How equitable should the split of prize money be on the professional snooker circuit?

Barry Hearn has virtually doubled total prize money since becoming World Snooker chairman two years ago and last year was a bonanza for a significant number of players.

For the first time in snooker history, ten players earned in excess of £200,000.

A total of 18 players earned at least £100,000 and 32 earned at least £50,000.

However, around half failed to earn the average UK wage, which at the last estimate was around £26,200 according to official figures.

So what, you may argue. The money is there to be earned by players who do well. Sport isn’t a charity. Snooker’s pay structure is similar to other sports.

All valid points, but so is the assertion that there is a serious divide between the haves and have-nots in snooker.

Take the Q School. This costs £1,000 to enter but players who get through (who have their money returned) have to win two matches in most events to earn any money at all. In last week’s Australian Open it was three matches.

Remember, they have already had to pay entry fees and their expenses for travelling to and staying in Sheffield.

The other arguable inequity is the relative amount of effort required to earn money from the professional game.

Rod Lawler played 11 matches before securing his tour card. He has since played seven matches in the first two events and qualified for the Wuxi Classic, where he is guaranteed £6,000.

This is the same guarantee as a top 16 player who is coming in for his first match. With this system of guarantees it would take a poor season for a member of the top 16 not to earn £100,000 as a minimum from the campaign.

Again, you could argue so what? These players have all started from nothing in round one of the qualifiers and worked their way up the ranks, got into the elite top 16 by their performances.

They have and they deserve their rewards, but are they getting too big a slice of the overall cake for, in some cases, barely winning a match?

I’m firmly against what Hearn describes as ‘subsidising mediocrity’ but would argue that mediocrity is a relative term.

Some players are obviously better than others. 
There are exceptional players, of course, but lower down the ranks there is still considerable ability.

If you think any of these players are mediocre then offer to play them for money and see how you get on.

To be on the circuit is to be the elite. There are many amateur players who have not made the grade. You have to be something special to survive the cut.

Is it really too much to ask to give the players some prize money earlier in tournaments – even if it’s just enough to cover expenses?

This would involve cutting the cake a little (not by fortunes) at the top level but surely money at all levels of the tour should be earned by winning matches rather than merely turning up.

There’s enough pressure as it is playing snooker for a living without having to think about the financial burden too.

I’m not talking handouts. But in the PTCs if you win a match you get money. Why not in ranking events?

I think top prizes should be big because they are headline figures: literally, they attract headlines. They also reward the considerable achievement of winning a tournament.

But many players are in danger of being priced out of the game. They will be replaced but only by players who face the same financial challenges.

This is a particular problem for young players. The last thing we want is new talent unable to afford playing.

The argument against is that it is merely propping up players who do not add anything commercially to snooker. We all know who the stars are, the wealth creators who bring in broadcasters and sponsors.

But I think that’s a rather sorry way to look at it, not least because matches are now being streamed on the internet. Money is being made on these matches by bookmakers and others – but in some cases not the players themselves.

Can that really be right?

One of the main problems is the labyrinthine qualifying structure. I’m still sceptical as to whether Hearn’s stated aim of having everyone start from round one will ever happen, but it could be the key to what many would see as a fairer pay structure.

Because though it’s true that prize money has dramatically increased in snooker in recent times, it’s equally true that many are missing out.

In this way, snooker of course mirrors wider society. But the difference is we have the chance to do something about it.


Ron Florax said...

I could say a million things about this, but as I am short on time I will summarize it into: I agree completely, and this is the biggest problem snooker is facing right now, and also the problem on which there seems to be the least movement or comment from World Snooker. I suggested to them before, if they offer the winner of a single match in qualifying £500,- it would at least cover their expenses, and would only cost WS £8000,-. Having to win 3 matches in a pro qualifier in order to get any prize money is a disgrace. As Dave said: think they're mediocre? try it! Also, to show the quality level: Michael Wild didn't get through Q school, but won 3 matches in the qualifiers last week.

Monique said...

