17.6.11

THE SAD DECLINE OF THE UK CHAMPIONSHIP

Today’s news that the UK Championship will be best of 11 frames until the semi-finals is the third change inflicted on the tournament that has diminished its status.

The first came back in 1993 when the final was reduced from best of 31 frames played over two days to best of 19.

This made it feel like any other final instead of closely resembling the showpiece conclusion to the World Championship.

Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis never played in a Crucible final but their 1990 UK final was virtually as good as. It was not only hugely significant in terms of the balance of power in the sport but also a bone fide classic, which Hendry edged 16-15.

Going down to 19 frames reduced the UK’s prestige in the eyes of many, even though we have had many great champions and many great finals since.

The second came in 1998 when the UK Championship was moved from its long established home at Preston Guild Hall, a first rate venue that was synonymous with the tournament.

It has since been moved around various locations – Bournemouth, York, Telford and now back to York.

Now, we have the number of frames reduced from best of 17 to best of 11 up until the semi-final stage.

All of these decisions have been taken for perfectly understandable commercial reasons and mainly for television.

TV didn’t want to risk runaway finals, although you can of course still have them in a best of 19. The move from Preston was to placate a sponsor based elsewhere.

Best of 11s means every match from the last 32 onwards will now be televised. During the last couple of years only half of the last 16 has been played before the TV cameras, effectively creating two separate tournaments.

Years ago, when the top 16 came in at the last 64 stage, they had to win two matches to get on TV as the BBC began their coverage at the last 16.

I always thought this was odd because quite obviously some of the star names would fall by the wayside, but the public’s thirst for snooker in the 1980s was such that it didn’t seem to matter.

This situation was addressed just over a decade ago when it was decided to hold over four last 32 matches (the top 16 now playing a round fewer) for the TV stage.

This precipitated a row about which four players they would be, because the top four in the world are not necessarily the four most popular.

Eventually, to end these arguments, the top four were held over, which meant star names still playing in the pre-TV section.

All of which led us to the rather unsatisfactory scenario of the last few years.

Snooker is snooker. I’d rather watch a 6-5 than a 9-1 but the UK Championship’s best of 17s made the tournament a cut above the norm.

Over longer matches, the narrative has time to shift. Some of the great nights I’ve had at the snooker have been watching comebacks at the UK Championship. I remember two in the same night one year at York: Mark Williams against Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon.

A longer match is a greater test, which is why there have been very few shock winners of the UK title.

And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The real reason for the change is cost cutting, for both the BBC and World Snooker.

The BBC will have four sessions per day to staff rather than six in the early rounds and World Snooker will have two tables to staff rather than four.

Each organisation finds itself, as so many do, in difficult economic times so this decision is perfectly understandable for them both.

Many snooker fans would prefer to live in a fantasy land where nothing ever changes but those who run and broadcast snooker have to live in the real world, where money talks. The BBC has less to spend on sport generally, hence they’ve gone from four snooker tournaments to three. World Snooker has more events to stage and saving a few quid in York will help them do that.

I'm certainly not stuck in the past and recognise that, sometimes, difficult decisions have to be taken.

Nevertheless, the UK Championship has taken another knock. It’s still a big title to win but the various facets that have made it so special have been gradually eroded and it’s hard, for me anyway, not to conclude that its stature has declined as a result.

64 comments:

WILD said...

Dave great article and every word is correct and indicating the long and painful death of a great championship.

Betty Logan said...

So we basically have two and half majors now i.e. 2 and 6, the triple half crown!

Anonymous said...

now just another average ranking tournament, clearly not one of the big 3
sad

Anonymous said...

Didnt hearn say when he first took over, that he would NOT mess around with the format of the three majors? Unless the final is going back to best of 31, hearn has killed off a great tournament.

Betty Logan said...

Yeah he said they were ringfenced, but it's possible the BBC forced his hand, which is more than likely given that they cut a tournament. Dave's right though, the BBC are doing some serious cost-cutting. They've even done the same to Doctor Who, having the audacity to say that Stephen Moffat needs more time to write the stories. Just be thankful they haven't butchered the WC.

Trevor said...

Never taught this would be touched.the first thing that comes to mind though is the world championship.dave do you think it is now inevitable that this will be changed also in the next few years?.it seems most likely imo

wild said...

Barry Hearn is a lying little runt.

Anonymous said...

So the jewels in the crown would not be touched eh? The UK today, the World Championship tomorrow. What a bloody disgrace. More dumbing down?
Were the players consulted before this decision was taken? I think I know the answer. What do the players think now?
Doesn't it make you sick?

Anonymous said...

