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30 April 2018

The Changing Face of Snooker

Chris Lincoln (@chrisbourne2win)

With thrills and spills, shocks and long pots, the World Championship has captured the imagination of viewers far and wide. With a £425,000 prize on offer and Barry Hearn announcing more funds to be won across the next season, snooker appears to be in a very strong position.

Over the past five years, the prize money on offer during a single season has exploded from £3 million to £7 million. Television coverage has also seen a boom with the BBC increasing their coverage from just 15 minutes in 1967 to 400 hours in 2007. This year, the World Championship alone has enjoyed more than 150 hours of coverage on Britain's premier terrestrial broadcasting station.

Barry Hearn continues to try and develop the sport with new audiences, introducing faster competitions such as the Snooker Shoot-Out and just this week announcing a 30-second average time limit on shots that could result in players named and shamed.

The sport has spread across the globe. The successes of Ding Junhui and Marco Fu over the past decade have helped developed its popularity in the Far East with rumours even circulating last year that the World Championship could be moved over to China. The purists were delighted to see that concept put to bed as a new deal guaranteed the sport would be staying at the Crucible for the foreseeable future.

Yet there is no hiding from the controversial opinions expressed on the tour. With estimated career winnings at over £9 million for the most decorated player currently on the circuit, Ronnie O'Sullivan has enjoyed a fruitful career at the table. So, why is he so outspoken? Perhaps he has a point.

Barry Hearn announced on Monday that he would "like to see 52 competitions across 52 weeks in the year." Yet the unforgiven snooker schedule has come under criticism with an increasing number of tournaments and time spent on the road believed to be burning out some talents. O'Sullivan is one of many players to complain about the current calendar and he even opted not to play any tournaments in 2013 – before winning the World Championship that year.

Hearn argues that the measures he has put in place extend the popularity and income for the sport, whilst providing further opportunities for the growing number of players chasing a place on the tour. Yet developing your talent into a career remains a hardship for the majority of players often only seen in the opening rounds of ranking events.

These aren't Premier League footballers enjoying the luxury of having their every movement planned for them. Even a delay of a tournament organisation can cause problems for snooker stars. When this year's draw for the competition was suspended for two hours due to technical difficulties, Joe Perry criticised the organisation expressing how the qualifiers had to book their hotel rooms - a stark reminder of the hardships faced by a player outside the top 16.

Before the competition started we produced a feature on the emerging talents of players from Thailand. Yet one of our readers quite rightly pointed out how difficult it is for players from poorer backgrounds to reach their potential, often having to cut their season short mid-season due to the financial constraints behind travel and accommodation on a global tour with the sport.

Snooker continues to grow in terms of finances, popularity and competitiveness. A sport once barely recognised outside of UK and Irish shores is now a respected concept across the globe with millions of prize money on offer.

Hearn believes that his new ideas will help lower ranked players "feed themselves and their families" but where are these extra funds coming from? Ticket prices are set to go up – will snooker see a plateau in the rising levels of popularity or even a drop when the changes are implemented? Hopefully not after the progress the sport has made in recent decades.

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