12.10.09

ROBERTSON'S GRAND PRIZE

I was pleased for Neil Robertson that he should tonight become the most successful non UK or Irish player by winning a fourth ranking title.

The Australian battled hard against Ding Junhui and won a crucial 57-minute ninth frame to seize a stranglehold on the match.

I very much hope he receives the media coverage he deserves in his native land, where his exploits go largely unreported.

Neil’s a good guy and what you see with him is what you get: he’s honest, open and engaging as a person and this is also how he plays.

It was a very nice touch to mention afterwards the girl who had been writing to him while suffering from cancer and to dedicate the title to her memory.

Ding’s concentration seemed to wander and that must be a worry but at least he was back in a major final and that must be a cause for celebration after three lean years.

The Grand Prix took its time to get going but the random draw threw up a John Higgins v Ronnie O’Sullivan second round tie, after which the event came to life.

The Robertson-Higgins semi-final was a classic and there was enough good snooker in the week to keep audiences in Glasgow and beyond entertained.

As ever, though, problems remain.

Why do these finals have to start at 8pm? Snooker dodged a bullet tonight even though the match didn’t finish until gone 11pm. Had it gone the full distance it would have been nearer 1am.

The sport needs to appeal to kids but they won’t be watching at that time. Also, Central Europe is an hour ahead and many viewers will have switched off before the end.

Crowds built up towards the end of the tournament but, early on, were embarrassing.

I’ve seen the WPBSA marketing and promotion plan for the event and it was comprehensive so it would be missing the point to simply blame the governing body.

You can’t force people through the doors – and some of the matches looked unattractive before a ball had been struck – but something has to give.

The problem as I see it is that snooker in the UK is seen as a bit old hat, as a sport that hasn’t changed in years.

I would be completely against messing about with the rules but peripheral cosmetic change may at least persuade the outside world that it is a game worth turning up to watch.

As I’ve written on this blog before, snooker tournaments need to feel like a sporting experience.

This is what has happened in darts, although the comparison is not completely fair because drinking plays a large part in that sport and the noise and atmosphere would not translate to snooker.

So if it means getting rid of waistcoats or playing music at the start or whatever...so be it.

Let's kick around some ideas instead of burying our heads in the sand and pretending there isn't a problem.

I realise some of this would appal traditionalists but all sports – from football to cricket to tennis – have over the years changed the way they present their product without actually changing the product.

I hope this is looked at seriously.

In the meantime the night, no the week, belongs to Neil Robertson.

The man introduced as the ‘thunder from down under’ weathered a storm in Glasgow and must now be considered as one of modern snooker’s most formidable performers.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some good points Dave but" So if it means getting rid of waistcoats or playing music at the start or whatever...so be it"

Will never happen remember this is world snooker your talking about, i don't fancy your chance's when you put it to Sir Rodney, if however it was Mr Hearn??????????

Greg said...

I don't think it would suddenly bring in tons of new fans if you got rid of the waistcoats and replaced them with, let's say, polo shirts. But if there's one rule I could change right now, it would be the bow-tie requirement. You want to talk about things that are "old hat"? I really hate those stupid things!

Monique said...

Very good article Dave as always. Heartfelt congratulations to Neil who produced some dazzling snooker on his way to the title and indeed is a lively and endearing character (although like all characters he isn't everybody's cup of tea ;))

Just 2 things.

1. Eastern/Central Europe is 2 hours ahead of UK (Greece, Romania, Russia) ... that makes it even worse. And yes for all I love snooker I gave up at MSI. I have to work today.

2. I persist. I strongly dislike the random draw. With only 6 ranking events and the increase of points in each ranker bar the Welsh it can potentially induce too much of a distortion of the ranking system. For all I love Mark J Williams I don't feel he has played anywhere near the level to award him semi finalists points this week. As it is it may be the positive stroke that helps him through the season but yet it isn't fair. Same about the ROS vs Higgins match. It was a close match and I can't help to think both of them would have reached the semis under the "normal" seeding system. As it is, with John losing narrowly to Neil in the semi, it doesn't acutally make much difference. But had John won the title he would have built a really uncatchable lead. And had ROS won their match and gone the distance he would have closed up on John in the rankings. Both results would have been a serious distortion of what the purpose is of the whole system and unfair on the losing player.
I really don't see what it adds to the event to have this random draw, I honestly don't find it exciting not to know what matches the next round will throw. I'm quite happy to be able to "plan" what I will watch and follow up. It can throw high profile matches in early rounds, true, at the expense of high profile players going out early when they would normally have progressed. I know there are upsets in every tournament, it happens, but when the WC meets the Wn°1 in round 2, one of them is out, necessarily and that's just daft. And it can also throw quite dull totally one sided matches in the final stages as we have seen.
End of morning rant ;)

Anonymous said...

