snooker fans in China
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Where are the Snooker Fans in China?

It has a population of more than one billion people and the television viewing figures for the biggest matches dwarf anything that has been recorded before elsewhere.

snooker fans in china
Matthew Selt posted this image on Twitter of the Stevens-O’Donnell finale with no fans in sight.

There are reports of thousands of clubs in the major cities that are packed to the rafters with cue enthusiasts and schools that have adopted the sport into their curriculum.

A stream of young talent, often teenagers, is rapidly ascending through the amateur set-up and into the professional ranks with more than 20 players from the country now on the Main Tour.

And there’s even a new snooker city being built in Yushan, the host of the annual World Open ranking event, which will provide a new arena, an athlete’s village, and an academy dedicated to developing another new wave of competitors.

Yet, the question that is repeatedly asked by onlookers when there’s a major event on in the country is, where are all the snooker fans in China?

It’s a curious quandary, particularly as it’s been an ongoing issue for more than a decade, ever since the sport began to explode in popularity and a succession of new events were launched.

It’s clear from a number of key factors, like those outlined above and also because the numerous tournaments staged there just keep getting richer and richer with more lucrative prize funds every season, that the sport is indeed followed and loved.

But why is it proving so difficult to attract supporters to the venues when the figures on TV, which staggeringly reached more than 200 million when Ding Junhui played Mark Selby in the final of the 2016 World Snooker Championship, are so high?

So far in the 2018/19 season, there have been four huge tournaments held in China with the International Championship reaching its climax today in Daqing.

While there is a respectable enough crowd in to watch the first session of the final contest between two exciting, high-scoring players in Neil Robertson and Mark Allen, it’s hardly a complete sellout.

Considering Robertson and Allen are two of the biggest pulls in the sport, it’s pretty unbelievable that a final, in a tournament that once lay claim to being regarded as the sport’s fourth major, can struggle to shift every last ticket.

The unfortunate thing is that at least there’s some resemblance of an atmosphere because that could hardly have been expressed about the majority of the rest of the week up until this point.

Indeed, the quarter-final affair between Matthew Stevens and Martin O’Donnell, which granted did finish past midnight and perhaps didn’t feature two of the marquee names, concluded with just about the officials and the cameramen for support.

These occurrences aren’t rare and the majority of the other events in China similarly struggle to put bums on seats.

While there can be an argument made for ticket prices and the location of some of the tournaments – Yushan appears to be particularly out of the way – those can’t be the sole reasons for the problem.

The China Championship in Guangzhou for one is staged bang in the centre of a monstrous city that boasts 15 million people, yet attendances there have been disappointing.

During the last edition of that event in September, referee and tournament director Paul Collier responded to criticism on social media by suggesting that it didn’t really matter if there weren’t crowds, as long as the players are getting the opportunities to earn a nice living from the sport.

While the latter point is partly true, and there’s no doubting the marvellous work that the likes of Barry Hearn and Jason Ferguson have done behind the scenes to grow the sport and multiply its profits, is this really the only way forward? The best way forward?

The argument for it is that it’s making the sport wealthier and that the TV rights being sold to broadcasting companies all around the world is helping to spread interest globally, which is fair.

However, what potential new fan is going to switch on the snooker by chance and keep watching when the atmosphere on screen is akin to an airport hangar?

With at least five big tournaments being held in China during this campaign, it means that a good chunk of this term will be played without the backdrop of adoring fans – what any major sport should aspire to generate.

Sport, after all, is just as much about entertainment as it is about winning and losing, and there’s no comparison in the overall buzz that is induced by a packed auditorium at, say, the Tempodrom in Berlin for the German Masters and the lack thereof in tournaments in China.

It’s fine if the promoters, who are successfully raising the figures to obscene levels with the China Open last season becoming the first event outside the UK to carry an overall prize tally of more than one million pounds, don’t put an emphasis on attracting fans to watch the games live.

But that doesn’t mean that no focus has to be placed on it and surely if everyone is hunky dory with not making any revenue from tickets sold, then at least make every effort possible to get as many people in at a reduced cost, or better yet for free.

Should China’s boom continue in the long-term, there’s the strong possibility that even more tournaments will be staged there.

That’s all great, especially for the players, for it will be fantastic to have even more opportunities to reap the growing rewards.

But at what eventual sacrifice to the image of the sport globally?

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Third Time's a Charm for Mark Allen in International Championship - SnookerHQ

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