Great decision by Hearn. hopefully a shot clock can be added as well.

Anonymous said...

Hearn is just doing what he has to - trying the UK to stay on BBC. Or would you prefer it to be left without the BBC coverage?

Anonymous said...

@12.22 Yes indeed he did. It is a sad day for the sport and another step in the shortening of matches to laughable levels in order to appease some players, TV and a minority of fans. Look out for the reduction of the World format because if there is no stink about this then that is surely next.

Anonymous said...

You've got to move with the times. The fact that the tournament is called the UK Championship has no significance, it is just another ranking event. How it ever had the longer structure is for the historians. The WC needs the longer matches but other ranking events are just that and no more. BTW Davis had that match in the bag in 1990 but missed a couple of sitters to win 16-14. He tried to just out-safety Hendry and win with 20 breaks and safety, a bit sad when you see how the game opened up completely in the 1990s.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I am very much a pro Hearn supporter I find this a wrong decision.

We are downgrading this tournament with the cutting of the frames. The Hearn idea is to give every tournament it's own identity. Where is the UK's identity now. This decision as has been stated previously now makes it into a standard ranking tournament.

This will not encourage any new viewers, more likely turn 'die-hard' viewers away.

Urindragon said...

very disappointing. I hope they can revert back to at least best of 17's in a few years time when everyone has money again

Anonymous said...

Will the worlds now be reduced aswell what do you people think ?

jamie brannon said...

If Hearn had to this to placate the BBC then he is immune from my criticism.

However, for any other reason is nothing short of a disgrace. It is no longer a long distance event.

I'm fed up of people saying you need to adapt all the time to suit television. Sometimes you do, but Grand Slam's are still five sets ,and have been decades.

The Masters is now the second biggest event in the sport. Sad to be saying that.

Before anyone suggest I'm stuck in the mud, I'm not as don't agree that losing it's best of 31 final was bad, as that was an acceptable concession for television.

Toestubber said...

Urindragon said...

very disappointing. I hope they can revert back to at least best of 17's in a few years time when everyone has money again>>>

Very optimistic mate, but it ain't going to happen. The UK is bankrupt and anything less than divine intervention won't stop the transfer of wealth from West(Us etc.) to East (China etc.). At least the leeches at Rileys Ltd will soon go under.

Mat Wilson

Anonymous said...

sorry but to blame the bbc is a convenient excuse to justify this..

BBC Must have forced his hand.

what is he a weak and useless man ?

show some balls ffs

Urindragon said...

Fair enough, Toestubber.
Then let's have a China championship with best of 17's.

Anonymous said...

two points- firstly this is devaluing the crown jewels. Secondly it is very unhelpful for the new professionals and those with little experience of long matches. With this change in place the first two session match of the season that the qualifiers will play is in the pressure cooker of the world championship qualifiers- surely not a good thing for helping fresh talent to come through.

Anonymous said...

Dave please try and get an interview with Hearn, then perhaps we can get some answers.

tatannes said...

well, I quite disagree with you all.

what's the point with matches we can't watch because on table 3 or 4 ?

Snooker is dynamic.
there are many more stars in the game and many more tournaments.

many players deserve a Tv appearance.
The elite top16 time for an entire year is over.

Anonymous said...

"We will not touch the crown jewels" was the promise.

Hearn is the man of his word - feels free to give, feels free to get it back.

I don't know, perhaps, all the reasons for cutting are reasonable enough. But I'd prefer him not to give empty promises rather than break them with the lame excuses.

Tim Sandle said...

Terrible decision. It has always been the World Championship, then the UK and then the Masters as the big 3.

TazMania said...

Should have been best of 11 round 32 and 16

best of 17 Quarter Finals

Best of 19 Semi Final

Best of 25 Finals

that way only 395 maximum possible frames can be played compared to the old 529 frames. (The new one will have a max potential of 365)

A best of 25 final will give it a better stature and will also reduce match lengths at the same time.

Sonny said...

To the suggestion of Dave H getting an interview with Barry Hearn I too think he should come out and explain the reasoning behind it.

We know the BBC are making budget cuts and the letter leaked on the internet informing World Snooker employees they have to have interviews for their jobs is something that is going on everywhere. It's a sign of the times.

So instead of downgrading for snooker fans so we can see more of the action, they are cutting the number of staff required to hold the event.

If it was for snooker fans they would have had 3 sessions a day and reverted to best of 17 for the quarter-finals as it was previously. With a shorter format we would have ironically had more snooker to watch.

If Barry Hearn can come out and give us hope that with more cash to spend in future the UK could revert back to the old format, or that there could be a previous UK format (2 session matches) ranking event one day in another country such as China, then it would swing the snooker community behind him.

