WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has offered the latest on various things going on in snooker at the minute, from new tournaments, to sponsorship deals to changes in prize money.
Ferguson’s work rarely stops as he promotes the game across the globe and the first piece of business is on the potential return to Hong Kong for an event this season.
A tournament in Hong Kong?
Marco Fu suggested that a tournament in his homeland is on the cards, tweeting: ‘Lots of happy moments in the last major tournament in Hong Kong. Looks like there will be one this summer! Hope it will happen!’
Ferguson told Metro.co.uk: ‘We are in talks in Hong Kong, we do have a broadcaster.
‘There’s a broadcaster in Hong Kong which takes all of the snooker coverage and we do know their viewing figures are huge.
‘We are in discussions over it, it’s not finalised as yet, but we’re very optimistic about it.
‘A lot of it is down to travel restrictions. Demand for us to put on events in Asia is huge, but it’s down to whether we can make it work from a travel perspective.
‘Of course we’d love to go back there. There’s a great following for the sport, the passion is there.’
On what kind of event it could be, he added: ‘At this stage I couldn’t really say how it’s going to pan out. It might be that we have to do a smaller field to try and comply with travel restrictions.
‘The idea is to try and put a marker down, push to get an event on in Asia, put those protocols in place and then push to expand on that.
‘We can’t be too ambitious at this stage, so I imagine it will be a fairly small field if we do it.
‘At the moment we’re looking at 21 days quarantine after travel, which means it’s impossible. At the moment we’re pushing to ease those travel restrictions or get some kind of exemption under sports travel, but it’s very tight at the moment and very difficult.’
On where else we could see new events, the chairman said: ‘We’re more likely to see things like Turkey. That’s been a fantastic addition to the calendar: new market, huge demand from fans and we’re more likely to see that kind of event pop up – around the Mediterranean, snooker is growing and those places are opening up.
‘In the new year, we have put dates aside for China events but if they don’t come off then we are working on things to fill those gaps. While those flights might not be long haul, we will have chance to put some nice events on.’
As Cazoo extend their involvement with snooker by sponsoring the World Championship, Ferguson welcomed them further on board and thanked previous sponsors Betfred for their excellent work.
‘They’re proving to be a great partner,’ said Ferguson. ‘They’ve come back for more sponsorship rights, more exposure and we’re delighted to work with them. They’re a new brand, it’s clean, a great outlook for us.
‘But lets not forget what Betfred have done for his sport and the support they’ve given is, it’s been incredible. Fred Done is an incredible individual. He loves this sport, loves to see it develop and has loved being a part of it. I thanked Fred last week, not just for the sponsorship and high level stuff, but the percentage of investment he puts in that we use at grassroots to get kids off streets and into clubs, keep clubs open. We see that side of the investment on the ground and it’s been an incredible commitment.
‘It’s a system that we’ve got that makes sure a percentage of what comes into the sport goes into projects and development and we’ll continue that work with the Cazoo support. We’re in good shape as a sport.’
The WPBSA chairman suggested there was more to the move than pre-empting a possible ban on sponsorship by bookmakers.
‘I don’t think that was necessarily the angle,’ he said. ‘All of our rights agreements come up for renewal on a regular basis and there’s always more than one runner in the race for those rights. That’s a pleasing position to be in.
‘You go back 15 years and you were wondering, post-tobacco, where the next sponsorship deal was coming from. We’re here today and we’ve actually sold out, we’ve got more bidders for events than we’ve got events, which is an amazing position to be in. It’s an ongoing position of renewing agreements and some things change. Maybe they’ll be back at the table at some point.’
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s disciplinary matters
Ferguson explained: ‘There’s no outcome of it yet, but the matter was referred. It will all get wrapped up pretty quickly, there’s a process for these things.’
O’Sullivan’s clash with referee Olivier Marteel in the Crucible final, though, is not being dealt with by anyone else, with the matter wrapped up at the time.
‘It was dealt with within the match and that is the correct thing to do,’ said Ferguson. ‘The referee’s in charge, the referee deals with it and gives the warning. The referee is in charge of awarding frames and matches if he has to, if matters continue.
‘It was dealt with and I know that Ronnie was very decent about it afterwards, he spoke to Olivier and I think he apologised for how he spoke to him in the arena and that matter has gone away.’
Ambitious plans were revealed for a new ‘second Crucible’ attached to the current one by a bridge and Ferguson explains that discussions are ongoing with Sheffield City Council, although the idea remains just a concept at this point.
‘We’ve met with the City Council,’ said the chairman. ‘[Architect] James Burland is someone I’ve worked with previously and we spoke a few months back about rekindling the concept and having another look at it.
‘We talked about the idea, and it’s just a concept at this moment in time. It will need a great deal of studying over feasibility and longevity, is it viable? You don’t want a white elephant stadium, it’s no good for anybody.
‘We’ve met with the council and of course they’re very warm to development and very warm to snooker because it brings millions and millions of pounds into the city year after year. I think the last independent study by Sheffield Hallam said the city had benefited by £100m over the years, but it’s significantly more than that in today’s terms.
‘It’s very much on the drawing board and a concept but it’s a project of interest.
‘Now’s the time to start talking about what the future looks like. We’re very loyal to Sheffield but now is the time to think about longer term, especially if there’s going to be a regeneration project, because these things take time.
‘We should never underestimate the size and scale of this sport, it’s only going to get bigger. It isn’t going to go backwards anymore.’
There is set to be a restructuring of prize money distribution for the season ahead, with a bid to make the spread a bit fairer and for the rankings to more accurately reflect achievement.
‘We’re looking at prize money breakdowns, how that’s balancing the ranking system,’ said Ferguson. ‘Finer detail on that is being done now in terms of how it works.
‘We’re just trying to balance out what players win round-by-round to make a fairer ranking system. At the moment sometimes players get to the latter stages of one event that’s worth the same as one win in another event. There’s bigger and smaller events so we’ll always get some of that, but there’s a bit of work being done around all that.
‘We’re reviewing every event for this season coming. Comparing the winner’s prize to first round matches, and in conjunction with that, what’s the round structure like.
‘It’ll be available very quickly, we’re working very hard on that. I have to compliment the WPBSA players board, they’ve done a real good job in recent months identifying key areas that can be improved and getting the message across. I’m really pleased with that new structure with the player’s body, it’s really starting to work.’
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