The Championship League returns today with a top quality field that includes John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson.
Uniquely, one thing missing at Crondon Park is a crowd. This is deliberate because the event is conceived to be watched on the internet.
The betting aspect means that anyone at the venue may be at a slight advantage because there is always a delay of a few seconds between real time and the pictures you see on TV or the web.
The lowest record attendance for a televised ranking event match is zero (it’s hard to get any lower, in fairness).
This was for Graeme Dott’s match against Dominic Dale at the 2004 Grand Prix. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t actually played before the cameras, or anyone other than the referee for that matter.
It must be odd for players of the quality of, say, Robertson to play in front of virtually nobody. That said, he did win the Bahrain Championship so is probably used to it.
I well recall attending the World Championship qualifiers in Newport around ten years ago. There was a late night match going on and just one person in the audience other than me.
This guy had a plastic bag and every time he touched it the sound was magnified because there was no noise other than the match.
In the end the referee asked him to keep still. The spectator took grave offence and upped and left, thus halving the crowd in one fell swoop.
There was another match there later in the week that also attracted a crowd of two, one of whom was a tramp who had come to shelter from the cold.
On the other side of the coin, you can’t beat a full house. The audience is a vital part of top level snooker.
Anyone who went to Goffs when it staged the Irish Masters or has been at the Crucible when it’s down to one table will know what I mean.
Crowds at Wembley Conference Centre, and now Wembley Arena, have played a big part in the drama of the Masters, sometimes too much of one as we saw two years ago in the Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui final.
In China, disruption is now expected. Cameras and mobile phones are a constant feature, although more so in Shanghai and Beijing and it should be remembered that this is a cultural thing that will take some time to change.
Stephen Maguire described the crowd of 1,600 at the World Series event in Berlin as “the best I’ve ever played in front of.” Why? Because they were both enthusiastic and respectful.
Stephen Hendry was right when he said that one way snooker should not follow darts is in the behaviour of the crowd.
Shouting out is OK but not while players are down on the shot. Heavy alcohol intake is likely to increase the noise level.
That said, snooker needs to do all it can to encourage people to come to tournaments. As I’ve written before, the experience of attending a sporting event is not confined to what happens in the arena.
Everything outside is important too and I don’t think most snooker tournaments cater for the fans particularly well in the time between matches.
In days gone by there was a betting stand and Dave Johnston Allen of Cheddar Classics ran a very popular merchandise stall.
How else to get people in? Do deals with local snooker clubs (why this doesn’t happen is completely beyond me) as well as schools and, crucially, the local newspaper and radio stations.
Players respond to big crowds and thrive on a good atmosphere.
All this also helps to persuade the public and a sceptical media that snooker is not 'dying,' as has been endlessly debated of late.