BloombergNews article on snooker's "woes"


Snooker Tour, Once a U.K. TV Favorite, Is in Danger of Demise
2005-05-02 19:15 (New York)

By Ryan Mills
May 3 (Bloomberg) -- Professional snooker, the billiards-
like game that was created by bored British soldiers and once
drew record U.K. television audiences, is heading for a financial
The sport will lose its 30-year sponsorship by Imperial
Tobacco Group Plc's Embassy cigarettes when the European Union
ban on tobacco advertising takes effect in August. Profit at
World Snooker, the governing body's commercial arm, slid to
61,494 pounds ($117,450) in the year ended June 30 from 727,885
pounds as revenue fell 6.7 percent and the cost of running
tournaments rose.
Without cigarette money -- Embassy says it has spent more
than 23 million pounds over 30 years on World Championship
sponsorships -- the tour may have to cut tournaments and the
number of competitors, said player agent Brandon Parker.
Snooker's audience is too concentrated to the U.K. to draw new
backers, unlike Formula One racing, golf and cricket, he said.
``We've been spoiled by the amount of money that tobacco
brought,'' said Parker, who was at the World Championship in
Sheffield, England. ``Nobody has that sort of budget. They've
lost a huge amount of money which hasn't been replaced.''
Shaun Murphy, 22, won this year's championship, which began
April 16 and ended yesterday. Murphy, who had never won a match
at the championship until this year, beat Matthew Stevens 18-16.
Tobacco's sponsorship of U.K. snooker was worth 4 million
pounds a year, according to a 2002 study by the Scottish

Players' Concerns

Parker isn't alone in his concern for the future of
professional snooker. Jimmy White, a six-time runner-up in the
World Championship, said the sport would eventually die without
new sponsors.
Six-time champion Steve Davis called for a shake-up as early
as 2002, while Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan, with nine
world titles between them, have threatened to start another tour
because of falling prize money. Hendry won the U.K. Championship
in 1989 and got 112,000 pounds; Stephen Maguire received 70,000
pounds for taking last year's title.
Building materials suppliers, snooker and pool hall
operators and tourism bodies are among those that have replaced
tobacco sponsors. Four of the nine biggest tournaments still need
backers for next season, including the World Championship, which
has a current prize fund of 1.1 million pounds.
``The loss of tobacco sponsorship has had a financial
impact,'' Ivan Hirschowitz, spokesman for the Bristol, England-
based World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, said
in a telephone interview. ``But this provides the opportunity to
change the sport's image.''

Message in a Bottle

At last month's Masters tournament, White temporarily
changed his name to James Brown and donned a brown tuxedo to
publicize Groupe Danone's HP Sauce, a condiment known in the U.K.
as ``brown sauce.'' For that, and having its logo stamped on the
brown ball during the tournament, HP paid 300,000 pounds.
Snooker, invented in India by British Army officers in 1875,
is played on a 12-by-6-foot table. Bored during a monsoon, they
added 16 balls to the three-ball game of billiards. Another three
balls were added later.
Players collect a point by using the white ball to shoot any
of the 15 red ones into one of six pockets, followed by a yellow,
green, brown, blue, pink or black, which are worth two through
seven points respectively. The non-reds return to the table until
all the reds are cleared, and then the colored balls are sunk in
order, ending with the black.

Midnight Thriller

The game's popularity peaked in 1985 when 18.5 million
Britons stayed up after midnight to watch Dennis Taylor beat
Davis in the closest-ever final. That remains the biggest
audience in the 41-year history of BBC2, the British Broadcasting
Corp.'s second channel.
The sport's image -- players must wear tuxedos in major
tournaments and spectators are urged not to shout -- may hamper
attempts to find backers, said Ceri Glen, an account manager at
London-based sponsorship consultant Redmandarin Ltd.
``Companies want to align themselves with something
inspirational and dynamic,'' Glen said in a telephone interview.
``People just seeing your name may not be enough.''
New sponsors of the showpiece event, where the winner will
receive about $471,000, might suffer because viewers may continue
to associate it with Embassy, Glen said. Hirschowitz declined to
say what company may be the new title sponsor.
Between 1992 and 2003, Imperial's Regal brand sponsored
three major tournaments, while British American Tobacco Plc's
Benson & Hedges backed the Masters for 29 years through 2003.

More Sponsors

Travis Perkins Plc, the biggest U.K. building materials
supplier, is in the last year of a three-year accord to sponsor
the U.K. Championship. The sport has lured some companies but
only by agreeing to offer lower prize money.
Riley's, a unit of Georgica Plc, the U.K.'s largest owner of
pool halls and bowling alleys, replaced Benson & Hedges as
Masters sponsor last year. Failte Ireland, the country's tourism
development authority, succeeded B&H in backing the Irish
Masters, which has prize money of 250,000 pounds. This year's
first prize was 40,000 pounds, down from 48,000 pounds last year
and 72,000 pounds in 1997.
At the World Championship, two-time winner Mark Williams got
a surprise bonus in the first round. The 30-year-old Welshman
became the fifth-ever player to score a maximum 147 break,
earning him as much as 161,000 pounds.
``That's like winning three major tournaments these days,''
Williams said.

--Editors: Ludden, McLuskey, Sillup, Beberman

Kerry Impson

Former player
Silver Member
Hmmmm.....wonder if any of the men snooker players will be considering crossing the Atlantic now?