Well done Neil.

Anonymous said...

Although it would make me sad, the logic of moving more ranking tournaments to China where they can fill venues now seems unanswerable.

Anonymous said...

To say that crowds in the early rounds were embarrassing is an understatement. They were a disgrace. They were indicative of where the sport is currently at, though.

You honestly would struggle to give the tickets away for nothing for some of those matches. No appeal whatsoever to the punter on the street. As a fan, even I wouldn't bother.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry guys,

It does not need music, or waistcoats removed, or bare chested women (hold on I take that one back)

We need a product that gives both TV and audience participation appeal, and that has to mean a variety in formats, currently we have the the creative juices going and all we have came up with is half a game of snooker (reduce the number of reds)

A radical rethink that incorporates all the skill, but increases tention and audience particiaption will deliver to a mass audience and more importantly in this day and age will attract sponsors and corporate relationships,

John Higgins hinted that that hm and Mooney have something coming shortly lets be interesting to see what this is.

Anonymous said...

Why can't they get rid of the screen between the two tables and let everyone who pays their entry fee watch both matches. Surely that would encourage more people to come knowing they will get to see some good snooker no matter where they choose to sit. Also, why can't they allow people to buy a tournament ticket at a reasonable price. This again would surely improve attendances, particularly in the early rounds. It's very old fashioned to expect people to purchase tickets for individual sessions, particularly when you have no idea who you will be watching!

Anonymous said...

Great game from both players! Funny, for the moment Ding did "O'Sullivan"-sitting with a towel on head:)

JohnH said...

Interesting comments- I still think ticket prices are too high and if suitable discounts were available for the unemployed a reasonable attendence in midweek sessions would be achieved.
For years now the 8pm start time to bbc finals has been unhelpful and clearly not in the best interests of the sport beyond the fact the bbc seems to like it.
It is bad for spectators at the venue as much as for those watching on television.
While those that decide start times dont seem to care about viewers (which seems bizarre from a company that presumably WANTS people to watch) the problem will remain.

Anonymous said...

Take down the divider between the tables. It would be better if the spectators could see both tables, if not more tables at once.
I realise it would be slightly distracting for the players at first but they practice and play pro-ams this way and are well able to concentrate during these.
You would not then have the problem of 700 people watching one match and 5 watching the other.

Farkas Árpád said...

I’m a Hungarian fan and I also think that the evening session should have been started earlier. I had to get up early today; therefore, I had to watch the last two frames from bed. Nevertheless, it was a really nice final, so I did not fall asleep.

As far as the waistcoats are concerned, I would not like them to disappear. In my view, snooker has always been an elegant sport and waistcoats are one component of this elegance. I don’t think that more people would go to see a snooker tournament, if players wore T-shirts.

Anonymous said...

it's actually 3 hour difference in Russia, so evening session of the final starting at 11 a.m. is ridiculous; I gave up at half past 1 a.m. at the score 6-4 because I had to get up early today. And this happens always. Bad scheduling.
Anyway great win for Neil.

stuartfanning said...

Why is anyone naive enough to think BBC TV gives a monkey's about people outside the UK who think their scheduling doesn't take them in to account?

Anonymous said...

Dress code like in the Premier League would be great. Maybe even brighter shirts or red and blue for higher ranking like in the British Open a couple of years ago. If this happened it would get some column inches in the papers and maybe start the ball rolling. There could still be formal wear for the final maybe.

Dawn

Anonymous said...

I never understand why people talk about this idea of playing music when the players are coming out as some sort of new, radical idea.

Sky were doing it 15 years ago, and continued to do it right up until they stopped showing ranking tournaments five years ago. They still do it in the Premier League, and the BBC have done it many times for big finals, especially in Sheffield. In fact, I may be wrong, but didn't they do it on Sunday in Glasgow?

