21.7.08

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Despite the acres and acres of coverage afforded it in the media, the Open Golf Championship drew a peak viewing audience of 4.7m on the BBC, just 500,000 more than the peak for this year’s world snooker final.

Actually, they are not like-for-like figures because the golf was shown on BBC1 and the snooker on BBC2, which is still considered a minority channel.

Also, while events at Birkdale were closely fought until Padraig Harrington turned it on over the last few holes, the Crucible final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ali Carter very quickly turned into a procession, so the final session was decidedly low on drama, which would have meant a lower audience than for a close finish.

So why does a sport like golf attract 20 times the media coverage that snooker does?

Some of this is snooker’s own fault, in terms of how it’s marketed and promoted, but most of it is a form of cultural snobbery.

Golf is a middle class game. It is the sport presidents and high-powered businessmen play. It costs fortunes to join many clubs and the game revels in its own elitism.

Snooker is traditionally working class, but in reality is open to all. Many, many people look down on it for this reason and because it does not require physical fitness, as if this negates the considerable skill required to play it at the top level.

The media get very excited about the World Championship but little else. Sometimes you can’t blame them as very little happens between tournaments, especially as players are threatened with disciplinary action for even the mildest of statements.

However, look at the BBC snooker homepage. It hasn’t changed since June 8, even though there have been three tournaments played since (the Jiangsu Classic and two in the World Series).

For a period in the 1980s, snooker was the most popular sport on British television. Figures have declined but are still satisfactory and often more than satisfactory. On Eurosport, they are on the up-and-up.

Yet this doesn’t translate into finding top class sponsors for new events.

It’s easy to blame World Snooker for this – and they are to blame for some of it – but they are fighting against the same cultural stigma the game carries.

Chief executives would rather stand on the first tee alongside Tiger Woods in a pre-tournament pro-am than go anywhere near snooker.

Golf carries more prestige and, because it is popular in America, affords opportunities for brand penetration and all the other horrible marketing buzzwords major corporations use.

What’s the solution? Snooker should not apologise for appealing to every sort of person, regardless of class or background.

But the time has come to look at ways of changing the game’s appeal and think globally. This does not just mean China but also continental Europe and beyond.

Going to venues such as the Newport Centre is not going to persuade anyone with money to invest to get involved.

The promoters of the new World Series have the right idea in terms of merchandising and bringing fans closer to the players, as witnessed recently in Berlin.

The sport may even have to embrace shorter formats such as the shot-clock used in the Premier League or the 6-red version of the game, which proved popular recently with players who competed in an event in Thailand, in the same way cricket had to turn to one-day internationals and 20/20.

There is nothing wrong with snooker as a game. It is still played and watched by millions around the world. Its top players are household names from Birmingham to Beijing to Berlin.

But it has been allowed to stagnate, as witnessed by the skeletal calendar for the new season.

The sport needs to send out a message to sponsors that it is worth getting involved with, and this will only happen when it first acknowledges that a change of approach is required.

Just stumbling on the same old way isn’t going to work.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd read a piece by a snooker journalist stating we need to seriously consider a 6 red version.
Snooker has tried pandering to the masses with shorter matches and letting the players wear less formal outfits and both these initiatives have failed.
Obviously the board of World Snooker has continually failed and there needs to be major changes to its structure to give snooker a fighting chance.
Snooker needs to maintain its own unique identity.It might still be considered a lower class sport but it can still flourish with its high class presentations(players to wear suits and bow ties)and sportsmanship.These attributes would undoubtedly appeal to,at least,some sponsors.
The watered down approach advocated in this article would only mean snooker being taken less and less seriously before it disappeared.Surely you realise gimmicks only ever offer a short term solution?
Des

Dave H said...

Des

I wasn't suggesting 6-red snooker is the solution.

What I'm saying is that the head-in-the-sand, nothing-needs-to-change attitude has to go.

The 6-reds event in Thailand has been confirmed for two more years with double the prize money. Hopefully, this will convince the backers to invest in the full length version of the sport, which has gone into abeyance in Thailand.

I'm not advocating a 'watered down approach' - quite the opposite actually.

And incidentally, had different formats always been rejected then snooker would never have been invented.

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with the game. Just get rid of the dreaded bow tie. It works in the Premier League.

Better still, bring back the lounge suit

Donal said...

I totally agree that the game is punching well below it's weight in terms of profile, as indicated both by the number of tournaments and media coverage.