As a first observation, yes prize money has doubled, but the number of tournaments has gone x5. The number of tournaments abroad has exploded, and expenses to be exposed by the players have rocketed. Instead of looking just at what the players have "earned" as prize money, it would be interesting to look at what ultimately they got in their wallets when those expenses are deduced.
As a second observation, yes you get paid for winning a match in PTCs. Last year you got 200€ for playing and winning one match in Germany or Belgium. Take out what the players had to pay to enter and you basically are left with enough to have a good meal for two, or a night in a low cost hotel. Actually, with flights and all, if you don't make the last 16, you make a loss. Meaning 112 out of 128 make a loss.
As a third observation, the tiered system, with no prize money at the bottom, makes the whole thing unsustainable for the young and newcomers unless they have a sponsor or a family with very deep pockets or they are really exceptional and fast developers. That's not how new blood and new talent will be brought to the game.
Statistics are supposed to be the most refined form of lie. Sometimes PR is a very close match to that as well. If you consider all the efforts those guys had to put to become top players, the fact that they have to deal with a lot of traveling (not cheap and at times stressful), juggling to try a find a balance between their sport and their private life, I wouldn't say that they are "well paid nowadays" … as Barry Hearn claimed.

Mickyirish80 said...

I think to win money you have to pay money.if you enter your local tournament you have to pay an entry fee and you don't expect money back unless you win the thing.that's how they generate the prizemoney.Its just like a gamble,you put money on and only expect money back if you win..your simply taking a gamble with your career,who dosent do that.I agree its a big amount to be paying but the rewards are even greater.

John F said...

If the snooker tour was like the tennis tour, where players in the 200s and 300 are scraping a living, or you get situations like British players gaining the vast majority of their prize money from a Wimbledon wildcard, then I could understand comments about "subsidising mediocrity".

Instead, you've got 100 elite players battling against a joke of a prize structure. The current Goldfields setup is crazy - not only does the cash start at the last 48, but don't players also have to pay for their flights? You could get a scenario where a low-ranked player has his one "miracle run" of the year in Aus, and still ends up out of pocket!

Anyone who says the lower ranks are stuffed with "mediocre" players needs their head examined. Looking at the 70s and below in the ranks, I can see:

Maflin - World Amateur champ
Poomjaeng - World Amateur champ
Vafaei - World Amateur champ
Thepchaiya - Asian U-21 champ
Brecel - European champ

Some really mediocre titles there, I'm sure you'll agree.

I can understand no money or just expenses for the first qualifying round, but after that there HAVE to be rewards.

The classic example for me is Igor Figueiredo. He looked as though he had a lot of potential, and if he'd been able to at least fund himself on tour, who knows where he's be ranked now?

If Luca Brecel didn't have wealthy parents, would he have been priced out of snooker after one season? How much did he earn if you EXCLUDE his Crucible run?

Barry Hearn talks about a 128-man tour, but I honestly don't see how it can happen at the moment. At least by paying expenses, you can ensure that 128 start and 128 will finish!

Daniel said...

I agree that players should earn money by reaching the second round of qualifying.
in addition to that, seeded players who lose their first round match only receive half of the points. by introducing a money-rankinglist, will they receive only half of the prize money as well? they should!
on the other hand, players not only earning a living by winning prize money. they have sponsors, offer coaching ect. and playing exhibitions and pro-ams! i played in pro-am in Austria in May where pros received 5.000 to turn up and could be sure to reach the last 16 to earn another 500 (9.-16.) - 5.000 (1st). Matthew Couch, not a pro anymore, came 2nd and received 5.000 + 3.000!

but once again, i totally agree that players down the rankings should earn more!


Anonymous said...

Should be a basic rule of the qualifying rounds that if you win one match you get more than your entry fee back and sufficient to cover your costs

kildare cueman said...

I'd agree with your summation Dave. Its all very well not sponsoring mediocrity, but the way the draws are currently structured, last years successful new pros(those who stayed on the tour) are meeting this years new pros that have already knocked out another of this years new pros. In effect they are beating each other early.

There is little or no mediocrity on the tour. They last one year and wont get back via q school if they're mediocre.

I would be in favour of new pros receiving a small grant, maybe 5000 a year for the first 2 years. It would take a bit of pressure off. It would be no harm to give early round players £200 per match won.

I have no problem with tournament winners getting large amounts of money. They deserve it. For me the anomaly is in situations like this years world championships. round by round prizemoney starting with the winner was(thousands)250, 125, 52, 24. roughly half each time except the semis. Then it goes 16, 12, 8, 4 and 0.