The point is that when Sky used to do it (from the quarter finals on I think) it was well-received and did help build the atmosphere. I don't remember anyone saying it was against the traditions of the game; indeed I'm as much of a traditionalist as anyone and I thought it was great.

So by all means, let's have the music. But far more important is getting the crowds in. They did pick up really well last week but had been disappointing early on.

Offer tickets at £2 for unemployed, students etc.. just to fill the seats. Work with local media like Matchroom do. Make a trip to a venue much more of an experience. All of these things, and more, would be so easy to do, and would bring such benefits to a big event.

Unfortunately, I expect it'll just be more of the same.

Music

Tickets

Anonymous said...

no matter the start time it will be bad for someone round the world...

Ruthie said...

Sponsors bring their guests to early midweek sessions as a day out, they also demand media coverage, and bring added extras like a party for the winner of the tournament. It gives the tournament an extra dimension. As crazy as the presentation ceremony was at the end of the Shanghai Masters, I thought Sir Rodney handing out the prizes by himself dressed in a lounge suit made the Grand Prix look like less than a real world ranking event. If the BBC wants the final to run 8pm - 1030pm on their schedule, then they should allow it to break off 30-60 minutes earlier and catch up over a long frame or the mid-session interval. During the 1990s, only the final day of the world final used to be shown live in full. Extended live coverage of scrappy matches doesn't always reflect the best of snooker, and when there are Red button and online alternatives, the network should focus on getting the very best out of the tournament.

jamie brannon said...

I am in favour of earlier start times, but the 2002 World final went the distance and got the bestaudience figures of the decade for snooker. To be honest the fare last night was dross Dave and that should be said as much as the BBC start times. However I agree with the kids part a 7pm start would be preferable. The BBC worry though that the final could be over by 8pm leaving a night of repeats.

jamie brannon said...

Cricket has gone a bit twenty twenty mad though, so I hope we dont get six red mad. I think let's have some music intro's though, but keep the waistcoats as it gives an identity to the game. I also think a shot clock should be introduced for one ranking event a season, something I thought I would never say.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if they had scheduled the event for this week for during the October school holiday week in Scotland it might have attracted better crowds - surely that is a simply marketing ploy that even an amateur like me could have seen made sense.

Also, what was going on at the venue was a bit of a disgrace - there's very little there to attract interest to snooker. WPBSA need to think about more dynamic things at the venues, outside the arenas to generate interest.

On another point, inside the arena with the table, not much is done to involve the crowd either. For example, when Hazel Irvine is introducing it and hands over to Steve Davis and Ken Doherty who are standing amongst the crowd and getting interviewed, nobody sitting there can hear them as they don't have microphones. Everything at the venues is done for tv and not for the people who actually go to watch it. If they consider the punter who goes to watch it more, then maybe more people will take the time to go and pay to watch it.

I also think the ticket prices were marketed wrong. It was marketed on leaflets for the event as tickets from £5 - but in reality there was nothing less than £10.50 from the first round onwards. I'm not saying this isn't reasonable to watch top class snooker, I'm just saying don't lie to people when marketing it - it is a big turn off and insult.

Anonymous said...

If world snooker keep running the game as it is now the game will be dead in a few years. Very few ranking events, hardly any sponsor's, who would want to sponsor the game as it is today. A breakaway from world snooker has got to happen, its worked in darts on a massive scale, it can't get any worse than what the great game as come today.

Greg said...

I have to agree with the comment about the breakaway. I'm sick of all this talk about tinkering. We need a breakaway. We've had this discussion so many times now. We had it after Ronnie's outburst at The Masters. How many more times are we going to sit here and say the same things?

The level of apathy is overwhelming and it is disgusting. The apathy of the sports press towards snooker. The apathy of the players (consistently re-electing in the same faceless, nameless, seemingly clueless people to the WPBSA board!).

We need more people like John Higgins, who is actually doing something about it. We need more players like him, to stand up and take the future of the sport into their own hands. Because nothing is going to get better as long as the useless WPBSA busybodies are still at the helm.

Is someone going to do it? Or are we just going to wait until the next time O'Sullivan chooses to bang his spoon on his high chair, to have this conversation again?