There is a fear that reducing formats is seen as something the public wants. I don't believe it for a second. You've got 20/20 cricket and we've all heard the analogies, but the talk in the office at work is always about the test matches.

Betty Logan said...

To be honest I half expected the UK to be dropped with the Grand Prix when the contract was renewed. I don't think Barry is the sort of man who would go back on his word unless it was to save the event. I think 13 frame sessions with slightly earlier starts would have put a bit of light between the UK and the other tournaments.

Matt said...

"There is a fear that reducing formats is seen as something the public wants. I don't believe it for a second. You've got 20/20 cricket and we've all heard the analogies, but the talk in the office at work is always about the test matches."

Nail on the head. As I've said on my blog tonight, I've spoken to too many people who support the longer format events to believe that there isn't a market for them anymore.

wild said...

snooker is such a long game to complete even frames can take a hour to play.

whats happening here is knee jerk to why snooker has lost popularity over the years and thinking it must be because its long.

reality is there is nothing at all to back that theary up.

of course you can have some people who prefere shorter matches and theres others that prefere very very very long matches now there are plenty of events with short matches but very few to satisfy people like me who has more enjoyment watching session snooker.

long matches is romance falling in love with someone where as short matches is a quick fumble in the back of a mini or a one night stand.

Anonymous said...

Personally I'm saddened by this - the status of the UK is strongly linked to its long format (to win the event players have to show similar consistency and stamina to the worlds). I understand that there is a market for longer format events in China - I wonder if the Shanghai Masters will move to a longer format to try and enhance its status?

However, I don't think the UK captures the imagination of the wider public: the most memorable finals, (the 2 Davis -v- Hendry finals and Davis -v- Higgins) were 21, 22 and 28 years ago. It hasn't been helped by recent stagings (holding it in a shed in Telford, with an orange set in deference to a pie company isn't befitting of any sport's second biggest event).

With the way the sport has grown the UK can only retain its status as the second biggest tournament if it establishes a stronger identity - in this day and age it needs a strong location and better crowds. Really it needs a big city location and proper PR to make people consider it as part of the build up to Chirstmas (I know it is a different sport, but snooker should look at how the hourse of the year show achieves this).

Anonymous said...

The question remains: was he forced? Was it reduce the length or NO tournament on the beeb?

Barry should get involved with the media and explain this. Hiding behind curtains after this slaughter is very damaging to his reputation.

kildare cueman said...

I dont know if the reduction will be all that bad. I found in recent years that the event didnt seem any more important than the first BBC tournament.

The prizemoney doesn't reflect the importance of the event and I'd personally prefer two best of elevens to a best of 17.

I would, however like to see a tournament with longer matches at some juncture in the season. Perhaps a European championship in Germany, or Asian championship in China or Thailand.

The title of UK champion no longer has the same stature in a sport that strives to go global.

The second biggest tournament should be held outside the UK with prizemoney, long matches and ranking points to reflect this.

wild said...

"The question remains: was he forced? Was it reduce the length or NO tournament on the beeb?"
____________________________________

i think it was to get rid of 2 Tables and everyone get the same conditions away from cubicles.

whats disappointing for me is there was no compromise in increasing the Final and Semi Finals.

its as if Fans of the sport don't matter its all about getting New Fans that will never Appreciate Snooker no matter how hard they try to entice them to the sport.

Anonymous said...

I think its a good move. Who wants to watch Selby and Perry slugging it out when the likes of Cope, Milkins and Ford are playing amazing snooker on the non tv tables

Anonymous said...

Is the £100,000 first prize and 8000(?) ranking points to the winner going to remain? For me, the UK is no longer the second biggest tournament so World Snooker will have to look at the ranking points structure for this.

Anonymous said...

wild said "ong matches is romance falling in love with someone where as short matches is a quick fumble in the back of a mini"

I thought you had packed that dogging stuff up? ;)

Anonymous said...

Hearn can usually talk a glass eye to sleep, in fact you've got a job to shut him up. However on this particular subject his silence is deafening.
So why, after announcing on tv not long ago that the 3 main tournaments would not be touched,does he do the exact opposite?
Any explanation forthcoming from BH do you think Dave?
C'mon Barry, don't be shy!!!!

Anonymous said...

317

what is the new second biggest ranking event now then?

Anonymous said...

yes Barry Speak up you spineless Git.

Anonymous said...

11.27, what speaking is there to do? Its all explained on WS website.

Anonymous said...