Why not go, from last 16, - 12,000 - 6000, - 3000. This would leave a lot of cash to pay early round players.

Or, why not have it where if any player, seeded or not, loses his first match they get the same money. Its only when you win a match that you join the prizemoney ladder for that tournament.

Rob said...

Excellent, excellent piece that probably doesn't go far enough.

The thing is, that Barry wants to move to a money list, like tennis & golf.* And at the Crucilbe, Barry proudly showed a list of what the top 64 would look like. But, not what the bottom would look like. If you combined the money won by seeds 65-99 last season, they would have finished in sixth place on the money list.

Now, last season was the first one with just the last 64 paid, so we can only use one season figures. Dave said less than half the players earned less than the minimum wage. Using the prize money figures from Ron Florax's excellent cuetracker.net site, and doing rough conversions (EUR to GBP at 0.80 and AUD to GBP at 0.66), showed that 31 professional players earned less than £10k, 22 pros earned less than £5k, 8 earned less than a grand, and four players earned nothing. Daniel Wells entered all 20 ranking tournament last season, played 128 frames, and didn't get a single penny in prize money.

Andrew Pagett (20 tournaments, 28 matches, 8 wins, 173 frames, £1,520) didn't enter the Q School this season because he's having a year off, and with that paltry fee, you can't blame him.

The thing with a prize money list, is that it shows potential players what they can earn on the tour. Does a ranking list showing that the world number 69 (Ian McCulloch - 18 tournaments, 30 matches, 12 wins, 206 frames) earned less than £10k? Especially when I saw it estimated last season that entering the tournaments and expenses can sost £13-18k a season. If the lower figure is correct, then 35 players made a loss last season, if the higher figure is true, it's 44. And if we're moving to a 128 man tour with only 64 players being paid, then those figures are only going to get worse.

If a potential snooker player has any other talent, they're going to take one look at the money list, and they'll be gone from snooker forever. Some of Hearn's ideas have been great, but the combination of not paying half the entrants and publishing a money list could seriously damage the sport. We already had Igor Figureido take up a tour spot, just so he could enter the Worlds, and it already looks like Floyd Ziegler and Mohammed Khairy may be following his lead. Hearn wants to spread the sport further abroad, but Patrick Einsle (Germany), Robin Hull (Finland), Bjorn Haneveer (Belgium) and Igor Figuereido (Brazil) have all been priced out of playing - three of those nations are no longer represented!

It's not about rewarding mediocrity. You don't win the Q School. or the various amateur tournaments by being mediocre. You could argue that awarding Luca Brecel (82 on the ranking list) an extra two years on the Tour through his performance in one tournament is rewarding mediocrity, much more than paying someone who loses 5-4 to the world number 49.

*Golf only uses a money list for the Ryder Cup qualifications, the World Rankings are points based. As are tennis rankings for men and women.

Anonymous said...

Dave it's time to try and collar Hearn for another interview!

snookerbacker said...

The bottom line is that you can't build a house without foundations. I can't see how this is sustainable. As you say Dave these are all talented and dedicated sportspeople and to have them running around the country and the world earning peanuts when they are actually winning more matches than they are losing simply isn't fair. I am talking about the 'bottom pro's' here obviously. Life isn't fair either and nobody expects to earn a living for lazing around, but these guys are the best in the business and with the size of the prize money purse they should not be going skint if they are winning matches.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Hearn all of the above is why he wants to bring everyone in in the 1st round and get rid of "guarantees". But the same players will still win most of the money because they are the best players.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone is talking about this.... I'm having to take atleast a year out to save to play snooker, last year it cost me roughly £12000 in expenses!! The referees are earning more then a professional snooker player?? How can that be right?

Andrew Pagett

Unknown said...

The obvious answer to this is to reduce the main tour to 64 players,this would mean being a member of the main tour would guarantee a decent wage,also it would enable a 2nd tour to be run alongside with lower prize money and lower expenses.Obviously the downside is you would still relegate at least 16 players and this could be quite twichy for alot of top players.

John F said...

Slightly stupid question here, but thinking about a mixture of Daniel and Andrew Pagett's posts, imagine you were a mainland Europe player who gets invited to the Euro pro-ams and maybe travels over to the UK for open events (like the Pontin's Pro-Am), and enjoys a lot of success in these

...could you potentially get a situation where a top amateur is actually earning more than a professional ranked in the 70s and 80s on the tour?