In terms of the specific changes to the game itself mentioned here, i.e. shot clock, 6 reds, I'm highly dubious. There's already a short-format game with a shot clock, it's called pool.

scott said...

I'm surprised at your pejorative comments about golf; it is true there are some elitist clubs still in existence, but the vast majority now have to ply for the entertainment £/$/€ like most sports. Indeed, watching a Premiership football side, long since considered the working man's game, is now sadly out of reach of minimum waged people. The price of a season ticket to many top football teams is easily more than the annual membership fees of many private golf clubs, even in the south east of England.

The world has moved on, and trying to apportion cultural snobbery to the BBC strikes of spitefulness (and jealousy?). It is the Beeb who cover most of snooker's tournaments, and by de facto, where Eurosport gets the pictures.

You would do well to remember that at the end of WWII the etiquette of dress when playing golf changed from wearing collar and tie to the more relaxed polo shirt (introduced into tennis by Lacoste in the 20's). Now sports companies such as Nike and Adidas see golf attire as an important part of their business. Where is the dedicated snooker attire? If O'Sullivan was to have a 'season long' range of polo shirts, I would think that there would be many junior Ronnies clambering to wear the range in a bid to be like their hero.

Snooker however is still sadly lagging behind, still intent on wearing bow ties. You may call golf the middles class sport, but surely you can see the irony that the 'working class' participants in snooker must dress themselves in formal wear, whereas golf clothing is marketed as a sport that today embraces modern street wear.

I have read your excellent blog for a couple of years, and have noticed that you are a staunch defender of the formal attire required by the players. Can't you see that this is one of the main reasons that snooker is failing? Why not have all tournaments except thw World Champiosnhip to allow players to wear far more relaxed pool style clothing, with the main event reserved for the 'Wimbledon whites' formal wear?

Dave H said...

At no point did I accuse the BBC of snobbery.

Indeed, it would be ridiculous to because they show far more snooker than golf. I was referring to the media's attitude in general, not the BBC's.

As for the bowties and waistcoats, getting rid of them wouldn't make the slightest difference in my opinion.

Donal said...

Totally agree that changing the attire is little more thank a gimmick (which has been tried in the past), and would make no significant difference to the sport's appeal.

andy said...

Hi All,

The golf snooker comparison is interesting one. I love snooker and will watch snooker (along with Formula 1) first when it's on the TV.

Golf is now a mainstream sport that can be enjoyed by the masses (working class or middle class), it doesn't really matter on the class of person. It's much more accessible to people now in England than it was 25 years ago. In some areas of mainland Europe it's still looked upon as an upper class and very expensive sport, especially here in Switzerland where I live.

Golf lends itself well to business because it's an outdoor sport and business can be done between strokes (if playing) or in the lushly furnished tents (if attending a tournament), or simply in the clubhouse. You don't constantly have to be quiet when playing and there's a large gap between strokes because the players have to walk a couple of hundred yards to the next stroke.

One of the main reasons golf attracts huge sponsors is, as well as it being a worldwide sport, it's hugely popular in the states, and the states still leads the way with the big companies and the economy. Of course, there are other factors.

I have to point out that I'm also an avid golfer and was at Royal Birkdale for the last 3 days of the Open. It was truly a fantastic experience and was catered for very well on my 55 pounds a day ticket. The food was excellent quality for the money and there was plenty of beverages available, including a Bollinger tent that was complete bedlam! :o)

The appearance of the snooker players and golfers differs tremendously. Even though snooker players are wearing a waistcoat and bowties, they tend to look scruffy when compared to golfers in their bespoke outfits, designed and fitted for them by their sponsors. Good examples are Ian Poulter and the late Payne Stewart. I think snooker players need to clean up their act a bit, the number of times I see snooker players dressed in T-Shirt and jeans when being interviewed and clearly haven't shaved for a couple of days - something you just don't see with golfers. It would be great to have Nike or Adidas designing bespoke tuxedos for the snooker players!! :o) And they probably need casual wear from sponsors to keep them tidy as well.

You could also look at footballers. OK, they can be caught looking pretty scruffy in the papers when the tabloids are chasing them, but the papers don't chase snooker players. It has to be said that generally when interviewed they try to look smart and stylish. Snooker players choose to look scruffy in front of the camera, something that doesn't help the image of the game.

If snooker has image problem, start with the players, clean them up. I could have written a lot more but that's what I think off the top of my head and I'm sure the debate will go on and on, ....and on. At least it should do!!

Andy