Journalists gathered at the Courtyard Hotel in the heart of central London were treated to a video presentation of the new concept by Ronnie O’Sullivan plus a press conference featuring O’Sullivan, Power Snooker promoter Rod Gunner, Barry Hearn, ITV head of sport Niall Sloane and Maurice Kelly of Rileys Clubs.
Power Snooker consists of matches of 30 minutes duration where points count rather than frames. There are nine reds racked in a diamond formation. The middle red is a ‘powerball’ and if it is potted all points scored in the next two minutes are worth double.
Any balls potted from the ‘powerzone’ – baulk – are worth double. A century is worth 50 bonus points.
There is a 20 second limit per shot and the audience at the O2 arena are required to make noise, rather than remain silent.
Power Snooker is designed to appeal to a more youthful audience than the traditional game. Players will wear microphones to catch their reactions.
The field is expected to consist of O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Ali Carter, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Jimmy White and Luca Brecel.
It will be screened live on October 30 in two four programmes on ITV4, marking ITV’s return to snooker after nine years.
Trevor East, a former ITV head of sport, is in charge of international television distribution.
Gunner said that the plan was to stage a launch event and, if all goes well, have a global series taking in China, Europe, the Middle East and the USA with a grand finals in the UK.
So what do we make of all this, then?
It wasn’t Hearn’s idea but he is supporting it. “When Rod came to me with Power Snooker I was very receptive, as we should be to anything new,” he said.
“I was excited that this could help bring a new, young audience to snooker, which the game needs.”
However, Hearn stressed several times that Power Snooker was not designed to threaten the established form of snooker.
He said he had ring-fenced the ‘crown jewels’ – the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters – and left them immune to format changes.
O’Sullivan was less diplomatic. “I find the World Championship a bore,” he said.
“I know it’s the pinnacle of the sport and I’ve won it three times but 17 days in Sheffield is draining.
“People want to turn up, have a buzz and move on.
“Power Snooker is a challenge. It’s the future of snooker. People have to realise it’s the year 2010. We’re not stuck in the 1970s any more.”
Actually, Power Snooker is not intended to be the future of the game. It’s a standalone concept that nevertheless dovetails with Hearn’s ambitions to globalise the sport and better project the personalities of the players.
The truth is, Ronnie gets bored easily. Most things seem to bore him in the end. If he was playing Power Snooker every week it would bore him eventually.
That’s just how he is. If I were promoting a tournament he’d be the first name on my list of players but PR isn’t his thing.
I like Ronnie’s honesty and willingness to just speak his mind but I don’t agree with him. The World Championship remains a hugely popular sporting event because of the slow burning drama it generates.
As Hearn said, “it has created moments you couldn’t buy. It isn’t boring, it’s just different to Power Snooker.”
He added: “Ronnie’s not out of leftfield. He’s from somewhere else entirely. That’s why I love him so much.”
The first line of O’Sullivan’s obituary will mention the number of world titles he has won. This remains the ultimate achievement of any player.
His glib comments may have overshadowed the launch, which is a shame because Gunner, who has a very successful background in the entertainment and marketing sector, is clearly a man with bags of enthusiasm and the resources to back it up.
“We want people to get into snooker through Power Snooker,” Gunner said. “Twenty/20 cricket has encouraged people to watch Test matches and we hope to do similar.”
Perhaps the most significant part of this whole enterprise is the return of ITV to the fold.
Sloane has worked with Hearn through the PDC Grand Slam of Darts, which brought a large audience to ITV4.
“I didn’t need too much persuading,” Sloane said. “Every sport needs to look at itself on a regular basis.
“The trick with reinvention is not to destroy what made it popular in the first place. We don’t want to destroy the traditional game.”
15 red snooker will always be my preferred version of snooker but I am not against any form of innovation if it gives the players more opportunities and raises the overall profile of the sport.
Not everyone will agree – and they are perfectly entitled not to – but I think people should at least watch Power Snooker and give it a chance.
And it’s worth remembering that snooker only exists because other cue sports were changed and adapted.
100 years ago, billiard players regarded snooker as a fad that wouldn’t last.
Well, the ‘fad’ has done pretty well for itself and it should be relaxed about genuine attempts such as this to expand its reach.
I’ll leave the last word to Hearn, because he invariably has it.
“We live in a sh*t world,” he said. “It’s depressing. But every now and again you can do something to put the smiles back on people’s faces. And life’s always better when you smile.”