Another question for Andrew, assuming my memory still functions, I think you got on the circuit through the number 1 Welsh ranking? What's the prize money like in national-level events, or is pro tour status pushed as the big prize on offer, with the cash being next to nothing?

Anonymous said...

Although a few of the top players probably wouldn't agree, I don't think snooker wants to end up like Darts (with Taylor coining in £300K a year plus, but only the top 6 making £100k a year plus, and players on the edge of the top 40 barely making the national average).

Problem is Hearn is basically committed to a 128 player tour now (unless he is able to cull 12+ players from the current crop who don't have 2 year cards). The talent is there (although some of the players who got wildcards this year have done little to deserve their places) but the public interest is not - and it is from the paying and viewing public that prize money comes.

Presumably any TV requirement to have the top 16 at the venue can be dealt with by holding matches over (this is entirely logical - not every match at Wimbledon is played on TV on Centre Court - snooker is no different).

I don't think sponsors call the shots on how prize money is allocated any more, so presumably the main issue is getting the top players (and their managers) to agree to a Tennis style draw?

Witz78 said...

The current teired system is the main problem.

Take the World Championships last season. Around £195,000 was paid out to guys who lost their opening game, wheras some guys won 2 or 3 games yet got nothing, isnt paying guys who didnt win a game REWARDING MEDIOCRITY as to quote someone.......??

The flat qualifying system when the tour moves to 128 players is the simple, and fairest method, especially when the rankings move to Money based Order of Merit.

Last 128 - 1st Qualifying Round Losers

You receive nothing, if you dont win then you cant expect to be rewarded at the moment given the levels of prize money on the tour.

Last 64 - 2nd Qualifying Round losers

You receive prize money which more than covers your travel, accomodation, expenses etc incurred at the Qualifying.

Last 32 - 1st Round proper losers

You receive prize money which more than covers your expenses incurred at qualifying, and in going to the venue also

Last 16 and beyond

Once you get into the business end of the tournament the prize money will rocket up and you will make good money.

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you Andrew - keep going!

Anonymous said...

I see the logic in putting the bulk of the prize fund into the TV stages since it is the televised matches that generate the sport's income, but at the same time you have to invest in your infrastructure. It's a bit weird that you can earn more money winning a match on the PTC than on the main circuit.

Unknown said...

Just to add im not against giving players a chance, i tried myself when the game went open.However its so obvious there isnt the money for more than 64 players,if things carry on inproving increase the numbers but at this time players need to face the facts that 64 is the most players that the sport can support.

Anonymous said...

For those interested, I've used David's post as inspiration for a similar post on the situation in darts: http://dartspurist.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/a-return-to-action-the-ideal-unified-system/

Anonymous said...

Reducing to 64 could spell commercial disaster given the amount of young talent in China .

Roland said...

Good blog, can't argue with any of it.

I think it would be a start to halve the money paid to the top 16 automatic venue spots if they lose in round 1, just as how the rankings are worked out. Trouble is you don't know until after round 1 how much extra money there will be to share out among the earlier rounds.

The system isn't the fairest at the moment, the professionals lower down the ranks who have to play all their snooker at the EIS for little or no reward certainly aren't mediocrity, they are bloody good players and deserve more than this from the game for being good enough to turn professional in the first place.

There is no doubt a flat 128 seeded draw is the fairest system all round albeit logistically more difficult to manage at a venue.

As for referee's wages, this has nothing to do with the players prize money. The game needs top referees for integrity and they come at a price, and they work bloody hard for their money.

Betty Logan said...

To be fair it is not the tour size that dictates the opportunities for players, but the qualification structures. To be fair I think they have addressed this now with the Q School.

