On Thursday night in the UK, Sky Sports, which has four channels, will put the Premier League snooker behind the red button until 10pm.

Under 21 football, US Open tennis, US golf and T20 club cricket take precedence.

Viewers with the right kit can still watch the snooker but it is an illustration of how far the sport has fallen on Sky.

It is worth reflecting how well Sky has covered snooker over the years.

With many hours to fill and with snooker a popular sport, in the early days of Sky they showed as much as they could get. They showed it all day long and all night long too.

In terms of production, they were ahead of the BBC with more cameras and more ideas. In turn, this led to the BBC upping their game.

Sky was the first to pilot interactive snooker with a choice of, at one point, three tables.

The problem in the end was that they were left with what were regarded as the lesser tournaments. These were still big events. The Scottish Open was always popular, not least because Stephen Hendry and John Higgins were winning so much, but they weren’t the World or UK Championships.

Sky bid big for the top events but the WPBSA felt they should remain on the BBC (the fact several WPBSA board members were also BBC commentators surely a coincidence.)

I think they were right, regardless of financials. If snooker disappeared from the BBC it could disappear in the UK completely.

Sky’s other problem was that the Scottish Open was played very close to the World Championship.

I’m told that at the end of the last contract, two WPBSA board members went to a meeting with Sky Sports executives hoping to renew. They were presented with newspaper cuttings in which players were generally reported to be dismissing the Scottish event as unimportant with the Crucible coming up.

Sky’s response was basically ‘then why should we show it?’

And they didn’t and haven’t shown a ranking event since.

Their snooker portfolio, understandably, revolves around ‘different’ events: the Premier League, World Seniors Championship and Shootout.

These are all entertaining competitions but not majors. A ranking tournament would beef up Sky’s snooker coverage but the truth is they no longer need snooker as they have so much other sport.

It is also true, as revealed in the Barry Hearn documentary shown on the BBC last May, that Barney Francis, Sky’s head of sport, does not believe snooker is a ratings puller.

His argument was that, in this day and age, snooker is too slow moving. All of Sky’s events have a shot clock (though this in itself doesn’t guarantee better snooker).

I think Francis is wrong. Sky shows a lot of Test cricket, which is also slow moving but, to many, is fascinating.

Snooker still does good business on the BBC, Eurosport and on other channels, so why not Sky?

Ironically, Francis is the son of Tony Francis, who used to present snooker for ITV.

Sky has not given up on snooker but it seems unlikely that it will make much of an effort to show any more of it than it does currently.

Hearn has historically supplied hour upon hour of various sports to Sky and has a very good relationship with them.

If he can’t persuade them to take more snooker then nobody can.


Anonymous said...

Not all snooker fans have (or can afford) Sky Sports. The old WPBSA knew this, and that's a key reason why they stayed with the BBC for the 4+1 tournaments, as many of the viewers would be lost if the tournaments went to Sky.

I have some difficulty understanding why the UK regulator OFCOM allows Sky to insist that consumers have to buy the whole package instead of being able to buy individual activities or events.

If I can buy Europsort player for £3.99 a month why cant I buy Premier League Snooker for a similar amount.

Anonymous said...

ITV looked to have finished with snooker by 1993, but they came back six years later and showed the Nations Cup and Champions Cup for the next three years, so you never know.

Also, BT are currently trying to get enough sports rights together in time for next year, when they'll be launching a channel to show the 46 Premier League football matches a season they've got from 2013 to 2016.

Might be worth a call.

Anonymous said...

im just waiting for the ron fans to say if he was playing it would be on two channels

Roland said...

The problem clearly lies with this Barney Francis guy, and to be fair to him he is a completely clueless c*** who should never have reached the position he finds himself in.

I cancelled my Sky Sports contract because I think the shot clock is a joke invention and I think the Shootout is a load of circus bollocks, and yet this is the only type of snooker Sky are prepared to show on their dedicated "sports" channels. (The only time snooker ceases to be a "sport" is when it appears on Sky, and that is a fact).

Well good riddance to Sky Sports, I don't miss it a single bit and Eurosport is a much much better franchise anyway which shows the proper game of snooker, and finds it so popular with its viewers that barely a day goes by without any being shown.

Snooker doesn't need Sky to survive and Sky's attitude towards snooker is so downright disrespectful they don't deserve to show it anyway.

And the more Mr Shit-for-brains in charge thinks his audience has the attention span of a monkey on acid, then the more he's going to find himself with exactly that reduced demographic watching his piss poor output, which let's face it pretty much amounts to fat middle aged men who think football is the most important thing in the entire universe, and PGA golf.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I've really missed the world ranking tournament coverage on Sky.

British/International Open were given freedom of the schedules - which they should - being on a purely sports dedicated channel.

I seemed to remember last year's PL final was briefly on the 'red button.'

I presume it's all about sponsors/money and which sports are backed more over the course of a year/season when it comes to scheduling.

