The Scottish Open qualifiers came to an end on Friday after six days of preliminary-round action at the Chase Leisure Centre in Cannock.
With a limit of up to only eight matches being played per day, it was a slow and elongated process that in previous seasons would have taken only two or three days to complete.
It’s a clear ploy by the World Snooker Tour to hoodwink people into believing its snooker calendar is fuller than it actually is.
In reality, the first half of the 2022/23 campaign has been a shambles on different levels, and there are players down the rankings list who have been going weeks and months without the opportunity to play.
The schedule picks up a little from next week’s Northern Ireland Open, but there remains significant gaps on the calendar.
A similar scenario materialised last year, which was naturally and understandably attributed to the COVID pandemic.
There were struggles with regard travel and staging events outside the UK, but a lot of those issues don’t exist any more in 2022.
The inability to host tournaments in China – a country that still incorporates strict COVID restrictions – has of course been a major problem.
But it has been obvious for a long time that China would be a no-go destination for the foreseeable future, and there has been hardly anything done to supplement its loss.
Yes, there have been successful new competitions in the form of the World Mixed Doubles and the Hong Kong Masters, but these have been invitational and open to just eight competitors each.
It begs the question as to what kind of planning has actually been going on behind the scenes in an effort to keep the tour active.
This season started all the way back in June, but ahead of next week’s Northern Ireland Open there have only been three ranking events so far.
The campaign-opening Championship League – boasting a schedule longer than the World Championship itself – took a month to finish.
Since then, there have been four batches of single-round qualifiers for different events including the Scottish Open this week – taking up 28 days of the calendar in the process.
Actually had a chance to build momentum aswell instead of months off at a time 🥱
— Elliot Slessor (@sless147) October 14, 2022
The European Masters preliminary stage in July lasted an astounding ten days, all giving the allure that the schedule is more hectic than it really is.
Despite that, there have still been lengthy intermissions in the play altogether, with the most notable being a month of September that was practically barren of snooker on the pro circuit until its final week.
Many have already queried why smaller events like those from the old Players Tour Championship (PTC) series couldn’t have been reestablished.
Popular with a lot of the players further down the rankings, these minor-ranking tournaments provided vital earning potential and opportunities to maintain a competitive standard of play.
They also helped to introduce snooker to different regions of the world – particularly in Europe when events were previously held in the likes of Latvia, Bulgaria, and Poland.
With venues, sponsorship, and prize funds to consider, nobody is suggesting that it’s easy to launch new competitions – especially in a difficult current economic climate.
Yet isn’t that a crucial part of WST’s role? Rather than acting proactively, there has been a distinct sense of laziness and an apparent mindset of, ‘well, let’s just wait until China is back in the game’.
From this season, players are being financially supported with a guaranteed £20,000, albeit that handout is being offset against future prize money earned.
It’s been heralded as a step in the right direction, particularly in protecting those down the lower end of the rankings list.
The irony is that, in order for WST and the WPBSA to recoup that money, more tournaments with more prize money need to be staged.
In that sense, this season until this point has been a bust.
Featured photo credit: WST
Seems to have gone downhill since Barry retired
Either that or Barry got out just in time.
Yes, I agree. In fact, qualifiers for Home Nations events didn’t exist before last season – the whole events were played in 7 days at the main venue. In 2019-20, I attended the English Open, Scottish Open and Welsh Open. They were very enjoyable events where you could track a whole tournament from 128 players through to the final. Now they have been broken, and lack momentum. It’s hard to justify me going to any of them, as I don’t get to see all the players (unlike WST’s target fans, I am interested in the whole tour).
On the other hand, there have been promising experiments at the top end (Mixed Doubles & HK Masters). Perhaps in time the benefits of a higher profile and a more modern approach can filter down to the rest of the events, although this does have echoes of Liz Truss’ ‘trickledown’ economics…
The only explanation I can find is that the streaming revenue (which imposes 2-table or 4-table limits) is vital for WST to recover the financial damage caused by covid. When snooker resumed in August 2020, much was made about snooker being ‘the first sport to return’ – the expectation was that snooker would build on this advantage. That seemed to work for a while, but it has regressed badly now.
To be fair to WST, some events they have tried to stage have fallen through, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. But I agree that the policy of trying to ‘maximise the number of days’ isn’t going to fool anyone for long. I don’t like the way that WST have developed a habit of trying to dupe people.
I do think a sense of perspective is needed. There’s no doubt we’ve reached a situation where the sport’s rise under Barry Hearn has stalled. However, given the situation he took over in, today’s calendar of 15 ranking tournaments and a few lucrative invitation events still looks impressive compared to the fare on offer in the 2000s. The Chinese Market is a huge miss but this isn’t World Snooker’s fault. Jason Ferguson explained, on Talking Snooker, how slots need to be available for the Chinese events as they could give the green light at any stage for those events to return. This means the wriggle room for new events to emerge is limited.
I do think World Snooker could’ve been more proactive in arranging smaller events such as PTC-style minor ranking events that could be completed inside three days. I’d also prefer three or four of these events in the month long period that’s allocated to the tedious Championship League. They clearly can get a venue for that timeslot.
I’m not sure why more people didn’t question in the past how we were reliant primarily on two markets: UK and China. There’s a similar issue with regards to sponsorship when you consider the majority of events are sponsored by either Cazoo or Bet Victor.
I don’t know World Snooker people well enough to comment if it’s laziness holding them back. Dave Hendon has on a few occasions mentioned World Snooker chairman Jason Ferguson has a superb work ethic and is often travelling to find new territories for snooker to stage events in.
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. But the automatic defensive retort (not just you – everyone, including me sometimes) of ‘let’s just be thankful it’s better than it was pre Barry Hearn era’ is wearing pretty thin with me. That was 12 years ago. Just because it’s better than it was then doesn’t mean it can’t be better than what it is now.
My ideal vision of snooker is for a calendar with far more nations hosting events than currently. There’s no doubt these global expansion plans have lost momentum but I wanted to outline a few points that Ferguson made recently that do carry some validity as to why things have stalled and what his team are doing to improve the situation. To be honest, I can’t answer if they’re doing enough but snooker is always up against it in some ways as the sport unfortunately suffers from a cultural snobbery that makes it difficult to attract sponsors.
The tour is far too British-centric (always has been) and we’re at the upper limit of events to be held over here now. Where I’m disappointed is for all the popularity generated by Eurosport’s snooker coverage, only Germany has been a regular market in continental Europe since Eurosport starting broadcasting the majority of the season’s output.
I agree it’s something of a lazy defensive position but still feel it’s needed sometimes when you’ve got more hysterical views claiming the sport is in crisis. I just see it as a levelling off in momentum currently rather than a full-scale regression that could see us return to the darkest spells of the 2000s.