I think the way the way I would handle this is to put the tour down to 80: the top 64 keep their places, and you get 16 qualifiers, all coming through Q School (with maybe an equivalent Chinese Q School allocated 4 places). Fire off the PTC, IBSF and Euro places, and the Igor wildcards; if the European champ fancies his chances he can hop on a plane to Sheffield and win a tour place like everyone else. Have a one year ranking system, so anyone not in the top 64 at the end of the season is relegated on their own merits after one season. To give the PTCs a bit of purpose, and to encourage mobility between the pro and amateur game, have the top 16 non-tour players on the PTC Order of merit at each seeding cut-off make up the competition field in the tournaments to 96. Play the tournaments (with the exception of the WC) in 64 man tiers, with holdovers to the TV stage for the top 8. It means that everyone on the tour would make TV with at most a couple of wins. Currently there is about 60k allocated to players outside of the TV stages for Wuxi, so if the prize money for the last 64 stage was 2k, then that would only come to about 64k for the 32 losing players. If the lowest ranked player wins a match in each event then they would end up earning over 20k a year. Any player in the top 64 would be guaranteed that sum.

Basically, whatever size of tour you have it has to be sustainable i.e. the vast majority of players should be able to earn an income by meeting reasonable targets, and this currently isn't the case at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Dave, could you tell me if all the players in the 1st round qualifying events in Sheffield are all professionals. And if so, how did they gain their pro status.

Anonymous said...

The referees are only earning more than the journeyman professionals. The best referee doesn't earn anything like a top player.
Mr Pagett, would you feel better if the referees were voluntary? If so you'd get some right old duffers,.

Dave H said...

Most of the players in the first round are pros but if there are non-entries then the field is topped up with amateurs from the Q School order of merit.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a huge amount of responses in a short time .. is it because it's about money?

I for one do not agree and do not find this piece as good as many of your other great insightfull writings, Dave.

Mediocre players shouldn't be compared to non-pro's, ofcourse they're better than most of us. All pro snooker players should be compared to the top players. It is their goal to become one.

Anonymous said...

Where can you find the list?

Anonymous said...

The prize money allocation for tournaments needs tweaking , top 16 guarantees are currently too high . Eg the last 32 money for the Wuxi tournament was 6000, loser of last 48 match got 2300 pounds. They could cut that 6000 by a good ten percent and give that money (8000) to the first round winners. It's not rocket science .
Bear in mind that the old Lee Doyle board injected 650,000 over 2 seasons into the pro tour prize pool and surprise ,surprise ninety per cent of that money went up the top end of the game !

Dave H said...

The full money list will be printed in the July issue of Snooker Scene

Anonymous said...

Is there a money list for last season online anywhere ?

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't think you can cut the 1st round prize fund, at least not for events like China and Aus because players have to pay for flights and accommodation. A flatter field seems the obvious solution.

Anonymous said...

Any chance you can get a century list into SS too? There isn't a reliable one around any more. It's a bloody disgrace WS aren't tracking such an important stat themselves.

Newsfox said...

Is snooker the only sport where these poor darlings who may never have had jobs get such sympathy??!!

That said, while I have no truck with the top16 who moan about travelling/expenses, there is a clearly a big issue here.

The trouble is that you only have one man with any ideas, gumption or ambition in snooker. His name is Barry Hearn.

The younger guys in particular would - in the ideal world - be picked up by management stables. This happens in other sports. But nobody else is attracting inward investment into snooker.

But the game needs its top stars to be on big money otherwise I wonder if sponsors come in. These things are very fickle.

People say reduce the tour but why kick players off if they believe they can afford it. At least this structure gives them a chance.

It is crazy that players are getting less than refs but the stark facts are that snooker still needs more money invested in it. Hearn has only brought it back to where it should be.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong, there is alot of money up for grabs but it only seems to be for the higher ranked players.
Yes I got to be a pro through the welsh amateur, the welsh association don't pay out alot of prize money but instead they will pay for the trip if u qualify to play in the big amateur event which then the prize money is a bit better.
For the pro's outside of the top 64 they would earn more money has a amateur because they would be close to winning every amateur event and still be able to enter the ptc's.
I think when Hearn makes the ranking system to be based on prize money it might work better for the lower ranked, for example, I got to the crucible and won £12k but only went from 68 to 66 in the rankings baring in mind it's double ranking points lol, I think if it was based on money I would have gone up close to the top 48.... It seems to be at the moment that people ain't really getting rewarded for doing well!

Andrew Pagett

Anonymous said...

Lol, I wasn't just picking out a referee, even a bin man would earn more then a pro snooker player ranked between 48-96 in the world, and that's not right!!
I certainly agree that they must be on a wage lol but at the end of the day "the referee and orginizers have only got a job because of us!" and that's whats missing!

