Here is an exclusive interview with Barry Hearn. What does the charismatic Londoner think about his first two years as World Snooker chairman, his thoughts about the reduction of television coverage by the BBC, snooker at the Olympics, his tip for the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship and much more.
East London born Barry Hearn has been involved with snooker since the 1970's where he successful bought and sold a chain snooker halls. Since then he has been actively involved with the sport in one way or another including discovering and managing the six-times world champion Steve Davis and bringing snooker to Sky Sports in the shape of the popular Premier League events amongst others.
Just over two years ago he was voted in as the chairman of World Snooker and since then the game has gone from strength to strength, bringing in over 20 new tournaments including the popular German Masters & Shoot Out events and increasing the prize money substantially.
I was fourtunate enought to get a chance to speak to Hearn at the recent media launch of the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship at the Royal Automobile Club in London on Wednesday. Read on to find out what he thinks about his time as World Snooker chairman, EuroSport & the BBC's coverage of snooker and much more.
Stephen Kent - Barry the current contract for the World Championship to stay at the Crucible only currently lasts until 2015, what are the plans for after that?
Barry Hearn - There is no need to renew the contract for the Crucible yet, it is our home and we love it there. I believe it will stay there for as long as we have the support of the BBC as a national broadcaster I don’t see why any reason why the World Championships wont be at the Crucible for a long time ahead.
Do you expect to sell all of the tickets for the World Championship even with the hike in prices?
Ticket sales this year are miles ahead of last year. Its a very prestigious event, its an event that sits on the British sport calendar at a high level and demand has been higher than we have ever experienced before. Its ticking the box so far but of course we have to make sure we give them a good show.
The BBC recently reduced their coverage of the UK Championship & The Masters, what is being done to bring it back?
The reduction of coverage is still an aftermath of the years of decline, the schedulers have taken a different view of snooker and are showing less of it, certainly at seven o’clock sessions in the evening earlier in the week. Its definitely something we need to put right, we are in discussions with the BBC. Certainly ratings have started to go up again which is a good sign but we need to get the schedulers back on our side for anything to change.
Unfortunately its not up to BBC Sport, but its up to the schedulers have got other programmes to fit in and snooker has not made a good enough case for itself in the past. This is something we are trying to remedy now and hopefully with an increase in ratings there will be a change of perception of programmers and to have them say 'lets go back to more extensive hours.'
With the reduction of Players Tour Championship (PTC) events next season will the prize money go up?
There will be two less PTCs in the UK and the prize money will on those four will stay the same. The prize money on the European PTCs will go up around 20% on the ones next season. In the future there will probably be more PTCs in Europe than anywhere else because obviously we need more events to grow the sport in new areas and we need to be fair to the amateurs there that they get events to play in. What will happen is the PTC Grand Finals will get bigger and bigger and the prize money will go up substantially next year.
British amateurs were annoyed recently to hear that the main tour nominations from their national governing bodies will be taken away in favour of international amateurs. Will they ever get them back?
No this is a global game, it has been run as a British game for far too long. Amateurs have more than enough opportunities, they have the top eight performing players on the PTC, non qualified get a place on the tour, they have Q School. They have a lot of opportunities and enough is enough.
I appreciate that this is something that has been taken away from them but then again it is something that has never been give to countries like Spain, Italy or Greece for example. It's a global game and frankly we have to run it as such, not just a playground for the British kids.
You have been World Snooker chairman for just over two years now, are you satisfied with how it's gone and are improvements still needed?
I'm never satisfied and things will always need improvement! We have made a good start, the first job was to get these people working and the fact we created another 25 or so events has achieved that. The prize money is the prize money, basically that’s our job to make that as appealing as possible and the players as professional players I expect them to play.
Where we can improve is increasing the experience of live customers to the events, that could use improvement. We have obviously have a tremendous success with EuroSport audiences, but we have to work on our TV in the UK. The China market is exploding also, we have to be careful however that we don’t end up in China all the time.
The Australia Open was an added plus last year that worked well, Brazilian Masters were nice although whether that takes place this year I am not sure. We are also looking at other places in particular India, Canada and Russia and we will announce more events next year.
The players are going to be very busy which makes me happy, but as a business I don't like complacency. The business is a profitable business now and I intend it to remain like that as we exploit it further afield. The fact we have demand for it is very positive but now that it's going well we mustn’t rest on our laurels.
On the subject of EuroSport, many fans have been disappointed with the way it covers events sometimes, cutting them short (German Masters final for example). What can be done about this?
Again its down to programming schedulers, they buy the rights to the event, we don’t tell them when it goes on to the air. Of course I would like it to be done properly and I think EuroSport would as well but there are occasions that it cuts across existing programme commitments which they don't want to change.
It's just a case of communication between us, they know that I was unhappy with the German Masters coverage, I told them so. They had a reason for it on their existing schedules and hopefully its a situation that won't happen very often in the future.
2012 is obviously a big year for sport and Britain with the Olympics being held in London. Are there any plans to try and get snooker or cuesports included in to the games?
I have no interest whatsoever, I don't care either way. Its a compliment in a way for a sport to be included in the Olympics. But sports like snooker and darts don’t seem to get the respect they deserve whereas we have synchronised swimming, so I’m not sure I can take it to seriously.
Do I take the tennis and football seriously in the Olympics? Not really. To my mind the Olympics is about the track and field events, if someone told me snooker was included I would be fine with it but I am not going out my way. Who knows, we are a professional sport just like golf, if the offer is there we will take it but it isn't something we aren't going to lose any sleep over.
A few fun questions to finish off, what is your earliest memory of snooker?
I think my earliest memory was buying a chain of snooker halls in 1974. I remember walking in to the first one and actually feeling surprisingly comfortable and at home. In those days I was obviously a young man and it was the home for the sick, the needy, the villains, the loafers during the day and in the evening it was the office workers! It was a wonderful contrast of times, I've always felt comfortable in snooker halls, like I'm around my own people.
What is your highest break on a snooker table?
In a match 57, in practice 84. I have to tell you the other day I tried and I couldn't pot a colour! I used to play Steve Davis, best of 101 frames getting a 70 start. The best I ever did was he beat me 51-49 once with him getting a 70 start, but the way Steve was playing the 70 start was nothing!
I used to play a lot of money matches with reasonable success with some decent amounts of money. I can remember in the 70's I was playing for six grand a side which was huge amounts of money in those days and I used to love it but I was just taking out balls for Steve most of the time!
Finally the million pound question, who will win this year's World Championship?
I think Ding Junhui will take all the beating this year. He's a man in form, he's got tons of experience and he's had a season with some success. I think he is ready for the Crucible.
Thank you very much Barry.
Pleasure, all the best.
Whatever can be said about Hearn is that he certainly doesn't lack personality and charisma and he is definitely a great ambassador for the sport. I also appreciate that he has all his other businesses to take care of including being chairman of Leyton Orient football club so the time he has left to dedicate to developing snooker has to be commended.
Sure there are things that still need improving on the circuit such as lack of prize money for lower ranked professionals but like all good things that takes time and in just two years what he has achieved for the snooker already in the past few years is fantastic.
It's very ambitious what he said at the launch at this year's world championship's about making all the players millionaires but whatever happens it wont be as bad as how the circuit was four years ago under the previous regime when players had only six tournaments to play in.
The Betfred.com World Snooker Championship kicks off in 8 days on the 21st of April at the world famous Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. See the provisional draw here and the qualifying draw here.
Below is the audio recording of the interview and a seperate video interview from Hearn who speaks to tournament sponsors Betfred about the event at it's official launch on Wednesday.