Betty Logan said...

I winced a bit at John Virgo commenting that Ding had a "chink in his armour". I know it's a common phrase but probably not one to use in relation to Chinese players...

Anonymous said...

make it 1-30 and 7-30

in the first session, if both players havent got at least 2 frames after frame 6, the first session is 7 frames (time permitting) and if both players have at least 2 frames by the end of 6, then play 8 frames.

this will ensure at least 3 frames will be played at night.

if its 6-2 let it run its course.

rarely will it be over in an hour

6-2 is the worst scenario and the player ahead would need to win 3 out of 4

ok not impossible, but it would make viewing a bit more comfy all round

good shout on the divider being taken away. (though id keep it at the worlds)

Monique said...

seen this? http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/snooker/billiards/Glamourize-cue-sports-to-make-it-popular-Advani/articleshow/5119098.cms

:)

Anonymous said...

Did Virgo really say that?
I thought a friend of mine was pulling my leg and it never really happened.
If meant as a joke, surely that is simply not on.
What year are we living in?

Dave H said...

I have no doubt John used the phrase in all innocence, unfortunate though it was.

Monique said...

well for me Ronnie might well bang his spoon on his high chair again, rattle his rattle and throw his dummy at the board for good measure ... if that wakes people up, go for it Ron! At least he got people thinking and talking. And he may not have been the one with the highest right to complain, he nonetheless had a point, in fact he had more than one point. He was essentially right.

And yes John Higgins is doing a lot with the SPA and the World Series. Initiatives like the 6-reds in Killarney (and Doherty behind it) must be supported.
And grassroot snooker must be re-animated, because without young blood and clubs to play in the game is doomed.
So there is this: http://www.rileys.co.uk/news/15 .
Not to mention the numerous exhibitions all over mainland Europe done by Selby, Murphy, Jimmy Whithe, Ronnie, Ryan Day, John Higgins, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ricky Walden and more ...

So John is not "the only one" doing things, but it would be good if what is done got more press/media coverage and marketing.

And don't come up with ... they do it for the money. I'm not naive. Yes they do. They are pros. I couldn't care less as long as snooker is the winner aswell. I'm all for win-win games!

jamie brannon said...

A break away is never good as you want the best against the best in any sport, different versions of the World title have spoilt boxing. I mean say if Ronnie is in one version and John Higgins in another, who really would want a situation like that, there is nothing wrong with what is going on the table, it is off the table that needs to be rectified. Virgo was definitely not being rascist, I think people get too touchy these days over the slightest reference that might appear rascist.

Anonymous said...

Jamie go take a look at the dart's world, the PDC made a brake away from the BDO in 1994. It now has many tournament's and the sport is thrieving. All of these tournament's also have sponsor's. Where are the BDO 2 tournament's a year on bbc tv and dart's is on its knees. So Jamie would you still say a break away is never a good idea?

jamie brannon said...

I like darts, but to be honest I would like it even more if their was just one organisation and one World Championship. Darts does well for Sky, but snooker is more popular as the BBC cover it, but would they want it if all the best players were not together.The PDC does work well as it has most of the best players, but are you telling me a situation where Higgins and O'Sullivan are in opposing organisations is a good thing?

Dave H said...

Snooker doesn't need a breakaway. What it needs is reform and more co-operation between the governing body and independent promoters.

Anonymous said...

No i don't think it would be a good thing if Higgins and O'Sullivan were in opposing organisations. Lets say if the break away did happen and all the best player's went with it like it has done with the darts, would this be a bad thing?

Keith said...

Do we really need tournaments that drag on for a week? I'd like to see 3 or 4 days, players playing each day (roll-on roll-off all best of 9). It would fit much better into the TV schedules. You could even have the Semis on Sunday lunchtime before the final in the evening. Try SOMETHING to get fill up the empty weeks. Perhaps even ITV (perhaps via ITV4) or channel 5 could be persuaded to show a bit of snooker.

Betty Logan said...

