTTING IT WHERE I WANTED. IN SOME WAYS, IT DIDN’T MATTER WHERE THE BALLS WERE.
“I just knew there were keys shots I had to get to and I was confident I was able to do it.
“It is a good feeling winning frames from virtually impossible positions.”
Car retailer Cazoo will replace bookmakers Betfred as sponsors of the 47th World Championship next year, but O’Sullivan hopes the viewing figures can entice greater interest in the sport.
“If you want a blue-chip company, you have to change the image of the sport in many ways,” he said.
“At the moment, it is dominated by betting companies, but other sponsors may not want to be associated with that. I don’t know.
“In Formula One you have betting companies and Rolex so maybe that isn’t right. It just depends on how they see snooker.
“It would be great if the game could kick on like the 1980s. Tobacco companies sponsored snooker and a lot of the big sporting events back then but who knows?
“The viewing figures are great so that is always a good thing to put in front of people.
THEY’RE LOOKING FOR EYEBALLS AND THERE ARE 4.5 MILLION EYEBALLS WATCHING THE FINAL SO ANY SPONSOR WANTING THEIR PRODUCT TO BE SEEN…THESE ARE IMPORTANT STATISTICS TO SHOW THEM.
O’Sullivan famously took a season off between his fourth and fifth victories at the event in 2012 and 2013 respectively, but plans to throw himself into the new campaign with new worlds to be conquered. A few more of them in Sheffield perhaps.
He could return at the European Masters in August, but the British Open in late September is likelier.
His appearance as world champion in Brentwood for the English Open in December should be one to savour before a raucous home crowd.
“The season starts again in August so I’m pretty much going to play in most things,” he said. “I won’t practise much. I’ve got a few exhibitions and a few holidays with the family.
“Come September/October time, I’ll start getting my head down again to practise. I’m just going to play in virtually every tournament.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF I WIN OR LOSE. AS LONG AS I KEEP THE RUSTINESS OFF SO WHEN I DO START PRACTISING IT WILL ONLY TAKE A WEEK TO GET BACK IN FULL FLOW.
“I haven’t looked at the calendar properly, but I’ll take a look and decide from there.”
O’Sullivan’s opportunism is perhaps only rivalled by the launch of his own ‘7 Collection’ the day after the final that included the amusing “You saw nothing” response to referee Olivier Marteel after he had been accused of an inappropriate gesture.
Clothing and cups are all the rage these days in sport, but what was the plan if he had not reached seven?
“Keep them for next year mate.”
Judging by this latest astonishing triumph for O’Sullivan’s timeless vitality, the merch could be out of date by then.
What surprised me most here is what he says about his feelings about his game in Gibraltar, although it’s not the first time I hear/read about a player assessing their game seemingly at odds with their recent results. The thing is: we can only watch, they know how they feel.
On the topic of distancing themselves from betting companies, I’m not sure I entirely believe that the move to Cazoo is unrelated to the recent developments when it comes to raising awareness and tackling gambling addictions – in youth in particular – as well as what happened at the 2021 Scottish Open. Remember? It had to be moved to Llandudno after the venue’s management took the decision to no more host events sponsored by bookies.
Note that many parts in bold are my “highligths” and were not in bold in the original text.