Snooker needs PR, and quick. Ronnie O’Sullivan, a modern great, said in a piece for the Times “I feel like I’m in a sport that has had its good days and is on a downward spiral.” If your media’s favourite mouthpiece is getting bored, something must be done. Max Clifford and Barry Hearn have been touted as possible saviours – here’s why I think neither will be good for the game.
Ronnie is of course not unfamiliar with such outbursts or odd behaviour, but it is the timing of his statement that is of concern. Picking his moment when the world is watching The Masters, the biggest prize in Snooker, Ronnie single handedly stole the headlines with a calculated comment.
Snooker is in need of a similarly well timed chat with the press and more importantly, its fans. Max Clifford wants to bring in gimmicks to the game: “There needs to be a public relations campaign to build awareness, build young stars, good-looking guys with attractive girlfriends who should be seen at movie premieres.” and many people wants to see Snooker follow the rejuvination of darts.
Now while I agree with Max that there needs to be a Public Relations campaign, what he is talking about is publicity, not public relations. Thrusting the girlfriends of snooker players into the limelight is a cheap and easy shot taken from Premier league football – wags are springing up in cricket, rugby and darts, does snooker really need them to build its presence?
What Snooker needs is legendary players being fought tooth and nail against young pretenders. The reason Ronnie O’Sullivan is still number one is because he needs a challenger who is young and ideally, from a different country. Snooker at the highest level is predominantly played between British stars in their own backyard.
Yes, there are hundreds of tournaments all over the world, but the point is, why would you want to watch a game in Dubai, if you were from Dubai, and there was nobody from Dubai competing? A young and talented player from Pakistan for example would be brilliant; to add ethnic diversity into the primarily white, English and middle class sport would be explosive. Players like Marco Fu and Ding Junhui are always there or thereabouts, but rarely win anything.
What’s the reason for this? Snooker is expensive, not just anyone can afford to buy a snooker table, letalone find space to put it, so you have to go to snooker clubs. The problem here is that they can be expensive and are becoming few and far between as the likes of Rileys take them over and turn them into pool halls.
So what can World Snooker, the sport’s governing body, do?
Make it cheaper to watch The cheapest tickets are around £40 for each televised event.
Make it cheaper to play World Snooker could open up a chain of Snooker clubs that are cheaper to play in than competitors. How would they afford this? Find a sponsor to team up with who’s logo would be plastered all over each venue.
Try different formats Why not try different league formats to make the season have a little bit of extra spice, running alongside the current tournaments.
Put more money into youth Look at where young players are learning to play and give them better coaching with an emphasis on style as well as substance.
Work with the trade magazines Make them more widely available, I’ve never seen a trade snooker title in WH Smiths for example, and just seeing them on the rack will make people think about picking up a copy.
Above all, Snooker needs to look at what makes it great. The players are brilliantly minded and incredibly tactile – some of the shots are unbelievable – so make the most of this. Snooker is not supposed to be played at a frenetic pace and it’s not like watching two grown men beat lumps out of each other like in boxing.
It is about thinking several steps ahead, minute details and an unrivalled control of a single ball, and people that want to see snooker sexed up would do well to remember that.