Snooker is in a “healthy condition” according to World Snooker Tour chairman Steve Dawson.
Dawson replaced Barry Hearn at the helm of the sport in 2021 and has been criticised since then for several perceived failures.
Among them has been his lack of any media presence, in stark contrast to his charismatic predecessor.
But Dawson sat down for a 30-minute interview with seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry, where he discussed a range of issues related to the sport.
“As far as I’m concerned, I like to think that I’m approachable,” Steve Dawson told Stephen Hendry for the World Snooker Tour.
“I’m a collaborator, it’s how I work. I listen to people, I’m approachable, I’m accessible. I much rather deal with issues outside the media than inside it.”
“Face-to-face communication, for me, is the key. I’m not going to be in your face like Barry is, because that’s just not my character.
“I’m a total fan (of snooker). My sports were football in the early days, I actually had to give it up because I had a cruciate ligament injury.
“I play club cricket and golf to a certain extent, but snooker – certainly from a business perspective – has always been my sport.
“I suppose you’d describe me as an executive chairman. I really don’t want to be an executive chairman, I just want to let the team do the business.
“But certainly over the last year or two, we’ve had a reorganisation of the board.
“We brought in some new faces, some new people, younger thoughts, lots of ideas, and in the commercial side we’ve had a big change in emphasis.
“We’re now looking at commercial partnerships rather than event sponsorship.”
Criticisms of the sport’s leadership in recent seasons have ranged from prize money to a lack of events, particularly outside the UK.
Poor venue choices, questionable scheduling decisions, and a reliance on the Chinese market have also represented common talking points.
“(Snooker) is in a really healthy condition actually,” Steve Dawson insisted.
“We’ve got rising gate receipts, increased broadcast numbers, we’ve got new tournaments, and we’ve got new winners which reinvigorates it.”
“We’re very lucky to have China – it’s a huge market for us, and I think that’s an area where we need to be cautious.
“Clearly, we had a scenario where they had a lockdown which was harder and worse than any other country did.
“That switched us off, and we lost that prize money overnight. I’m actually very proud that’s something we did – keep the sport alive during that period.
“Marketing of events has changed massively in the last five years with social media and data.
“We are building and have a very large database now where we are identifying and targeting people who are interested in snooker.
“In relation to Hull (for the 2023 Tour Championship when ticket sales were low), that was post-pandemic, and clearly we didn’t do our job right.
“Since then, we’ve brought in a new marketing communications team, and that’s shown that all our events in this part of the season are way up on last season’s figures.
“We’ve taken that feedback in relation to Hull and now have signed a deal at Manchester Central, which is a three-year deal.
“Ticket sales are going massively well there now.
“There is clearly space on the calendar. Wherever there is space on the calendar, we are going to put new events.
“We’re looking to increase the number of tournaments we have in mainland Europe. One of our plans is to increase our number of events by at least five or six over the next four-to-five years.
“That growth will come in Asia, the Middle East, and mainland Europe.
“The Middle East is a massive market for us, and we’re very close to finalising something there, but watch this space.”
One of the biggest talking points in recent months has revolved around the contract that each player must sign before participating on the professional circuit.
Luca Brecel, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Ali Carter, and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh were branded the Macau Five after attempting to play in an unsanctioned exhibition event last month during the same period as the Northern Ireland Open.
Legal threats, fines, and potentially worse were thrown their way before the situation was resolved, temporarily at least, through the postponement of the Macau tournament.
“I would disagree with the contention that it’s a bad contract in any sense. It’s actually a very open contract in terms of other sporting contracts.”
“It depends on the circumstances entirely (if players can play in unsanctioned events). It depends on where the event is and how close it is to another event.”
In terms of scheduling, Dawson believes that the rapid turnaround between events only impacts a small number of players, who are already in form and will have a desire to keep playing.
“Players are not obliged to play in every single event. If they want to take an event out, if they are feeling stressed or injured, take time out.”
“In reality, (the close proximity of events) affects the semi-finalist and the finalists. We make provisions for them in the next tournament.
“So we give them an extra day or two days to travel. It’s obviously very tight in China – certain locations are very remote.
“But I think we’ve got a fair system at the moment. The players who are winning want to carry on earning.”
In addition to speaking about sponsorship and developing the sport in newer territories, Dawson also discussed WST’s objectives for the foreseeable future.
“We spent quite a bit of time when I came in as chairman talking through our strategy for success.”
“Essentially, what we’re looking at is…prize money to be at a minimum of £20 million in the next three-to-five years.
“(And to have) a broader range of international events with not too many in a particular territory, so spreading out our risk in that sense.”
Watch the full interview with World Snooker Tour chairman Steve Dawson on YouTube.
Featured photo credit: WST