With the 2008 World Snooker Championship just a few days away, World Snooker has reacted to recent reports that a top 10 player has voiced concern about how the game is run.
The WPBSA responded:
It has come to our attention that an article has appeared in the media recently attributed to an unidentified top player concerning the way in which our sport is managed.
Since the appointment of Sir Rodney Walker in 2004 there has been an upturn in the finances of World Snooker. This resulted in a surplus in years 2005, 2006 and 2007 which enabled World Snooker to reinvest a figure of approx £482,000 into prize funds for the 2006/2007 season’s events. There was an increase of over £300,000 to prize money levels for the 2007/2008 season and a further increase of approximately a quarter of a million pounds is planned for prize money in the forthcoming season.
Indeed, World Snooker is correct in that since 2004, there has been an upturn of fortunes since cigarette advertising was banned.
World Snooker also secured a new long term multi million pound BBC contract, broadened our broadcast platforms via Eurosport and has substantially increased its overall income from overseas television sales by over £1 million.
Indeed, the BBC tournaments are very well followed, and BBC Wales and Interactive showed the Welsh Open. Along with coverage of Pot Black, 6 World Snooker tournaments are televised by the BBC. Eurosport broadcast those and others to the European audience. But what about further afield? China? Why is World Snooker not telling us about that?
Whilst anyone involved in sponsorship is aware that this can be a difficult and challenging marketplace in which to operate, all four BBC events are now fully sponsored; the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, the Maplin UK Championship and the SAGA Insurance Masters all sponsored until 2009, and the 888.com World Snooker Championship until 2010.
Wow, that's a total of 1 season (2 in the case of the World Championship) for the four biggest events in the snooker calendar. What about the less important events?! How is World Snooker getting on with the less prestigious events in the calendar?
World Snooker has also established a new ranking event in Northern Ireland and two five year term fully funded ranking tournaments in China backed by investment each year of £1 million from our partners in China.
Kudos for the tournaments in China and Northern Ireland, but there are fewer ranking events now than there were three seasons ago. The British Open and Irish Masters have gone, as has the Scottish tournament (this was resolved by moving the Grand Prix to Scotland). The Malta Cup is non-ranking. Snooker is supposedly better financially now than in the 1980s, so why are there fewer events now than there was then?
It is World Snooker’s ambition to continue to increase the tournament calendar year on year, expanding in Asia and talks are underway to create new events in the Middle East and Europe.
It has been for the last 20 years! They said that South Africa and Canada would be hosting events, but neither North America nor Africa are mentioned by the WPBSA. The current calendar is pathetic. Considering there are so few events, the season is badly scheduled, and events always appear back to back, rather than spaced out. One good idea has been to hold the TV tournaments over school holidays, maybe by accident than design, but still a good idea. Why not Australia? Neil Robertson is one of the top players in the world, and Australia is strong at amateur level. What's wrong with Australia?
With regard to players’ feedback on the running of the sport, World Snooker invites representative players to take part in a Players Forum where they can express their views as to how the sport is run.
This is worrying. Does this mean that the top players haven't been able to voice their opinion until now?
World Snooker continuously strives to enhance the game and attract sponsorship and it is difficult to understand why some leading players feel that criticising their Association in the national press will assist World Snooker’s efforts in securing additional tournaments for its members.
Well, they have grounds for complaint, I'm afraid. The arguments the WPBSA provides in this statement are flawed. As for "continuously strives to enhance the game and attract sponsorship", well, I should bloody well hope it does!
Would it not be more beneficial to the membership if leading players were to help their Association by making more supportive statements in the media?
They're absolutely on the money on this though. There is no way they can fix the problems by saying such things to the press. The players need to communicate their feelings to the WPBSA so that they can at least try to fix these things.
Other miscellaneous thoughts on the issue:
- In the 70s, Eddie Charlton would frequently organise and promote events in his native Australia. Why can't the players take the initiative themselves? As long as World Snooker sanctioned it, there wouldn't be a problem.
- If World Snooker is making as much money as it claims to be making, why doesn't it hold other ranking events - even if they are at a small financial loss - for the benefit of the players? They'd be able to absorb the losses.
- Clive Everton, who has followed snooker for more than 60 years, is very anti-WPBSA. Throughout much of that period, snooker has been badly managed. Why don't the WPBSA invite Everton, a very respected snooker journalist, to work with them in helping to fix the percieved problems?
- There is a very real prospect of a "breakaway" tour if the WPBSA doesn't get its act together. It was reminiscent of the Darts split in 1994, and the WPBSA needs to act to prevent itself falling into the same pit of oblivion.
- The ban on cigarette advertising hit the sport badly, but there must be sponsors available that are willing to back the sport to the same standard.
- The calendar is terrible, not even the WPBSA can defend the lack of spread in the ranking events. The ranking events are in clusters rather than spread out. It is incredibly easy to rectify, and they should look into it.
- I am worried that only now are players entitled to their opinion in a players' forum. Furthermore, why can't fans have a say? They want to appeal to the fans, so why not have a survey of what people want from snooker, like they do with Formula One.
- The World Snooker website is terrible. It is not updated enough, it has misspelt "calendar", and there are other features that never happened.
- Why not offer the rights to broadcast the tournament to ESPN, or Canada etc. for a year for free on a trial basis? Even if it's just the Final, it would maybe expand the horizons of the sport. It would spread the word a little, not clash with US sport too much due to time difference, and could maybe open up an avenue into North America.
World Snooker has serious soul searching to do, and should start worrying about the public perception that it is handled by a flange of baboons. They need to invest in new tournaments around the world, and work with the players to increase the support of their sport, rather than diminish it.