Barry Hearn insists snooker will soon thrive on the global market again following several seasons of a UK-dominated main tour.
The Matchroom Sport president has revealed that he expects there to be more events in China during the 2023/24 season.
The inaugural Wuhan Open in addition to the returning Shanghai Masters and the International Championship are three competitions already on this term’s calendar.
But Hearn says there could be as many as six events in China, with discussions ongoing to also launch a lucrative tournament in Saudi Arabia.
Back in December of 2019, a ten-year deal had been announced to stage the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters with a total prize fund of £2.5 million.
However, COVID-19 soon hit and it has taken several years for the plan to be finalised and put into action.
It has likewise been four years since the last tournament in mainland China took place – the 2019 World Open in Yushan won by Judd Trump.
In the years since, there have only been sporadic events held outside the UK – notably the German Masters and last season’s epic Hong Kong Masters that attracted a record attendance of 9,000 fans.
“I think we’re on the cusp now of a next big push,” Barry Hearn said on Stephen Hendry’s Cue Tips.
“Coming out of COVID, we’ve had two and a bit years of no China. The Chinese players got banned, and everyone said to me, ‘how can you do that, other sports wouldn’t do that.'”
“I said, ‘no, integrity comes before everything’. The response from China was that they want six more events this year.
“We’re very close now with the Saudis, and we’re also talking to Abu Dhabi.
“What people don’t realise is, once COVID stopped, they still had a lot of catching up to do. It’s taken this amount of time.
“Complacency is the one thing I’m scared of, where you think you’ve cracked it but you’ve never cracked it.
“But I think we’ll find that in the next 12 months we’ll have six tournaments in China, I think we’ll have at least one in the Middle East, and I think for the first time in history the prize money will go through £20 million.
“Sponsorship has always been difficult, but it’s the one area where I think we can do better.”
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In his popular YouTube channel where he interviews people over a frame of snooker, Hendry also reminisced about the old days with Hearn – including when the pair first met in the mid-1980s.
“That was the worst mistake I ever made,” former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn joked.
“I don’t think you were quite pro at that stage. Your old manager Ian Doyle phoned me up and said, ‘would you send Steve (Davis) up here to do a series of exhibitions with this kid I’ve got.'”
“And to be fair, because I do my homework, I’d followed a little bit of your career with Snooker Scene results and stuff like that.
“I knew you could play and I knew you was a prospect. I said to Davis, ‘I want you to go up there, Steve. I want this kid annihilated. I want him destroyed every night.’
“He slaughtered you for a week, and it was the worst thing we ever did. You were supposed to be embarrassed, that was the plan.
“You weren’t supposed to bounce back and learn from it.”
Although Hearn stepped aside from the day-to-day running of snooker and the other sports associated with Matchroom Sport, the 75 year-old admitted he has no intentions of fully retiring.
“No, never. Why would I retire when I’m having so much fun? I just think I’m so lucky to have had the job I’ve had all my life.”
Featured photo credit: WST