Andrew Pagett

Anonymous said...

People say reduce the tour but why kick players off if they believe they can afford it. At least this structure gives them a chance.

Why not legalise prostitution for women who think they can make a few quid from it? Because people who are desperate need to be protected from exploitation. Obviously for someone like Andrew Pagett, being exploited by World Snooker isn't as bad as being put to work as a rentboy, but it's the same underlying prinicple. A professional sport needs a clear line between rewarding ambition and exploiting desperation. When you charge someone £1000 to get on to the tour and then they don't earn any money for three matches, well that pretty much comes under the exploitation. If you win you earn, isn't that Barry Hearn's principle? However, someone who is successful in winning one or two matches still ends up getting nothing in some cases, and can often end up being hit by an extra night or two accommodation expenses. How can that be right?

Anonymous said...

If you win you earn, that's how it's got to be. Even if it's only PTC level money, it would at least be something. Barry's doing wonders with the game, but there have been a couple of PR blunders recently that undermine his work. Players not getting paid for winning matches, pulling the plug on a charity event raising money for cancer treatment...it doesn't look good.

Anonymous said...

7.25, you are 100% correct!

Anonymous said...

Let's explore the stats a little bit. Looking at the US PGA-tour money list, 244 players are on that list (I stress...that's ONLY the US PGA-tour and I'm comparing it to the WORLD Snooker Tour).

Of those 244 players, 16 earned under 26k in US currency. Since I don't know the exact exchange rate I simply said that the 26k mentioned by Dave will be the "cut-off".

16 out of 244 = 6.25% who fail to make the avg.

Keep in mind that this is for only 1 PGA-tour, not a world golf tour.

For snooker the stats are different: 92 players in all and (according to Dave) half who fail to make 26k. I assumed 40 players to be approx half, which equals 43%.

While this may seem very disproportionate, it's well worth remembering that the WORLD snooker tour counts 92 players currently, 32 of whom make at least double the yearly avg.

I'm not advocating that pro snooker players shouldn't be paid more, just trying to put it into perspective.

If the world snooker tour becomes bigger (numberwise) then I'm quite convinced that the prizemoney down the rankinglist will go up as well.

As it stands, the world snooker tour is limited and, as a result, so will the prize money and its distribution be.


CAN147 said...

Hopefully one day professional snooker can produce more respectable paydays for its players. As professional sports go snooker players are competing for rent money these days. Hearn is doing what he can and is a vast improvement from previous regimes. However, for this sport to brag about a total purse of 7 million pounds for an entire season is really of a joke. A mid-level sportsman in the US earns more than that...Mid-level meaning this athlete is not even the star attraction and he would earn more than what 100+ snooker players are competing for in an entire season week in week out. This is also precisely why I think its funny for some of the snooker status quo to have such a closed shop mentality and wanting to keep both tournaments and talents local...

Mics147 said...

I totally agree with you, Dave. World Snooker shouldn't say that the prize money is better than before today. Look at the prize money breakdown 10 years ago: http://web.archive.org/web/20020414135349/http://www.worldsnooker.com/snooker_tournaments/main_tour/prize.asp .
I think this is much fairer than today. World Snooker should think about such a system in the future because we need a fair system because of the order of merit which is coming. Every match won should give you more money.

This is my suggestion for the World Championship:

Winner 250.000
Runner-up 125.000 (50 %)
Semis 62.500 (25 %)
Quarters 37.500 (15 %)
Last 16 25.000 (10 %)
Last 32 15.000 (6 %)
Last 48 10.000 (4 %)
Last 64 5.000 (2 %)
Last 80 2.500 (1 %)

The percentage should be used for every ranking event.

What do you think about it?

Mics147 said...

Next year, with 128 players competing, of course we will need a new system. All players should appear in Last 128 of the qualifying. Prize money breakdown for the World Championship could be like this:

Winner 250.000
Runner-up 125.000 (50 %)
Semis 62.500 (25 %)
Quarters 37.500 (15 %)
Last 16 25.000 (10 %)
Last 32 15.000 (6 %)
Last 64 6.250 (2,5 %)
Last 128 0

All other events should have the same percentage.

Is this fair?