World Snooker announced on Friday that the International Championship will remain in Daqing for at least the next three seasons.
Already the most lucrative event staged outside the United Kingdom, its total prize fund will rise from the £750,000 that has been provided for this edition to a whopping £825,000 by the 2020/21 campaign.
WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “We are delighted to secure the future of the event in this city”
“I want to thank all parties for their help in creating this agreement to keep this fantastic tournament in the city of Daqing.
“This week our players have been competing for the most money ever offered in a ranking tournament outside of the UK.
“The players and officials love coming to Daqing and it has been a superb week of snooker on the tables.
“Many millions of people around the world are watching on television, putting Daqing in the global spotlight.
“Since the International Championship moved to Daqing we have been introducing the sport to the local community with exhibitions for schools and oil field workers.
“They have been enthusiastically received and that has been a joy to see.
“This has helped us to create a lasting infrastructure for the event and in turn has allowed us to attract blue chip sponsorship. That is a tremendous thing for the tournament and our sport.”
There are several things to be applauded about this deal, most notably that a tournament carrying such a hefty prize sum will continue to be on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
The people who run the sport have done a spectacular job over the last half dozen years in turning the sport around and making it the successful global product it is now becoming.
Players are getting more and more chances to play and with those opportunities there have come greater rewards for many, particularly the competitors higher up the rankings.
In addition, the community involvements, especially with the schools, are great and paramount to spreading the snooker gospel even more.
However, it’s curious then that, while the governing body wishes to highlight its successful local ventures as one of the core reasons to stay in Daqing, why the venue for the actual event remains so appallingly attended.
In a video produced by World Snooker earlier this week, which is excellent by the way and more of these would go a long way in connecting more fans from around the world with the different destinations on the calendar, it was distinctly noticeable that the various exhibitions boasted a much better crowd than the ones on view at the International Championship.
Okay, it’s worth noting that these fans probably didn’t have to pay anything to watch the likes of Martin Gould and Jimmy Robertson in action, but if there is interest in the area then why do the players have to compete amid a dire backdrop of empty seats in what is supposed to be regarded as one of the biggest tournaments in the season?
Reports from various media seem to suggest that the tickets for the International have been overpriced, with some suggesting that the price could be as high as a regular worker’s monthly wage.
Those claims aren’t verified but it seems resolutely apparent that the promoters are fine with alienating the common snooker fan, instead seeking to attract a richer, more middle class buyer.
That’s all well and good if it’s actually putting bums on seats but the attendances, not only this year but across Daqing’s three-year tenure to this point, have been borderline pathetic.
Similar comments can be made about the China Championship in Guangzhou earlier this year and there have been several instances of poor attendances in other Chinese events in the past.
The question then has to be asked, is this really where World Snooker wants to take the sport?
The financial future is secure for now, yes, but at what cost?
With an increased number of competitions in China, likely only going to rise with the steady influx of higher ranked cueists from the country, players might have to come accustomed with plying their trade in front of a cold atmosphere.
Fans, other than the hardcore group of supporters, who randomly tune in to watch on television or stream online will be instantly turned off by the sight of, quite literally, a handful of onlookers, who perhaps are more interested in what’s on their iPhone instead of the action on the baize.
There’s absolutely no doubt that snooker is huge in China – the TV viewing figures and the numbers playing that we constantly hear about aren’t fake – and that the market should be exploited to the fullest.
Yet, there needs to be a lot more done in choosing the correct locations to host these tournaments and, from World Snooker, a much harder line taken with promoters regarding the pricing of tickets and how they plan on filling the venues.
The International Championship this week has been a terrific tournament on the table, but in terms of its creation of any sense of prestige it’s been an absolute embarrassment and couldn’t be any further from being judged as the fourth major – like it once so ambitiously asserted.
But hey, here’s to three more years. Congratulations.