The Grand Prix actually went on for longer than a week and TV channels don't want to commit that much time. Ideally they could play a tournament over 5 days with a full round on each day. You could have two TV tables offering TV coverage of two sessions and all the rest can be played in cubicles. Out of the top 16 who can attract an audience? Ronnie, Hendry, Higgins possibly given his current profile. Put Ding on a TV table to flog the Chinese TV rights. If Jimmy qualifies that's a bonus. Robertson and Wenbo are attractive to watch so give them as much TV time as possible once the big names get knocked out.

jamie brannon said...

if all went then yes, but then there would be just one organisation. Even now there are still a few in the BDO who could live with the PDC top ten. Dave is right the governing body need to get their act together especially with foreign promoters. Also I just want to say that Williams 142 break was one of the most gorgeous breaks I have ever seen.

Dave H said...

The reason it was 9 days was because the BBC wanted it to be 9 days, so they can have sport on successive weekends. If they'd wanted it to be 5 days it would have been 5 days.

Hiding players round the back is not the way to promote the less familiar names.

jamie brannon said...

9 days is better anyway allows us too see more players and it is better for the events narrative, plus there is little snooker on the box anyway

Anonymous said...

why dont we play to smaller venues?

how many seats were at the grand prix? 800?

why not play to 500 maximum?

Betty Logan said...

Seeing more players isn't necessarily good for snooker. The sport needs to be built around the most popular and exciting players. ITV or Channel 4 aren't going to give nine days over to snooker are they? There is a valid reason why it's only on the BBC, and even then they have ulterior motives. They don't want snooker on for 9 days, they just want to max out their Scottish sports coverage quota. The BBC insisted on the move to Scotland against the wishes of the WSA because they are obliged to provide so many hours of sport in Scotland by their charter, and that's why they wring every last drop out of the Grand Prix. If the WSA had stuck to their guns and stayed in Preston where it has an established following from the local community then the BBC would most likely be providing 0 days of coverage.

The formula is different for the other channels. They have to sell advertising time during these matches. Who is going to buy advertising in a Dott or Selby match? They are going to want Ronnie and Jimmy and the other big name players getting maximum exposure, and they are going to want to limit the exposure of the other players. Commercial TV needs the popular players to sell advertising, and they need the popular players to maximise the audiences. Giving exposure to non-entities and hoping it raises the profile a bit isn't going to appeal to broadcasters.

Take a last 32 format for instance. Ronnie can appear at most in five matches so that's the optimal number of days for a tournament and what all broadcasters beyond the BBC will want. The Premier League is actually the best format for commercial TV because Sky only have to commit one evening a week. The Premier League gets good crowds and viewing figures and anyone watching it would believe snooker is a popular and entertaining sport. That's the blueprint for the revival of snooker on TV: reduce the timeframe and maximise your exposure of popular and entertaining players.

I think maybe a 6-red Pot Black one night a week would be cool as well for the whole ranking field. The one night weekly commitment works well with the Premier League. You could have an 8 man field and use the 6 red format and could play a mini tournament in a couple of hours. You could have a top 16 player, five tour players and couple of old favourites like Knowles and Higgins. After 16 fields you have 16 "winners" and can play the finals over a couple of nights. It wouldn't even have to be done live so filming could be staged around tournaments and edited to 2 hours. I think something along those lines could be successful. A couple of hours a week is a reasonable commitment for a TV channel, and you could spread the entertaining players out. For instance when Selby is the resident top 16 player you throw Jimmy into the mix. When it's Ebdon you make that Alex Higgins week. When it's Ronnie's week you fill it up with all the boring players to get them out of the way. There would be no problems selling advertising in a 2 hour format like that. But I really think that's the direction snooker has to take. Build it around the popular players to sell the format and reduce the broadcast commitment and I think that would put snooker in better stead from a broadcaster and audience perspective.

Dave H said...

It wasn't the BBC's idea to move to Scotland. They show the Grand Prix for 9 days because they want 9 days snooker. If they wanted 5 days snooker they'd show it for 5 days.

Betty Logan said...

I'm afraid you are incorrect about that Dave. Pressure was put on the WSA to relocate to Scotland. It was against the better judgement of the WSA who wanted to stay in Preston. I know you like to stick it to them - and at times they deserve it - but this mess isn't of the WSA's making.

Dave H said...

I don't regard it as a mess. The crowds in Preston were no better than those in Scotland.

The move to Scotland came about because funding was available to do so. It had nothing to do with the BBC.