"what speaking is there to do? Its all explained on WS website."
___________________________________

when theres good news the fanfare is out and barry hearn is full of it with quotes all over the shop with "WSA Chairman Barry Hearn said:"

now though nothing just let the website get on with it Spineless Git.

Betty Logan said...

He's not going to hold a press conference to slag off the BBC, is he? I mean, it would be funny if he did, but since the BBC is still snooker's largest financial backer then it wouldn't be smart. The fact that he hasn't spoken out speaks volumes really, because if he thought it were the right decision he would be on TV giving us the spiel. He's done a lot of good over the last season, and the new BBC contract (losing the Grand Prix/cutting down the UK) is his first real setback. Hopefully China will promote one of their events to the longer format in the near future so we can have a proper tiple crown again.

Anonymous said...

didnt think 317 would answer

Anonymous said...

Barry should explain it. He can calm me down I'm sure. But speak Barry, speak!

TopCat said...

The 2nd biggest tournament would be Yamaha Organs British Open or The Mercantile Credit Classic!!

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone out there in the media whose got the balls to ask Hearn what's going on and what is he playing at?
I thought all this sort of nonsense was a thing of the past but it seems it may be the start of the same old same old.

Dave H said...

He's in New York at the moment but I will try and get something definitive in due course, although it's pretty obviously at the behest of the BBC who want all the matches televised.

Anonymous said...

I was really looking forward to going to York for the UK when it was announced that York would once more be the venue. I used to love sitting up the back in the early rounds keeping an eye on all 4 tables live when it was there before. Now just 2 tables, short matches, might as well save my pennies and watch it on TV! :-(

Rachel

Anonymous said...

ill take you rachel
x

Anonymous said...

i will take you to the snooker rachel

x





:p

jamie brannon said...

I thought it was about staffing issues with World Snooker and BBC?

Are the BBC getting the whole blame for this now?

Anonymous said...

no jamie, some people will blame lee doyle for it

jamie brannon said...

If it is they deserve criticism for this as the decision is being made not for financial reasons which were understandable, although still disappointing.

We don't need to see every match.

However, let's not have a load of anti-BBC propaganda. If Sky got the World Championship it would be probably a best of 3, with a fifteen second shot clock!

Dave H said...

The BBC wanted to show every match. The only way to do that on two tables was to reduce the length of matches. It suits World Snooker because they save money too.

Sky once bid tens of millions to show the World Championship and other tournaments but were knocked back. Obviously the fact the WPBSA board of the time contained various BBC commentators was sheer coincidence.

Anonymous said...

aye jamie and it would be renamed 'the ronnie roadshow' OR 'challenge ronnie'

Anonymous said...

i can tell by your tone 1229 dave, what you mean

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this decision had to be made but what an utterly crass way to put this in the public domain. hearn has been in sports promotion for too long to not know that this was the wrong way to go about things. With this sort of behaviour he's always got a ready made job in the future .... as PR guru for FIFA!!!!!
It's not the players that need harsh disciplinary measures it's you and your team. Get a grip man.

jamie brannon said...

From your comment can't detect whether you blame the BBC for this or it is just a neccessary measure given the economic times.

However, World Snooker are still happy with so don't see why they should absolved from any blame, if there is blame in this issue.

Could be wrong, but judging from your Twitter feed get the feeling like many a modern sports fan you are more a Sky man, so imagine you think it was a wrong decision not to go for the Sky deal.

Understand money talks but in the long-term think it was the right decision, as the BBC's involvement in snooker has helped to maintain a strong level of interest in the sport in the UK, which Sky wouldn't have, for me anyway.

Is there not another way around it without sacrificing frames? I can't think of one apart from a longer tournament but that isn't going to happen.

Although semi-finals on one day would perhaps be a runner?

jamie brannon said...

I read the article in the York Press which seems to think the players will welcome the changes as the use of cubicles was disliked.

However, would have thought many would prefer the longer format to be maintained more.

Also noticed your Daily Mail tweet about BBC tennis pay. I wouldn't take there word much when it comes to attacking the BBC, they come up with anti-BBC garbage daily.

Anonymous said...

lets move to sky if we lose jamie....














im only joking!

Trevor said...

Dave with your contacts in the game,do you know or think the length of the world championship will now be reduced in future seasons in light of these changes ?.

Dave H said...

I very much doubt it. There doesn't seem to be any desire to from anyone.

Trevor said...

Ok but i bet we could have said that about the uk championship about three weeks ago.

Betty Logan said...

The UK was asking for trouble after those horrendous attendances in Telford. I don't think the BBC will mess with the world championship because the WSA wouldn't have any trouble finding another broadcaster for it, Sky would snap it up in a flash.