Shame Sky are not involved with the game in a world ranking sense. For me the production skills are second to none. They are far, far better than Eurosport, who are dedicated but just use host channels to feed the game, rather than have any production skills.

BBC do a fine job, but what lies ahead with the 3 big tournaments on its channel who knows.

Conclusion is, seems strange to red button it, but like I say, money talks, audiences talk, if they're getting bigger figures for the other sports, it must be the case.

Thanks, Joe

NewsfoxSport said...

Nice blog - and a debate which I have pondered on myself.

1. Channel controllers tend to be upper middle class and don't have any love of the game.

2. They don't see snooker as a sport and bracket it with wrestling and darts (which they show extensively).

3. They are not prepared to show it without having the 'biggies'.

4. Snooker's demographic are already catered for and Sky is trying to attract wealthier types through cricket etc.

However TV types are fickle. If the game starts to spread in Europe/China, that may suck ITV4 and Sky back in. Who knows, maybe Hearn thinks more snooker on Sky will reduce darts coverage. Conflict of interest?

If I was channel controller, I would stick snooker on straight off. Surely the penny will drop?

Ray said...

Snooker marginalised again? I dread to think where snooker will be in this country in even 5 years time. Will it be off the BBC next?

And how many kids will want to play snooker in the future? And if they do want to play,how many clubs will be left?

It seems kids are not that interested in it but perhaps somebody could re-kindle interest in this wonderful game.

Or maybe I need to face up to the stark reality that it's in terminal decline in this country and nothing can be done to stop it.Such a shame.

Anonymous said...

Dont forget BBC red button is reduced to a single option shortly across all tv platforms, i.e. Freeview/Freesat/Sky Sat.

A choice of 2 tables will only be available via bbc.co.uk (I hope)

Anonymous said...

With the exception of football (and track cycling!) sport is being pushed to the margins by the BBC (horse racing is gone, surely only a matter of time before they drop the BDO darts).

Its a sad fact but the BBC are ratings obsessed, and at the moment a repeat of 'Hotter than my Daughter' will probably getting higher viewing figures than, for example, a last 32 match between Shaun Murphy and Gerard Greene.

Shootout and Premier League are of no interest to me (I live 3 miles from a Premier League venue, but I wouldn't dream of going) but the one thing I will say for Sky is that their events convey a sense of occasion. I think a big part of the TV spectacle is whether the crowd is enjoying itself. My concern is that Hearn's ideas on this (music, lights, drunk people shouting) are a bit old hat.

I remain convinced that there are ways of making snooker tournaments more engaging for spectators (better sets, different lighting, using thrust stage theatres rather than exhibition halls, less formality but a respectful lack of noise, having commercial stalls around the venue (not just a single stall selling signed cue balls and 'I heart snooker' shirts).

Anonymous said...

The players have a lot to answer for. They are not golfers and all the trappings which go alongside golf and it's public profile.
They have dragged the game down, criticising venues, tournaments, each other and some have brought the sport into disrepute by more than a whiff of spot fixing allegations alongside entrapment videos.
I can't blame Sky for embracing Darts as compared to snooker it's like watching Bally compared to Chav wrestling.
As reported Sky have had enough and the final nail in the coffin was Ronnie not playing in this years Premier League.
Thanks for looking after the future of the game Ronnie , your longsightedness is crap.

Anonymous said...

I think Bally is spelt Ballet.
Ronnie is the guvnor as far as I can see, he has brought a lot to the table and he is expertly managed by the Chinese lad.
Sky need Ronnie, the BBC need Ronnie, without him watch elephant polo for bore off appeal.

Anonymous said...

Hearn should have tried shopping the UK to them when the BBC took the decision to destroy the event. I don't blame the Sky for wanting a major event, and the UK could have got them back into the game in a serious way.

Anonymous said...

check out the ronnieporn at 857pm

skys production is miles ahead of eurosport, but the coverage is shite.

jamie brannon said...

Last Thursday there was no Premier League Snooker on Sky, but their four main channels were not all showing live sport. Wouldn't it have been better to have scheduled this week's round of fixtures then?

I guess it may have been venue issues.

Anonymous said...

well done 857. didnt know this was a spelling competition

Anonymous said...

i hope you sped typed that jamie as it was a bit pointles. a big bit.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope snooker never leaves the BBC it is the only lynch pin left, Eurosport is good but BBC is the guvnor

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly agree with anonymous 7.56
If the players are not prepared to promote the popularity of the game and think only of themselves then why should Sky, ITV or the BBC bother. That has been the problem in snooker for many years and is the main reason for the uncertainty that has haunted the game since the late 1990's. Sponsors and broadcasters are not attracted by bad and negative publicity and the few players who do put something back into the sport are must feel that they are fighting a losing battle when they see the selfish antics of others.The future of snooker appears to lie in the far east now despite what certain players say or do.